“5 Things You Should Do To Become a Thought Leader In Your Industry”, With Author Tonya McKenzie

Yitzi Weiner
Jan 29 · 11 min read

Thought leadership is hugely important when it comes to establishing yourself in your industry. It is the ability to get to a desired outcome on a different path than others have taken. It displays your ability to be courageous, creative, and steadfast in your effort to find a new way to solve a possibly old problem. It’s almost like math. You can come to the right answer through various different paths. The great thing about this is that it gives others an opportunity to travel a path that few to none have traveled to get to a desired outcome. The scary part is that very few individuals if any at all have traveled this path. For those that did not find comfort in the paths that were laid out before, it gives them options on how to get to a desired outcome. We can look at something as simple as marketing efforts. There may be a step-1, step-2, and step-3 that most people follow but being a thought leader allows for you to find a step-4. As the thought leader, you have paved that new path. You’re a trailblazer. How many people can claim that title?


As part of in your industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tonya McKenzie. Tonya is an author, public relations and brand consultant by trade, a child advocate by choice. Tonya’s firm, Sand & Shores PR works with speakers, authors, entrepreneurs and small businesses to seek the publicity and media attention that they need to increase their brand awareness and profitability. Tonya started her career campaigning and being elected as a Senator at California State University, Northridge (C.S.U.N.) As an Associate Executive Director at the YMCA, Tonya co-authored the FIT Kids Manual for the Contra Costa Health Services. Mrs. McKenzie was the first African American elected to the Oakley Chamber of Commerce as a Director. Tonya served as an appointed member of the Youth Council for Contra Costa County, by Supervisor Federal Glover. Tonya was elected and is currently serving as the first African American women elected to the Redondo Beach Chamber of Commerce, Board of Directors, president of the North Redondo Beach Business Association, and serves on the City of Redondo Beach GPAC (General Plan Advisory Council) shaping the esthetics of this beachside city for the next 20 years. Her body of work with chambers has shaped her into an advocate and valuable resource for small businesses and entrepreneurs.


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?

Born and raised in the Bay Area (San Jose, California), I am a gun-violence survivor, spent time in a Federal Witness Protection Program as a child, and would go on to chronicle the events of my childhood and youth in my first published book, A Child’s Memories of Cartoons & Murder. I am the mother of 4, including a set of twins, married for over 18 years to a young tech exec and currently reside in Redondo Beach, CA where I live, work, and play.

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

I am a master in the art of sculpting a narrative that benefits the intended result. If you are looking to land more clients, garner media attention or just shape public perception, I have mastered the art of storytelling for the purposes of public relations and marketing. With the digital age providing quick releases and immediate gratification, I have found a way to get the public to read/listen to stories, process and reframe perception in the favor of the storyteller and subject.

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

The most pivotal and interesting moment in my career was the moment that I saw a profile of myself in the Contra Costa Times, profiled as the Health & Wellness Director at the Mt. Diablo Region YMCA, teaching classes and managing the department on a bare-bones budget while trying to raise funds to open a new facility. I did not have a marking budget, so, I had to get creative. A strong PR effort was my only option. I reached out to local editors and journalists to tell the story about what we were doing and why it was important. The storytelling came to life in the pages of the prominent regional publication. In Contra Costa County, the Contra Costa Times, now the was everything. Seeing my name and picture in the publication proved to me that I was capable of making business happenings newsworthy.

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?

When I was starting, the funniest mistake that I made was assuming that the people that I hire would always do the job that they promised. Just because somebody calls themselves a publicist, doesn’t necessarily mean that they can currently handle publicity. You can call yourself anything. However, unless you are handling the duties of said profession, you are truly NOT worthy of that title.

I hired a publicist when I wrote and released my first book so that my clients never felt like I was using the time that they paid for was used to handle my own publicity. What I realized is that times have changed, gotten more technologically advanced and that my hired publicist, though experienced, had not grown with the industry. That was a note to self that staying relevant and effective would require me to stay educated and updated on the industry. I needed to be able to tell stories on every medium available. Continuing education is not optional, but mandatory, to stay competitive in any industry.

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 leader motivates a group of people towards a particular action or direction using an idea or principle to guide the movement and unity. An influencer has the power to affect decisions, purchase, and movements based on their authority, popularity and position in society. Their opinions have worth based on their standing in the public eye.

A thought leader is authoritative. They are not just given influence, they leverage authority through their experience, education, and accomplishments. You cannot purchase thought leadership. You have to prove that you are worthy of that title. Your ideas in getting to a particular result must be original, uncopied and never a duplicate of somebody else. A thought leader sets a new standard and path for getting a group of people to a desired result. It’s leadership with an original path, not the same that another has traveled and the ability to communicate that path to the group that is looking to you to lead them to the desired result. It is motivating in nature because it is something that others have not yet tried. It is leadership that requires communication and strategic thinking about the path to the solution of a problem.

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?

