Can you name someone whose opinion you value, to whom you would look to for guidance, who might have an influence on how you conduct business? Chances are you can. You might think of that person as a mentor. But in a broad sense we have another term for it: “Thought leader.”

What is a thought leader? It’s someone who is on the forefront of an issue people care deeply about, and who has framed a thoughtful, insightful point of view on that subject. The issue can vary– thought leaders are found in every field, whether economics, business, medicine, or surfing. Thought leaders keep up with events, so they can join existing conversations or start new ones. They have charisma. They are people who can talk about an issue to news media, their peers, or outside audiences, and have their voices heard.

Being a thought leader sounds great, doesn’t it? But it isn’t easy to reach that goal. A thought leader needs to go beyond conventional wisdom to have real insight. He or she needs the ability to communicate effectively to a wide range of audiences. And they need authenticity. A thought leader can’t be seen as being “in it” for themselves. Audiences must believe that the thought leader really wants to help understand a complex topic.

That said, there clearly are business benefits to becoming a thought leader. Such people are sought as conference speakers, consultants, and more. Which makes sense. Becoming a thought leader is a way of building a personal brand – one that inspires trust and confidence. And that’s good for business.

As a PR firm with offices in Seattle and Washington,D.C., we’re around a lot of people who are seen as thought leaders. And we work to position our clients as people with an authentic, meaningful voice. One great example is our work with Lewis Lee, an attorney with the Spokane firm of Lee & Hayes.

Lewis is a perfect example of a thought leader. He has a deep store of knowledge and wisdom on the subject of intellectual property, which he sees as fundamental to the health of the United States innovation driven economy in the coming years. He’s passionate about the subject – and that can’t be faked. And he’s able to explain clearly why intellectual property matters.

In our work with Lewis, we keep a close eye on any news cycles that involve intellectual property, patent reform, and the economy. Then we look for opportunities to have Lewis provide explanations or opinions on the news. In the early months of the business relationship, we worked to make Lewis known in news circles, and he was quoted in The Wall Street Journal, CNBC, the MIT Technology Review, and CNN Money.

Next, we placed him on national broadcast news programs to discuss the basics of patents and copyright. Eventually we placed articles under his byline for business publications and legal trade outlets. That in turn led to speaking opportunities at universities and industry events.

Lewis has the street cred to hold the position as thought leader in the intellectual property community – and we’re taking advantage of his valuable expertise to help him expand his relationships across the industry. Now Lewis has become a classic thought leader.

Do you or your business want your thoughts to be heard? Talk to us – we’ll help you reach your full potential to lead and influence.