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Summary: The Authority Advantage: Building Thought Leadership Focused on Impact Not Ego by Adam Witty and Rusty Shelton


In this game-changing guide, CEO of Forbes Books Adam Witty and Zilker Media founder Rusty Shelton share the secrets of establishing yourself as an authority in your industry. The authors explain how to gain a competitive edge in the digital age by building a compelling personal brand and using a variety of content to showcase your knowledge, communicate your value and attract clients. They argue that you need a solid strategy to exert positive influence in the public sphere, but if you can pull it off – with their help – you’ll find that true competence is more important now than ever.


  • Personal branding can give you a competitive advantage because it builds trust.
  • Determine what type of leader you are before building your brand.
  • Assess your online presence and link yourself to other trusted experts and brands.
  • Create a variety of content for your online platforms.
  • Navigate the rented and earned media landscape to your advantage.
  • Utilize your owned media platform to maximize your brand’s reach.

Summary: The Authority Advantage: Building Thought Leadership Focused on Impact Not Ego by Adam Witty and Rusty Shelton


Personal branding can give you a competitive advantage because it builds trust.

Many good leaders balk at the notion of personal branding. For example, Patti Brennan, CEO of Key Financial, Inc. and a Forbes top-ranked wealth advisor, once saw such efforts as “egotistical.” However, she came to realize that if she didn’t try to share her expertise with people outside her current sphere, potential clients wouldn’t know about her, or they might fall prey to advisors with less experience or with nefarious intentions.

Having a personal leadership brand allows Brennan to create influence on a larger scale. This, she discovered, gives her a competitive advantage over other advisors and a solid foundation of trust with her clients.

Public trust in experts matters more now because trust in institutions is at an all-time low. Gallup reports that only 27% of adults have confidence in large organizations, including media conglomerates, government agencies and big banks. People want to deal with other people, not with corporations. That means a wealth advisor who promotes a personal mission to help others navigate the market is more appealing and trustworthy than an ad for a large financial services firm.

“Before you earn a chance to make an impression and build trust in person, you must create a connection and build trust from afar — beginning online.”

Positioning yourself as an expert in your field, highlighting your leadership accomplishments, and letting people know that your mission is to serve and create value for them provides a serious competitive advantage. If all you represent is a corporate brand – even if you own the company – earning trust is harder. However, if you focus on building public awareness of your personal expertise, people will come to you because they want to learn from you, not just because they want to buy what you’re selling.

Determine what type of leader you are before building a brand.

Before you start creating your value-driven personal brand, you should try to get a sense of your current leadership style to make sure you’re a brand worth promoting and have something of value to share.

“Plenty of people… build visibility the wrong way.”

Decide where you fit within four leadership types:

  1. “Top-down” leaders – This is the most problematic style. These leaders tend to think they’re always right. They often ignore others’ input and expect complete agreement with their decisions. If you fall into this category, you may want to consider changing your approach before branding yourself. Take some leadership coaching classes or ask your team members how you can improve.
  2. “Behind-the-scenes” leaders – These servant-leaders leaders focus on meeting the needs of their team, clients and colleagues. They like to build rapport with everyone, but since they don’t promote their skills or expertise, they limit their impact to their current circle or to those who meet them by chance. Such leaders have the most to gain from personal branding since it allows them to expand their value beyond their immediate circle.
  3. “Ego-driven” leaders – These leaders focus only on their own visibility. Whether you see them on social media sitting on the hood of a fancy car or find posts about their accomplishments littered across LinkedIn, they’re hard to miss. They’re taking the wrong approach to branding: showcasing only their personal brand instead of teaching others how to succeed. They need to change their strategy.
  4. “Mission-driven” leaders – These thought leaders strike the right balance between being an unknown expert and a visible show-off. They share their knowledge and offer value to others by writing books, giving speeches, or producing blogs or podcasts, thus generating far-reaching effects.

Assess your online presence and link yourself to other trusted experts and brands.

In the current media landscape, people form their first impression of you through online searches before they ever interact with you. That means you want to be intentional about what they find when they search and how you present yourself online.

Start with the basics. How discoverable are you on Google? If you search for your name, do you pop up in the first five results? If not, either you may share a name with a more recognizable person, or you haven’t yet established an online presence. In the first case, you may want to change or alter your name, for instance, by starting to use your middle initial to distinguish yourself. To solve the second issue, create a website, LinkedIn profile and social media page. For consistency and better search results, use the same professional name across all platforms.

“When you add a middle initial or middle name, you essentially walk across the street to a new piece of digital real estate that is completely empty. This allows you to plant your flag, lay claim to that land, and often immediately own search around your name.”

