Digital-First Leadership


Reframe Your Digital Identity

January 12, 2021
Richard Bliss

In this season, Richard will be speaking about the importance of adaptability and how this skill is necessary for your success in Digital-First Leadership. He will be explaining why leaders like you need to begin mastering the tools of the digital world, or risk getting left behind.

Digital-First Leadership is a different way of thinking and this is where the ability to adapt to the changes happening with the online space is so important.

This show will help you start positioning yourself as a leader who learns and adapts to master the tools needed to be successful today.

Digital-First Leaders know that they will never know it all, and the faster you can get over your ego the faster you’ll be able to make a more direct impact to your team, your brand and your bottom line.

Download a copy of our Digital First Leadership audit, a checklist to make sure you are properly adopting and implementing digital tools that are important for leadership.

    Narrator :

    Welcome to Digital-First Leadership. The podcast that focuses on helping leaders and teams understand how to master the language of social media in today's digital-first world. Now here's your host Richard Bliss.

    Richard Bliss:

    Welcome to the show. Up until this point in any leader's career, they have generally followed a series of steps that they're comfortable with to get them where they are today. Now, these could be anything. They could be a control, the way they manage projects. They could be their outward personality. They could be a subject matter expert. A wide variety of things. My personal case, I like to wander around. When I manage my teams, I like to identify and follow people around. Now, all of these steps have worked for leaders to get to the position where they are today. We just have one problem and that is, they no longer work. Because the circumstances that allowed them to flourish and have all of us find success in our leadership roles completely has changed. We have now moved to what's called a digital-first environment, where people get to know us first through our digital identity, long before they ever, if they ever do, meet us in person.

    Now, what this means then is that we have to change our thinking. I've had a lot of people tell me, "Well, I've got a strange sense of humor. Once people get to know me, they understand it." Well, that's great, but that doesn't translate to online. Because they're going to get to know you first online, and then maybe they'll get to appreciate your humor. So these are things that we have to think about. A different way of approaching each of the ways that we have management. Now, what that means then is that we need to learn a new set of tools, a new set of skills that allows us to be successful. When working with our customers, employees, and partners, they see us through this digital lens first. We can't pass them in the hallway, see them in the lunch room.

    My favorite was to go around and just check with people because I would discover if there were silos of information happening. Because as I talked to one team and then wandered over to the desk or the building of another team, I would start to discover that, hey, things are going on that maybe some communication's not happening. And I'd be able to be a connection between those, but in today's environment, our communication is done through so many different forced channels that we really have to radically change the way we do things. We have to think differently, because if we just are getting to know people through a Zoom call or a newsletter that we send out, people really aren't getting to know us at all. And so now the question is, what do I share? How much of this do I share? Do I get personal?

    What do I do? And so these are the things that we start thinking about in this digital-first environment. And that means you have to get to understand and be comfortable with the tools themselves. Being a digital-first leader means that you have to adapt to the environment. You have to master the language and master the tools, Zoom, Slack, LinkedIn, Twitter, whatever it might be, whatever platform that your company's using, Teams. These are tools that you need to come to master. I talked to a lot of people, mostly before COVID hit. And we all started working from home, but even still today, "I don't spend a lot of time on social media. That's not my thing." Okay. I appreciate that. But that's the thing of your employees, your customers and your partners. And so, in essence, what you're saying is, "I'm not going to show up."

    "I'm just not going to be present. I'm going to be completely gone. And then if people want to get to know me, they'll come find me." That's just not the way it works. What each of us need to do instead is identify and focus on having our presence online, and we need to do it with intent and purpose. We need to craft our self identity. We need to go through a checklist and say, "Okay, here are the things that I have focused on." This includes our leadership style. So let me give me an example. I do training for a lot of young people, college interns, recently hired graduates. And one of the things I do in this training is talk to them about different leadership styles. Now we're familiar with the different tests that show you what kind of personality traits you have. But when it comes to a leadership style, I've developed my own over the years. And for the last 20 years I've learned this in the military, in the Army and I've adapted it to the workforce. And so here's how it works.

