5 Things You Should Do To Become a Thought Leader In Your Industry

Innovate and evolve. Thought leaders are more than keepers of knowledge; they stay on the cutting edge of actual solutions to the problems people face. If innovation is truly in your organization’s DNA, you should be constantly reinventing and advancing your approach. And if your competition’s go-to market strategy is to copy you, they will always be behind.

As part of our series about how to become known as a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kevin Tucker. Kevin is the CEO of SOLitude Lake Management.

Kevin Tucker started SOLitude Lake Management® to focus on the growing need for the adequate management of lakes and stormwater retention ponds and the preservation of our natural and man-made freshwater resources. SOLitude Lake Management is a full-service lake and pond management firm devoted to providing its clients with a wide array of aquatic services throughout the country. His firm provides lake, stormwater pond, reservoir, and wetland management programs designed to restore water quality, improve habitat, protect public health, and develop world class fisheries while preserving public, recreational and aesthetic value — and, ultimately, achieving greater ecological balance.

Tucker graduated from James Madison University in 1993 and holds a degree in Business Management. He has served as an Entrepreneur in Residence and is currently serving as a board member for the JMU Center for Entrepreneurship. Tucker is widely recognized as an expert in creating and growing innovative businesses and has established himself and his team as the industry thought leader in the management of lakes, ponds, and other freshwater ecosystems.

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?

I have always loved the outdoors and been drawn to the water. Early on, I gained a lot of foundational knowledge in horticulture and ecology working in my family’s landscape business.

With this experience and a background in business, I sought to create a niche company that served an under-fulfilled need and offered the opportunity to differentiate and compete on value rather than price. I recognized an opportunity for the professional management of lakes and stormwater ponds for residential communities, golf courses, commercial developments and the like, and taught myself everything I needed to know about maintaining healthy aquatic ecosystems.

I took the leap of faith and gave up my “day job” to start running this business out of my garage. At the time, it never struck me how risky the decision was, but my family was always supportive; they had raised me to be independent and a self-starter.

For the first year or two I was the company’s sole employee, but as SOLitude Lake Management has grown my role as a CEO has evolved considerably. I rarely find myself on the water in a professional capacity, but I still have the same passion for the environment. I spend as much time as I can outdoors at the beach or in the mountains, surfing, hiking, mountain biking, whitewater rafting, camping and searching out that next great waterfall or piece of natural scenic beauty.

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

Over the past 20 years, I have built SOLitude’s brand around three core beliefs that have allowed us to become the forerunner of our industry in thought leadership and market share.

· Hire well-educated and experienced experts who can step up as leaders in our field

· Continually produce relevant educational content for public consumption

· Differentiate ourselves through innovation and disruptive, value-driven services

Establishing authority in the aquatic management industry is by no means something I have accomplished alone. I am the tip of this spear that set the vision and built our team around the idea of thought leadership within our space. However, to me, thought leadership is a top-down organizational achievement that our incredible team continues to build upon each day.

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

My father is an incredible mentor and his advice is usually spot on. But ironically, as I was starting out, he admitted that he couldn’t see lake and pond management becoming a big business. Though he did not initially see my vision (truthfully, I’m not sure anyone did), he never doubted me. We smile about that today, knowing SOLitude is now the largest business in our industry — which is continually growing to meet the world’s expanding freshwater management needs.

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?

Early on, I was too conservative and slow to build our team. When one hundred percent of your income rests on making the right decisions, sometimes it is hard to pull the trigger on the next hire. Funny enough, I made more work for myself that way. If you do not invest in hiring exceptional talent ahead of a need, you will struggle to scale quickly. I eventually learned that great people pay for themselves many times over. People often talk about investing in their business; I say start with people.

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 a person or organization that is the most knowledgeable, evolving, innovative, go-to expert in their respective field. They lead through the respect and authority they have earned as a trusted source of information. Ultimately, a thought leader sets the tone for others in a given discipline and gains credibility by clearly demonstrating a pattern of success that results from the application of this expertise.