Until your name becomes a recognized brand, you can boost your reputation by aligning with brands that hold sway with your target audience. This strategy, known as “authority by association,” enhances your profile and is crucial in building trust before you directly interact with someone new. For example, Delta Air Lines uses this strategy on its website by featuring the logos of well-known media companies that have given it awards for great service, thereby effectively leveraging other sources’ positive opinions.

To leverage your authority by association, review your professional bio, looking for opportunities to link yourself to specific established brands rather than general categories. For instance, don’t only mention that you wrote a book; add the name of your publisher.

Create a variety of content for your online platforms.

Many leaders know that creating content matters, but they struggle to determine what type of content their audience wants.

“The easiest way to grab an audience’s attention is by connecting your content to what they are already paying attention to.”

To address this challenge, divide your content into three categories:

  1. Content about you –“You-driven” content focuses on your experiences, personal journey, knowledge and insights. Consider creating “evergreen content” that remains valuable for years, such as an article about the “Three Ways Leaders Can Listen Better.” Identify topics your target audience looks for online and answer their questions with useful expert content. Sharing a glimpse of your personal life – like posting a photo and a story from a recent vacation – also builds trust. When presented tastefully, such content makes you seem more relatable and personable – a good balance with your professional persona.
  2. News – Focus on timely events that interest your target audiences. Usually, this content is either “calendar-driven” and or it’s “newsjacking” – that is, linked to current events. For calendar-driven content, create an editorial schedule based on holidays or seasonal changes to roll out your content in alignment with your target audience’s interests. Newsjacking involves linking your messages and expertise to current news events which are relevant to your audience. For instance, Oreo cookie’s marketers sent out the famous Oreo tweet, “You can still dunk in the dark,” during the 2013 New Orleans Super Bowl blackout. These news-focused approaches give you an opportunity to capture your audience’s attention and engage with them.
  3. Content about people you know – “Relationship-driven” content builds on relationships you already have for the purpose of scaling and expanding your brand. When incorporating diverse perspectives and expertise beyond your own, you can curate even more valuable content for your audience. For example, you can interview fellow experts and post the chat on your social media pages. By involving others in your content, you not only strengthen your relationships with them, but you also gain opportunities for them to promote your content to their audiences.​​​

Navigate the rented and earned media landscape to your advantage.

It’s crucial to know how modern media platforms function, so you can identify who, ultimately, controls your connection to your target audience. For example, for many years, traditional media such as TV was the “rented media” platform of choice: You either paid for an ad or found a program willing to feature you as a guest, and, thus, reached a viewing audience.

Today, the power has shifted towards social media platforms like Facebook and digital ad behemoths like Google, but the same rules apply: The tech companies that run these platforms act as a middleman between you and your audience. For example, once you reach a certain sized audience on Facebook, the platform will charge you to continue to reach that audience.

Despite its pitfalls, utilizing rented media in a strategic manner can help you broaden your reach and create significant influence. It’s worthwhile to spend time polishing your LinkedIn profile so that it presents a clear image – in terms of visuals and text – of your expert persona and draws people toward your “owned media” – such as your website. Likewise, it’s wise to post both short and long-form content (You-driven, News-driven and Relationship-driven) on LinkedIn. Rather than linking to content posted elsewhere, copy-paste content to get the best results from LinkedIn’s algorithm.

“The focus for your rented media strategy needs to be on providing value to your audience and then driving them back to real estate you own.”

“Earned media” – such as interviews, media appearances or reviews of your book – leverages other people’s opinions and endorsements to build your profile and credibility. Don’t rely exclusively on earned media because – compared to your other outreach choices – it gives you the least control over which audience it reaches and how it presents you.

Explore three key categories to maximize earned media’s potential in establishing your authority:

  1. “Publicity” – Media coverage helps you reach new audiences, enhance your reputation, drive people back to your owned media and build your email list.
  2. “Speaking engagements” – These opportunities may offer extra income and a chance to sell products, generate leads, and convert an audience into followers or customers.
  3. “Book publishing” – Putting out a book positions you as an expert in your field and can make a lasting impact on your readers.

Utilize your owned media platform to maximize your brand’s reach.

With owned media, you have full control over your content – including your appearance, your message and your presentation style. You can build the relationship you want with your targeted audience and convert them to paying customers.

To begin, construct an owned media strategy that reaches the three essential audiences every business needs to engage. The first audience consists of your existing clients, strategic partners and team members. This includes people who have helped you achieve the results you want: They’ve bought your book, become your clients or invited you to speak at their events.

“Your reputation is your lifeblood as a leader.”

The second audience is made up of people on your email list who haven’t bought anything from you or booked your services. While these people have not formally interacted with you yet, they are still your fans, so you can see them as a potential source of future business. The third audience group is anyone in your target audience who has not heard of you, until now, but who could benefit from your expertise.