    I use three types of leaders based on a concept of an animal totem, if you wanted to look at it like that. These three animals are lions, owls, and Saint Bernards. Each one of these animals represents a different style of leadership. Now let's think about this. What does a lion think about? Let's think about positive words and it's an exercise I do, and there's a bit of a surprise in the training when I do this. Because we go through and we identify what are the positive characteristics of a lion? So think about that right now, as you're listening to me. If you thought of somebody as a lion personality, as a leader, and you had some positive things to say about them, what would you say? Well, I can tell you, over the years, as I've done this training to thousands of people, number one would be courage.

    Lions are known for courage. Lions are known for getting things done. Lions are known for bravery, similar to courage. They're known for fearlessness, being out there. Just being present. Those are some really great things. Let's talk about owls real quick. What are owls known for? Positive things about owls? And owl personality is somebody who's going to be observant, thoughtful, careful. They're going to be meticulous. They're going to be focused. They're going to be patient. These are words that are generally associated when I ask an audience to name them for me. The third one is Saint Bernard. What do we know about a Saint Bernard? Well, the number one word is loyal. Saint Bernard's are loyal. They're strong. They are comforting. They are reliable for you there. They're going to be there for you. These are the things that we know. They are friendly.

    They tend to be happy. These are what we know. Now, in my exercise. And we can't really do this here on the podcast, but it is kind of fun in the classroom setting, I then have you right now, self-identity. Pick one of these leaderships. And in the training, I then have you write it down on a piece of paper and slide it off to the side. And then I have you identify the leadership style of your teammates. Usually it's people sitting at your table, but think about your team. Think about the people that you rely on, and then maybe your own leadership and pick one of those. Which ones do you see them representing? Here's where it gets fun. I usually have them write that down and pass that to them secretly. So now they have a pile of paper in front of them with what everybody thinks of them as a leader, what animal. But now here comes the other aspect of that.

    Now let's go through and identify some of the negative aspects of leadership with each one of those animal traits. What are the negative aspects of a lion? Well, that's not hard. I know you've already thought of it. Selfishness, ego, aggressive, arrogant. These are the things that ... ruthless, lack of caring, stomping on people on their way to career success. These are the things, the negative traits that we think about for lions. What about owls? Owls we consider wise, but when it comes to the negative traits, we consider them too cautious, cold, unemotional, focused on process, uncaring, calculating, sneaky. These are not flattering words, especially if you self-identified as an owl. And what about Saint Bernards? Well, sloppy, lazy, just kind of goofy, not really professional. Again, this is not a flattering description of the Saint Bernard type. Now think about it. Up until just a few seconds ago, you were self-identifying with one of these traits because you saw yourself as strong lion or wise, like an owl or loyal like a Sain Bernard.

    But now suddenly you're like, "Oh no, no, no, no. I don't want to be characterized as an arrogant lion or a calculating owl or a sloppy, lazy Saint Bernard." So this is what's important is for you to figure out you're out how you see yourself and then how others see you. And then with this concept that you've developed, now figure out how that influences how you perform and behave online in your digital environment. And there are certain tools that work better for different leadership styles. And so here's some suggestions I have. If you're a lion, you're going to look for things and tools that allow you to get things done, to-do lists that show you checking off boxes. Trello boards, or Asana, things that give you the idea of every day, having a checklist and be able to go after that.

    Now in the sales force, you're going to have other types of tools that allow you that win every day. You're going to wake up and make that win, if you're a sales person. But there's going to be other tools for non sales people, how can I feel like I'm getting things done and accomplishing? For owls, there's natural things are going to be drawn. You're already going to be drawn to this if you're an owl. Gantt charts or flow charts or things that allow you to identify the process. And if you're a Saint Bernard it's things that allow you to stay in touch with people, Slack, WhatsApp, other team-based communication tools.

    Here's why this is important: because each one of these, if I was the name three things, here we go. Results, process, relationships. You can pretty easily guess which ones go with which ones. Which of the three leadership styles is focused on results? Lions. Who's focused on process? Owls. And who's focused on relationships? Saint Bernards. now to a lion, a Saint Bernard looks like he's never getting things done. He or she is never getting things done. Why? Because they're only focused on the people. And to a Saint Bernard, a lion looks like somebody who's willing to walk all over people. And in between of them as an owl who just can't get the things done because they're focused on the process, and those owls stress out about lions who break the process and don't follow it. And lions and St Bernard's are frustrated with the hours because they just don't take into consideration that people. You can see how these three work together as a team.

