Putting Your Stamp on Leadership in the Digital Age

by Paige Albiniak  |  04.27.2017

Leadership may be leadership but there are some facets of building a strong brand in the digital era that people like Stephen Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends and Influence People, didn’t have to deal with.

“What leadership skills from all of those books that came before still apply and what’s different in this new exponential age?” asked Erik Qualman, best-selling author and motivational speaker, keynote speaker at the PromaxGAMES’ inaugural summit in San Francisco.

According to Qualman — whose first initial and last name together spell “equalman,” hence his social media handles — everyone’s “digital stamp” is a combination of their “digital footprint” and their “digital shadow.” Your digital footprint is composed of what you post online about yourself, while your digital shadow is what other people post about you.

“Ninety-two percent of children under the age of 2 already have a digital stamp. Twenty-five percent of babies who have not been born yet already have digital stamps because their moms are posting about them,” says Qualman.

Sometimes, a brand’s digital stamp isn’t necessarily what they want it to be. Maybe something negative happens — take Pepsi’s recent attempt to capitalize on activism as a brand message — or an intended message goes sideways. Qualman’s advice is to “step into the discomfort.”

For example, Pepsi worked with NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon to create a fun video that made at least one person very uncomfortable.

Beyond that, Qualman used the letters of the word “stamp” (as in “digital stamp”) to create an acronym to guide people as they go about creating and curating their own digital impression.

S Stands for Simple

First off, Qualman offered a non-digital suggestion just for improving productivity.

“Everyone should have a ‘not-to-do list,’ which is really a ‘not-yet list,’” he says. “And your not-yet list should be at least 10 times as long as your to-do list.”

This is because human beings really function best when they are focusing on one thing at a time.

“Multitasking is killing us. We can’t multi-task as human beings. What we call multi-tasking, such as writing an email to your boss while you are also on a conference call, is really your brain switching tasks. Why do we multi-task? To be more efficient, but we’re becoming less efficient while we multi-task. In the moments while we are multi-tasking, our IQ drops 15 points. That’s the equivalent of not sleeping for 36 hours.

“Focus on one thing at a time and instantly become more productive.”

Simplicity also can help brand messages stand out.

“Simplification is very easy to spot in the wild,” says Qualman, using the below as an example.

When Dollar Shave Club entered the marketplace, the brand understood that it was just trying to do one simple thing, and they conveyed that message in the below video.

Dollar Shave Club had a clear understanding about its brand and that paid off: Unilever acquired the start-up in 2016 for $1 billion.

T Stands for True

This concept extends from the idea of simplicity: be sure that the digital stamp you are creating is true and authentic. That requires occasionally taking a look at your digital stamp and making sure that it’s reflecting you as you want to be reflected.

That might require taking an overall look at yourself across social platforms and making sure that you are leaving the right impression.

A Stands for Act

There’s a rule in Silicon Valley that failing fast leads to fast success.

“But failure doesn’t lead to success,” Qualman says. “Evaluating failure leads to success.”

For example, during Hurricane Katrina, the Red Cross opened up all of their social platforms for anyone who was volunteering to allow them to answer questions, stay in touch with victims and so forth.

Of course, that led to one volunteer accidentally tweeting the following on the official @RedCross handle: “Ryan found two more 4 bottle packs of Dogfish Head’s Midas Touch beer … when we drink we do it right #gettingslizzerd.”

But another quick-thinking volunteer rectified the mistake: “We’ve deleted the rogue tweet but rest assured the Red Cross is sober and we’ve confiscated the keys.”

Meanwhile, Dogfish Head Brewery jumped on the opportunity to encourage people to, instead of drinking a pint, donate a pint of blood or some money.

The whole mistake led to the Red Cross gathering a record number of donations during the week, not to mention the earned media the organization got due to publications reporting on the gaffe.

“Everyone is going to make mistakes,” says Qualman. “It’s how we capitalize on those mistakes that matters.”

Qualman called that phenomenon being “flawsome.”

M Stands for Map

While you are on your journey, it’s also important to remain flexible, says Qualman. He told the story of a woman he knew who said she used to wake up every day and think, “I hope nothing bad happens today.”

But after 40 years of thinking this way, the woman finally realized that day never came. Something challenging came up for her every day. But that was okay.

“Things don’t happen to you, things happen for you,” says Qualman. “All of these new things are going to happen all the time. It’s on you to step into new changes and discomfort.”

P Stands for People

“If you’re not getting pushback, you aren’t being pioneering enough,” says Qualman. “Teamwork makes the dream work.”

In a similar way, “surround yourself with the right people online. The easiest way to do that is by posting it forward.”

What Qualman means by that is to spend just three minutes a day to use your favorite social platform to send a positive message to someone else.

“The worst time to network is when you need to network because you aren’t coming from a position of strength.”

In the end, Qualman said, an individual’s digital stamp is a powerful representation of him or herself in the digital world. It pays to pay attention to it.

And one final lesson: “you get a 39 percent better response rate to your emails if you use emojis and smileys and an even better rate if you use the nose.”


[Image courtesy of Jasmin Van T]

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