5 Things You Should Do To Become a Thought Leader In Your Industry, With Julie Austin

Being a thought leader means you are the go-to expert. This is what the media looks for in a guest. Having extensive press can definitely help your business grow and create lucrative opportunities. As part of our series about how to become known as a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure of […]

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Being a thought leader means you are the go-to expert. This is what the media looks for in a guest. Having extensive press can definitely help your business grow and create lucrative opportunities.

As part of our series about how to become known as a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Julie Austin, an award-winning inventor, futurist, and innovation keynote speaker. She’s an internationally known thought leader on the topic of innovation, and CEO of the consulting firm Creative Innovation Group. She’s been an innovation keynote speaker for corporations such as Procter & Gamble, Novartis Pharmaceuticals, Northrop Grumman, and Cognizant Technology Solutions. She’s also been featured in the books “Patently Female” and “Girls Think of Everything”. Her patented product, swiggies, wrist water bottles, have been a NASDAQ product of the year semi finalist and are currently sold in 24 countries. Julie and her products have appeared on The Today Show, The Queen Latifa Show, HGTV, Lifetime, ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX News, Inc. magazine, Fast Company, and the Wall Street Journal, along with dozens of TV shows, magazines and radio shows around the world.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

Sure, my background is in the entertainment industry as an actor, but several years ago I invented a fitness product. With no background in manufacturing, no money and no mentors, I patented the product and started manufacturing it in 3 countries. I learned by trial and error how to get it distributed in over 25 countries and it soon became a NASDAQ-winning product. I took my years of knowledge in innovation and became a keynote speaker for corporations, teaching them how to generate new ideas of their own.

Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority about the topic of thought leadership?

A thought leader is someone who is an authority in their specialized field. According to the Oxford Dictionary, it refers to “intellectual influence and innovative or pioneering thinking”. With that definition I am definitely an authority on innovative thinking.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

As an inventor and innovator you want to know that what you created is being used and enjoyed by other people. I was on vacation in Utah when I saw a rock climber in a national park who was using my product. It was a great feeling.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

One of the first places I was speaking as an innovation keynote speaker was for an international franchise. The CEO was standing in the back of the room and I suddenly forgot the name of the company. Luckily they had a teddy bear sitting on the podium wearing a T-shirt with the company logo on it. I used the bear as an improv prop and he saved the day.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define what a ‘Thought Leader’ is. How is a thought leader different than a typical leader? How is a thought leader different than an influencer?

A thought leader is someone who has experience and specific knowledge about a particular topic. So a regular leader may not be focused on one niche and an influencer doesn’t have to have any particular knowledge at all. Look at the number of celebs who are influencers. They follow the person and the personality, not the knowledge.

Can you talk to our readers a bit about the benefits of becoming a thought leader. Why do you think it is worthwhile to invest resources and energy into this?

Being a professional speaker or author it’s very helpful to be a thought leader in one specific area so that people can trust your advice.

Let’s talk about business opportunities specifically. Can you share a few examples of how thought leadership can help a business grow or create lucrative opportunities?

Being a thought leader means you are the go-to expert. This is what the media looks for in a guest. Having extensive press can definitely help your business grow and create lucrative opportunities.

Ok. Now that we have that behind us, we’d love to hear your thoughts about how to eventually become a thought leader. Can you share 5 strategies that a person should implement to become known as a thought leader in their industry. Please tell us a story or example (ideally from your own experience) for each.

  1. Build credibility — Nobody becomes a thought leader overnight. You have to earn it. One way is by building credibility. You can do this by winning awards or contests. This proves that a third party has vetted you as a credible thought leader. My invention has won several awards, including being a NASDAQ winner.
  2. Brand yourself — You want to be the person people think of when they need a particular expert. If you’ve branded yourself consistently you are more likely to stick in people’s minds. When someone introduces you, what do they say? For me, it’s “that inventor chick”. Have a nickname that lets people know who you are and what you do.
  3. Have a great story — This isn’t something you make up, but is the most unique part of your background. People remember stories. One of mine is that I’m the daughter of the real-life Andy Griffith sheriff in the old TV show “Mayberry RFD”.
  4. Build trust — People won’t follow a thought leader unless they trust you. Trust also has to be earned. In my own businesses I always follow through in what I say I’m going to do. I’ve also worked with many people around the world on just a handshake.
  5. Know your topic — If you’re going to be a thought leader in a particular topic you have to know it very, very well. That means staying on top of new technology and what is going on in the industry. Read that industry’s trades and go to conferences, classes, etc. I’ve spent years in the innovation space, but I learn something new every single day. Don’t ever think you know your topic completely.

In your opinion, who is an example of someone who has done a fantastic job as a thought leader? Which specific things have impressed you about that person? What lessons can we learn from this person’s approach.

Glenn Stearns of the Discovery show “Undercover Billionaire”. He became a billionaire from nothing. Grew up working class and had everything going against him, but he still succeeded. The fact that he decided to do this show where he was dropped into a city where he didn’t know anyone with only $100, an old truck and a cell phone with no contacts in it speaks volumes. He wanted to prove that the American Dream wasn’t dead and that anyone could do it. One lesson was that no job is beneath you. He took any kind of job he could find to make ends meet, including cleaning houses.

I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused, and should be avoided. What is your feeling about this?

I would stay away from the term guru, but I think thought leader is fine.

What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?

Do what you love to do and it won’t really seem like work. If you’re doing something you love, you can keep going. But even if you love it, take some time off from work. That’s easy for me to say, but hard to do!

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

The movement I would trigger would be to create more inventors and innovators. There are so many problems in the world. We need bold ideas to solve them.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

That would be one from Helen Keller — “Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing”. Don’t wait until the end of your life and say “I wish I had…” In my own life my mom passed away recently, and I think she had some regrets of not doing everything she wanted to do in life.

We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Tom Hanks — We’re distant cousins on my mother’s side

How can our readers follow you on social media?


Thank you so much for your insights. This was very insightful and meaningful.

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