Thought leadership is hugely important when it comes to establishing yourself in your industry. It is the ability to get to a desired outcome on a different path than others have taken. It displays your ability to be courageous, creative, and steadfast in your effort to find a new way to solve a possibly old problem. It’s almost like math. You can come to the right answer through various different paths. The great thing about this is that it gives others an opportunity to travel a path that few to none have traveled to get to a desired outcome. The scary part is that very few individuals if any at all have traveled this path. For those that did not find comfort in the paths that were laid out before, it gives them options on how to get to a desired outcome. We can look at something as simple as marketing efforts. There may be a step-1, step-2, and step-3 that most people follow but being a thought leader allows for you to find a step-4. As the thought leader, you have paved that new path. You’re a trailblazer. How many people can claim that title?

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?

  1. In marketing, thought leadership allows for one to reach desired goals, possibly with less resources or money spent.
  2. In public relations, one can obtain media coverage and organic social media growth using methods that are new and undiscovered by other professionals and individuals.
  3. In branding, a thought leader would be able to obtain greater brand awareness and company growth with less monetary resources and effort based on a unique way of carving brand recognition in a campaign. Thought leadership takes us on a path undiscovered by others to a conclusion desired by many.

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. Decide your specialty, your niche. You cannot be the master of all things. Decide where you feel like you have a stronghold to pave your path. You have to be thoroughly comfortable with that subject-matter.
  2. Be original. Duplicating and coping somebody else’s path with no form of originality will lead to a slow demise.
  3. Educate others. Make sure that you can communicate your ideas in a way that a layman can understand.
  4. Content is key. Make sure that you arm yourself with various items of evidence to support your claims and positions.
  5. Be consistent. Before you set off to speak and campaign for your position, commit to it. Marry it. Make sure that you are fully committed to the idea so that you never veer from it and hold steady to much more easily convince people of your conviction.

I am a true believe that we are not our past but the image in which we commit to. I am a gun-violence and sexual abuse survivor. I never wanted that to lead the conversation about me. I decided at an early age who I wanted to be and be seen as. I stuck with that. Even in my youth, I kept that idea branded on the front of my mind. Until I wrote and released my book, nobody knew of my past because I was committed to branding myself as a straight-laced African American businesswoman. I controlled the narrative. The path in which I got there was an original one. I didn’t just tell the story, I lived the lifestyle. I am a thought leader in childhood trauma survival techniques and recovery. Am a thought leader in storytelling and public relations. It’s not just the story. It’s how you tell the story, it’s where you tell the story and it is to whom you tell the story.

In your opinion, who is an example of someone who has that 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.

Taraji P. Henson has done very good job in being a thought leader. Not only has she taken on and well played roles that may have seemed outside of her sophistication, but she has gone on to lead a conversation about mental health that ignited a whole new organization and mental wellness movement. This woman is not only looked to in entertainment but now with The Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation, she is breaking down walls in a very tabooed topic in life.

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

Thought-leadership, when used correctly is a badge of honor. The ability to be able to think down a path less traveled is underrated. Social media ambushes us with more information and ideas than we can process and sort out at one time. Some of that information has been taken and claimed as original thoughts when it’s hasn’t proven to be so. When the term thought-leader is used correctly, it s a very valuable commodity. There is value to being the first.

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

To thrive and avoid burnout, don’t expect too much too fast. Being thoughtful requires that you take time, process what you know and decide how you will use that information. Understand that change takes time and most thought leaders apply what they are thinking to the greater good. Be patient with yourself as you learn new things and use that same patience when trying to get others to receive and process what you are teaching.

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. :-)

I would start a movement that produces greater influence in storytelling, perseverance and accomplishment over fame and entertainment. The people in our society with the best stories truly have higher levels of accomplishments and should garner a greater level of influence and support than those that were just luck in entertainment. My movement would awaken our communities to the value of strength and resilience.

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

“Prepare for the worst but hope for the best.” ~TMcKenzie

I have learned through experience that being negative is never a solution. We must be solution-oriented in our life path, at the same time understanding that things can go wrong. Contingency plans are important. We have to consider possibilities but never keeping us from taking chances, following our dreams and own intuition. This is my mantra for life. We have to prepare for the worst. We prepare for earthquakes and bad weather and things of that nature so why not prepare for things to not go as planned in business or other aspects of life. While we prepare, we still work towards best case scenarios. If we plan and put in the hard work to execute our plans, we’re hoping for the best and living in that space. If we’ve prepared for things to go awry while working towards our goals, we get the best case scenario.

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. :-)

Gabrielle Union is somebody that I would love to have lunch with. I have always been astounded by her grace when speaking about her sexual assault. She was able to process it and move forward without being a shrew and that takes a higher level of refinement. People tend to rely on woundology to live their life. They hold on to the bad and use it as an excuse for bad behavior. Not only has she spoken about her assault but she has been very exposed about the healing process and moving forward. This can never be under acknowledged because so many women go through it. She is also from the Bay Area and an amazing woman of color. There was no light skinned privilege in her rise. There was only a steadfast grind. All of this leaves me with the curiosity of her conversation.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Twitter:

Instagram:

Facebook:

Linkedin:

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

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

Yitzi Weiner

Written by

A “Positive” Influencer, Founder & Editor of Authority Magazine, CEO of Thought Leader Incubator

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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