7 Traits Necessary for Building Thought Leadership Online

desert leaderContrary to what many people think, you don't have to have all the answers to become known as a leader within your content marketing niche.

Knowledge alone may inspire awe but it will never inspire others to follow you.

Yes, it's important to make the best use of the resources at your disposal to offer useful information to readers of your blog. But does that mean you have to have a PhD in your topic or decades of experience? 

Believe it or not, experience and knowledge are helpful but less important than the following traits in building online thought leadership:


An interest in learning is much more valuable than knowledge itself. Why? First, because it gives you more in common with your reader and makes you more likeable than the person who has all the answers. Second, because no one can know everything and curiosity helps to ensure you are more likely to discover that which you don't know. Third, someone who is curious is much less likely to run out of questions to ask and therefore much less likely to run out of content to share.

Willingness to Take Risks

Leaders are, by definition, the first. They cannot lead unless they are willing to step into the unknown and risk failure. This doesn't mean you have to be the first to invent a new technology, but it may mean you are the first to try it. Or you are the first to write about it.

Being criticized or making a mistake is more likely when you are a leader. But criticism happens whenever you distinguish yourself. And failure can be a great opportunity for learning.

Publicly apologizing or taking responsibility for mistakes allows you to build a personal brand that is human and dedicated to ethical behavior - both of which are likely to build greater audience loyalty.


If you are willing to take risks, chances are you are creative. Again, leaders do things others haven't yet thought about. This doesn't happen when you are busy trying to avoid failure and thinking of reasons to say no.

Creativity is about saying yes and building on that. If you say no a lot, and spend a lot of time worrying that you are going to fail, you are stifling your creativity.

Genuine Interest in Others

Leaders build trust and affinity when they show a genuine interest in their audience. It's about human connection. Friendship. It's a two-way street and it's perfectly suited for the online platforms that content marketers use everyday. 

Thought leaders ask their audience questions. The take polls and surveys. In addition, they take every opportunity to engage in dialog with others; making use of Twitter chats, LinkedIn discussions and commenting on blogs and Facebook.

Desire to Help Others

You may be great at taking risks and being creative, but if you have no interest in helping others you are not a leader. Leaders help to educate and assist their followers to achieve things.  They are always answering questions and sharing content designed to do this. They also freely compliment and promote others whenever possible. They realize that helping others to become successful creates beneficial returns.


Leaders understand the tremendous power of persistence. Though quick to adapt, once they commit to a course they do not give up easily. They make a habit out of putting themselves in uncomfortable situations. They do things they are not good at and tolerate their own awkwardness until mastery is achieved.

Sunny Disposition

Leaders, generally, are glass half-full types. Though realistic, they understand there is something to be learned from every situation. This approach keeps them focused on the present and less depressed about past mistakes or worried about future disasters.

A present-oriented sunny disposition allows them to be more productive and strengthens the traits mentioned previously. It also inspires confidence in their audience, making them more influential.

(Photo by Hamed Saber)

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