Next, follow a five-step strategy to market to your three audiences:

  1. “Awareness” – Focus on generating awareness among your target market through advertising, social media, direct mail, public relations, events, speaking engagements or networking. Don’t just sell something to your target audience. Try to earn their long-term loyalty by providing value.
  2. “Lead magnet” – Ask your target audiences for their email addresses in exchange for a valuable resource or incentive, such as a newsletter, free article or a fun quiz that might capture the attention of those who aren’t ready to buy but who are interested in learning more.
  3. “Capture” – Create an “application” process, such as an invitation form to attend an exclusive workshop or summit, to capture a potential customer’s information and gather key insights that you can use to filter potential customers based on relevant criteria.
  4. “Nurture” – Keep your new potential customer’s attention by providing high-value content paired with an easily accessible, hard-to-refuse offer. For example, offer a free quiz on being confident, analyze their results and then link them to a sign-up form for your confidence conference.
  5. “Sale or renurture” – If your potential customers make a purchase, shift your focus. Now you want to empower them to share their positive experience, thus encouraging more people to buy from you. If they don’t make a purchase, they remain part of your audience, and you can continue to nurture them until they are ready to buy.

About the Authors

Adam Witty is the founder and CEO of Forbes Books, and Rusty Shelton is Founder & Chairman of Zilker Media.


“The Authority Advantage: Building Thought Leadership Focused on Impact Not Ego” by Adam Witty and Rusty Shelton is a guidebook for entrepreneurs, business leaders, and professionals looking to establish themselves as authorities in their respective fields. The authors emphasize the importance of building thought leadership not for personal gain, but to create a positive impact on others and contribute to the greater good.

The book is divided into four parts. The first part focuses on the why and how of building thought leadership. The authors argue that thought leadership is not just about being an expert, but about using that expertise to help others and make a difference. They also provide practical tips and strategies for creating and promoting content, building a platform, and engaging with audiences.

The second part of the book examines the six key areas of thought leadership: expertise, creativity, passion, empathy, authenticity, and generosity. The authors provide examples of leaders who have successfully leveraged these elements to build their authority and make a positive impact. They also offer practical exercises and tools to help readers assess and develop their own strengths in these areas.

In the third part, Witty and Shelton discuss the importance of scaling thought leadership. They emphasize the need to repurpose and repackage content, leverage technology, and collaborate with others to expand one’s reach and impact. They also stress the importance of measuring and tracking the impact of one’s thought leadership efforts.

The final part of the book focuses on maintaining and growing one’s authority over time. The authors stress the importance of staying relevant, adapting to changing trends and technologies, and continuing to provide value to one’s audience. They also discuss the role of humility and vulnerability in maintaining one’s authority and building trust with one’s audience.

Throughout the book, Witty and Shelton provide numerous examples of successful thought leaders and provide practical tips, strategies, and tools for readers to build their own authority and make a positive impact. They also emphasize the importance of integrity, authenticity, and generosity in building trust and credibility with one’s audience.

One of the strengths of the book is its focus on the importance of creating value for others and making a positive impact. The authors emphasize that building thought leadership is not just about personal gain, but about using one’s expertise and platform to make a difference in the world. They also provide practical strategies and tools for readers to assess and develop their own strengths and weaknesses and build their authority in a way that is authentic and meaningful.

Another strength of the book is its emphasis on the importance of humility and vulnerability in maintaining one’s authority. The authors stress that authorities are not infallible experts, but rather people who are willing to learn, grow, and admit their mistakes. They provide examples of leaders who have successfully leveraged vulnerability and humility to build trust and credibility with their audiences.

Overall, “The Authority Advantage” is a valuable resource for anyone looking to establish themselves as a thought leader in their field. The book provides practical strategies and tools for creating and promoting content, building a platform, and engaging with audiences. It also emphasizes the importance of integrity, authenticity, and generosity in building trust and credibility with one’s audience. The book is well-organized, easy to follow, and provides numerous examples and case studies to illustrate its points.

In conclusion, “The Authority Advantage” is a must-read for anyone looking to build their authority and make a positive impact in their field. The book provides practical strategies and tools for building thought leadership, emphasizes the importance of humility and vulnerability, and offers numerous examples and case studies to inspire and guide readers on their journey to becoming authorities in their respective fields.

Alex Lim is a certified book reviewer and editor with over 10 years of experience in the publishing industry. He has reviewed hundreds of books for reputable magazines and websites, such as The New York Times, The Guardian, and Goodreads. Alex has a master’s degree in comparative literature from Harvard University and a PhD in literary criticism from Oxford University. He is also the author of several acclaimed books on literary theory and analysis, such as The Art of Reading and How to Write a Book Review. Alex lives in London, England with his wife and two children. You can contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Website | Twitter | Facebook

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