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?

When you establish yourself as a thought leader, opportunity finds you. It’s worth the investment because it’s much easier to scale this way. Your ROI is greater because your cost relative to each opportunity generated is much lower than it is with some other methods that you might employ to mine for the same number of opportunities.

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?

For example, if you consider thought leadership in terms of sales and marketing, it can be compared to the difference between an inbound and outbound approach. Thought leadership is akin to inbound, where leads and opportunity come to you because people view you as the solution to their problem after having established yourself as the subject matter expert. Outbound, on the other hand, focuses on hunting for those opportunities through more ‘traditional’ sales approaches. Sales will always involve some hunting, but wouldn’t you rather close deals that come to you as warm leads versus having to cold call and self-create every opportunity?

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.

Disperse your knowledge. Be disciplined and relentless in educating your audience by sharing your expertise via your website, newsletter, blog, and social media. Establish yourself as the problem solver they want to come to when they are ready to buy.

Get published. Get published and cited by other platforms that people look to for information on the topic of your expertise. Being named as a source provides third party validation that supports the efforts on your own platforms and continuously drives people to them.

Innovate and evolve. Thought leaders are more than keepers of knowledge; they stay on the cutting edge of actual solutions to the problems people face. If innovation is truly in your organization’s DNA, you should be constantly reinventing and advancing your approach. And if your competition’s go-to market strategy is to copy you, they will always be behind.

Differentiate and disrupt. Don’t do the same thing better than your competition — do it better and differently. Demonstrate how your unique approach yields the best outcome at the best value. Show how you can provide unique intrinsic or ancillary benefits that exceed the consumer’s expectations. Lead your industry by designing solutions that no one else has envisioned or, furthermore, offered.

Be disciplined. Too often, people have the right ideas, but crash and burn on execution. It’s easy to get excited about new initiatives, but discipline is required to execute over the long haul. Once you have an idea that works, make sure you have the personal and organizational discipline to build a process that allows you to replicate the solution consistently.

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.

Tony Hsieh. He built Zappos around the idea that investing in people by creating an exceptional company culture would drive top- and bottom-line outcomes. He further differentiated himself through his willingness to share the approach for anyone who cared to learn. That openness further entrenched Zappos as a thought leader, which, in turn, drew positive attention and even more great people to their doors.

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

I think most terms like this become cliché and overused at some point. Doing a good deed doesn’t automatically make you a hero and overseeing a business doesn’t automatically make you an entrepreneur. Similarly, the term “thought leader” should reflect a very high bar, but as we do with many things, we risk devaluing its meaning with over-application.

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

Surround yourself with exceptional people and turn them loose. Avoid the temptation to do everything yourself and be everything to everyone. Focus on your strengths and leverage your team.

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. 🙂

For me it would be clean, healthy water achieved by unleashing the power of capitalism and the innovation it drives to solve the water quality problems we face. Bigger than that, it would be unleashing these same forces to solve all the challenges we face in the world. Capitalism is a force for good and a powerful engine when given the fuel to run.

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

“If it’s not a hell yes, then it’s a NO.” Honestly, this phrase came to me after reflecting on some personal decisions I made when I was young that led to significant heartache. I have since applied it to many situations in my life and often offer it as guidance to others in those critical moments where a pivotal, maybe even life-changing decision is about to be made.

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. 🙂

This is a difficult question because it requires me to narrow in on one person, and there are so many fantastic minds out there. I referenced him before, but one of the people who has inspired me with his focus on driving success by building an amazing culture within his business is Tony Hsieh.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

SOLitude Lake Management can be found on all social media platforms

Instagram: @solitudelake

Twitter: @solitudelake

Facebook: @solitudelakemanagement

YouTube: /SolitudeLakeMgmt

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


Kevin Tucker

Kevin Tucker

Kevin is a long-time EO member and runs SOLitude Lake Management.