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I grew up going to Satsang, a traditional Indian religious activity where millions of people, including my family, would seek the opinion and advice from a spiritual guru (similar to a pope) on how to live life. This early and frequent exposure to the guru-follower dynamic sparked my lifelong fascination with what makes a guru so influential.
After dropping out of college, I carved out a career helping business leaders and entrepreneurs position themselves as gurus and thought leaders in their respective niches. I’ve worked directly with renowned gurus across diverse industries — from marketing guru, Neil Patel, to nutrition and wellness guru, Kimberly Snyder.
Through my work behind the scenes, I’ve discovered that a guru is more than just an expert in their field. True gurus attract almost cult-like followings of devoted students who cling to their every word. Their teachings, frameworks and philosophies are embraced as absolute truth. Their followers don’t just casually admire them, they feel an almost spiritual connection and loyalty.
So, what does it take to achieve this elite, almost holy status of a guru?
Related: So You Want to Be a Thought Leader? Here are 5 Steps to Take
The influencer hierarchy
Every industry has an influencer hierarchy. To become a guru, you must move up the ladder:
Generalist: Jack of all trades, master of none. Basic knowledge across disciplines.
Specialist: Influencer focused narrowly on one field or topic. Advanced niche knowledge.
Authority: Trusted and respected influencer in a specific niche. Known locally in their niche.
Guru: Renowned thought leader with a devoted following of disciples. Seen as a foremost authority.
Guru’s Guru: The rare thought leader who mentors other top influencers. The coach of industry titans.
The key to reaching guru status is becoming a definitive authority and celebrity in a tightly defined micro-niche. You provide immense value by intensely focusing on solving specific problems for a well-defined audience.
For example, a cardiologist specializes solely in heart health. They have dedicated their career to becoming experts in cardiac care. Patients seek out cardiologists specifically for their precise niche knowledge. A cardiologist offers more advanced expertise in heart health than a general practitioner.
But it’s not enough to just be a specialist or authority. To become a guru, you must establish yourself as a household name — someone who immediately comes to mind when people think of your niche.
Below are the steps to rise up to guru status.
Related: How to Showcase Your Expertise and Become a Thought Leader
How to rise up to guru status
Create a signature origin story and persona. Let your personality and backstory shine through. Use storytelling to build an emotional connection with your audience.
Consistently produce free, high-value content like blogs, videos and podcasts. Provide incredible value consistently over time to draw in followers.
Develop unique frameworks, teachings, philosophies and catchphrases. Give your students something proprietary to latch onto and make their own.
Interact regularly with your audience through your content and messaging. Build familiarity, trust and a personal connection.
Take bold, controversial stances that resonate with devotees but also polarize others. Don’t be afraid to be provocative.
Blend complimentary niches together so you can create diverse areas of interest beyond your core focus, making you more multi-faceted and interesting, while still benefiting from the focus that niching down provides.
Foster an exclusive, tight-knit community around your brand. Make followers feel special and part of an inner circle of insiders.
Encourage students to become evangelists. Equip your followers to organically spread the word about you.
Strategically partner with existing well-known gurus to inherit their followers and credibility.
Create predictable rituals, imagery and behaviors that define your persona. Be recognizable.
Host live events like conferences that let followers engage with you in person.
Most importantly, focus on differentiation and developing true thought leadership. Successful gurus build devoted followings based on the immense value they provide — not slick marketing or gimmicks. Their reputation naturally drives opportunities like book deals, speaking engagements, consulting and lucrative partnerships.
Related: The Journey From Expert to Guru Is 3 Simple-But-Powerful Steps
Becoming a guru is just the first step. To then become a guru’s guru, you must make another shift — from being a leader in your industry to being a leader for your industry. This is when you ascend to the highest echelon, becoming like an Oprah, Ellen, or Martha Stewart of your field. A guru’s guru wields tremendous influence. This level of thought leadership notoriety is so powerful that it can grant access even to the president’s office.
The rise of social media has dramatically accelerated the path to guru status. In the past, building wide public awareness required extensive mainstream publicity, time, money and connections. Now, anyone can leverage digital platforms and niche communities to organically establish thought leadership within a fraction of the time. With people spending an average of 2.5 hours a day on social media, there is ample time to watch hundreds of videos and carve out a niche. If you want to be seen and heard, social platforms provide that opportunity through consistent engagement. The key is simply being consistent — regularly creating content that provides value and builds your authority over time.
The guru path isn’t for everyone. It requires intense focus, a tireless work ethic and an almost fanatical devotion from followers. It’s not just about being a “generalist” influencer who snaps pictures of a luxury lifestyle, but about positioning yourself as the leading voice in your niche. Create binge-worthy content that keeps followers constantly engaged and coming back. Interact with your audience to foster a connection. In time, you too can enjoy the fame, influence and abundant opportunities of a celebrated guru.