    Now, why am I talking about this? Because when you start going online, you need to be aware of how people view you. You might see yourself as a very courageous, strong leader as a lion, getting things done. But you're owl and Saint Bernard employees or partners or fellow workers might just see you as an arrogant jerk, who steps on people to try to get the results, be aware of this different approach. And so start using your online presence to focus on how you want to be perceived. So how do you do that? You do that by telling stories, not tell yourself stories, but telling stories about the way you want to be. I think about, for example, you don't want to be the leader ... I've worked extensively in the legal industry, and I've worked with a lot of law firms.

    And over the years, in the early years, I worked with law firms where the senior partners were really proud of the fact ... now, this is a while back. They didn't have a phone on their desk. And if you asked them to put paper in the copy machine, they couldn't even find the copy machine, let alone put paper in it. And they were very proud of that. But in today's world, you can't be that kind of leader. So you need to be focused on understanding how to start telling a story about yourself, where you have mastery of the tools, and you understand how to communicate the value that you have. Talk to your Saint Bernards about the people. Talk to your owls about the process. Talk to your lions about results in getting things done. And then help them understand and work closely so that they all feel they're being heard and be being seen.

    Now, this whole process is important, because what you want to do is you want to take these tools, adapt them to your style, and then go out there and try to find some quick wins. Work with your team. Here's a quick win. Take your LinkedIn profile and go connect with those people who report to you. Connect with your customers, connect with your partners. Initiate the connection request yourself. Why? Because when you do that, you're saying, "I see you. I hear you. I value you." It's a tiny little thing, but it's a quick way for people to say, "Oh." I have been on so many calls with executives and sales teams. I was on a call with a major company just the other day where the senior VPs were on the call and realized they weren't even connected to each other on LinkedIn. Why? Because they didn't spend a lot of time there.

    "Why do I need to be on LinkedIn?" Well, we're going to talk about it in this podcast about how you need to be on LinkedIn in episodes. Because you need to establish that presence and that connection. So this is one way to think about that. Go start establishing those connections. Now, you can also create your own audit of the digital tools that are out there. But one of the things you need to do is focus on getting those tools in place. If you don't know how to use those tools, the next step you need to do is have the courage to ask for help.

    This comes into the team concept. You need to be able to ask your team for help. "Hey, I need to get better at LinkedIn. Hey, I need to figure out how to have my voice out there. What should I do?" But I have run into teams who are supporting executives, who are unwilling to take that step. They don't want their executive on social media, because that means they're going to have to support him on social media. And they don't know how. They don't know how to use LinkedIn. They maybe have an Instagram account. And most of the time the CEO or the executive doesn't want to be on Instagram. They want to be out talking to customers and partners, and that's probably going to be on LinkedIn. I'm not here to talk right now about the benefits of LinkedIn over Instagram.

    But I am here to tell you that you need to figure out where your audience is, what tools are necessary to communicate with them and get a mastery of those. Either through you doing it yourself, hiring somebody to do it, that's how come I'm in business. Or turning to your own internal team to have them help support you. In my book, digital-first Leadership, I talk about this a lot about how to master these tools, how to build your online presence. So this is something that I would recommend that you do. Either reach out to me, connect with me on LinkedIn, but find a way to establish that relationship so that you can start beginning to use these tools and take this presence, this leadership style, and make it work for you.

    I'd like to give you something. And so what I'd like you to do is I have an audit, a digital-first leadership audit. It's basically a checklist to help you set a baseline. Where are you today? If you go ahead and visit my website, and it'll also be a link in the show notes, you'll be able to see and go check to see where you stand and how well you're doing. Now in my podcast, as we move forward, we're going to talk a lot about these different tools and ideas, but this gives you an idea of where we start with. How we adapt, how we adjust to this new digital-first presence and how to become a digital-first leader. Thank you for listening. I'm looking forward to our conversation this season, as we begin to talk about a wide range of topics, and I invite guests on that are I think will be interesting to you, about how these topics impact their business and the insights that they bring. Thanks for listening. Take care.

    Narrator :

    You've been listening to Digital-First leadership, the podcast where you learn to leverage and build your expertise on digital platforms for more valuable tips on mastering the language of social media, subscribe to our newsletter at If you'd like to stay in touch, feel free to add Richard on LinkedIn and join the conversation.