5 Compelling Characteristics of a Thought Leader

Share on LinkedInShare on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterPin on Pinterest

Adobe Spark(60)A thought leader has gained a certain level of influence by inspiring others through their ideas, offerings or way of being. A thought leader has risen to a peak in their career, positioning themselves for visibility and as an authority in their field.

I’ve noticed that thought leaders share certain characteristics that help them become influential — and when they possess all of these traits together they possess a powerful “influence” cocktail.

1. Innovative

When innovation is present, the thought leader has an innate curiosity and optimism about how things can be better. Instead of being locked into “how things are”, this type of person strives for transformation and improvement. In the Awaken Leadership Summit, Terry Wildemann talks about how business leaders can tap into innovation and creativity by becoming mistake tolerant. The idea is this: if you (or your team) are not afraid of the repercussions of making a mistake,  your creative brain will be fueled and innovation flourishes.

2. Transparency

A visionary who is transparent and authentic about their journey will develop trust and loyalty from those that they serve. Brene Brown is a huge advocate for transparency in leaders — and believes that not only does it create deep connection but its also an important factor in reducing stress. In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection Brown states, “Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.”  Being transparent is a choice each thought leader must make. It won’t always be easy but being willing to be vulnerable and “not always know the answer” will pay off along the way.

3. Risk Taker

A thought leader is often taking uncommon ideas into society to create transformation and a new paradigm of possibility — which requires courage and confidence with taking big risks. Inside the mind and heart of any profound thought leader is someone willing to face the fire of uncertainty and take bold action to move their ideas forward in the world. From Steve Jobs to Abraham Lincoln to Oprah, we have many role models that have demonstrated how taking risks is a key ingredient to developing influence — and results.

4. Conviction

For a leader who has big ideas and a bold vision, having a positive mindset and doing good things just isn’t enough. They must posses the trait of conviction and be willing to move mountains for their mission. A thought leader must believe so deeply in their ideas that they will stand in controversy and resistance of well-meaning people who don’t share their conviction and will try to talk them out of it. Conviction generates the required enthusiasm and motivation to keep going — a necessary characteristic when a thought leader hits the bumps in the road.

5. Consistency

A thought leader moves out of “idea” stage and into a state of influence and authority because their community has access to their ideas. That means that there must be a constant feed of content that can be consumed. From books and speaking engagements to podcasting and social media engagement, a thought leader must have several platforms where their ideas are shared on a regular basis. For some, this is where getting support, hiring a team, or getting a mentor come in handy.

A great idea that stays dormant in your own mind can’t possibly have an impact out in the world. By charging up your approach with these five characteristics, you can move from “best kept secret” to influential authority and thought leader in rapid time.

You can also accelerate your path into thought leadership with these 13 inspiring thought leaders on Awaken Leadership.

Awaken Leadership Summit Experts



Share on LinkedInShare on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterPin on Pinterest


  • Robert

    June 15, 2011

    Hey Melanie, for a long time I’ve been attracted to the idea of being a thought leader and doing something innovative and significant – and still am! But right now I’d be thrilled to just have some success in building a “lifestyle” business as you call it. Another way to say this is; you bed I’d love to have caviar with my meal, but right now I’d be happy to get the meat & potatoes handled!

    What do you say to your clients like me who are at that place?

    • Melanie Benson

      June 20, 2011

      I would say, 1) being a thought leader and doing something to impact the world is not exclusive from getting your daily financial needs met. 2) what gets you the most fired up is probably the most obvious thing in your life 3) every thought leader starts with something that’s right in front of them and the key is to create authority positioning by having a clear message strategy. You have to start somewhere and getting clarity comes first. Go for it!