Digital-First Leadership


Becoming Digitally Proactive

January 12, 2021
Richard Bliss

In this episode Richard talks about leadership style and drives home the idea that Digital-First Leadership is a different way of leading. He encourages you to find ways to reach out and connect with your potential customers, prospects using online digital tools PROACTIVELY instead of REACTIVELY. 

Richard suggests repurposing the time previously spent focusing on team lunches and other leadership tactics to time leading online, saying “This is where you need to invest your time and energy.”

As always, think Digital-First, understand the particular struggles of adjusting to WFH for the people you’re leading.

Now is the time, more than ever to lead with compassion. Find ways to interact that shows that you, as the leader, see, understand and value your employees, customers and partners. 

Keep the conversation going in our Digital First Leadership Facebook group where you can find more tips on how to adapt to Digital First.


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. This is episode three of Digital First Leadership. I'm your host, Richard bliss. I appreciate you being here. This past year 2020, we're all glad it's gone. But what's funny is, as we look at Digital First Leadership, one of the reasons I've crafted this concept is because last year at this time, we had no idea what was coming. We were blissfully ignorant of the transformation that was about to happen in our society. And yet when COVID hit and we started to adapt all of us in the business environment. One of the biggest challenges we had was trying to dovetail our previous experiences into the new reality, whether that was events or whether that was leadership, public speaking. I saw so many trade shows during that transition who are trying their best to replicate the in-person experience into the digital experience.

It didn't work. And we saw that time and time again, that it didn't work. But one of the things that did work was when organizations, individuals started thinking differently and what I call thinking digital first, adapting. And it was that adaptability that it helps so many companies succeed as well as companies start to find new ways of doing business. Now it came with so many challenges as we know because we're all still trying to adapt, but what's now happened is we are now in the new norm. So this is the normal, and now we're adapting to not this being a disruption to the way things used to be, but now, basically looking at saying, "This is the way things are going to be." And that means we now need to think dramatically different about a wide variety of things, including our leadership style and the way we go about solving problems, but working with teams and all of that.

As I talk about leadership, one of the things you've heard me talk about on this podcast, and I will continue to talk upon particularly this season is the tools, being able to master the tools, understanding how to use social media, understanding how to be comfortable behind a camera, behind a microphone, behind a computer, rather than out in front of your team meeting them in the hallway at the lunch room or wherever. And this has caused a big difference, a big change. And what it means is that you've had to learn a new set of skills, a new set of abilities that probably you didn't need them before to get to where you are today, but to get to where you want to be tomorrow, you're going to need to reinvent yourself on how you adapt to these.

I work with a lot of executives and as I do, I got an email recently from one executive who admitted that they have struggled. They're in a very senior position at a very high prominent company and they admit it, they've struggled. They've struggled because they don't feel that they're doing an adequate job. They're too far out in front of their own abilities, all of this. You might be suffering from these same feelings and you might not be a formal leader, but simply in this new role that you're being asked to do, and I've seen it particularly over this last year is I trained thousands of people on how to become and start thinking of having a digital first presence, whether that was in sales, whether that was in leadership marketing, a wide variety.

And so one of the things I want to talk about today in the few minutes that we have together is making this adjustment, this adaptation to the new environment and what it means because there are some specific things that you can think about. And maybe you've learned these already intuitively over the past year of simply having to survive, but I'd like to kind of bring them to your awareness and a few things that you can do to maybe be a little bit more effective in your role, whether you're a formal leader or you're a influence leader. And what I mean by that is not a traditional Instagram influencer type thing, but more of people look to you because you seem to know things.

One of my clients who has been in their career for many years and had to reinvent themselves many times. And when we met, they limited the fact that they seem to always be failing in their role. Now that's an interesting perspective because their concept of failing was that they were jumping from one company to another on a regular basis. They didn't seem to be able to keep a job. I put that in air quotes, "keep their job". And yet when I sat down with them and we looked at their career, what we discovered was that this individual was constantly brought in specifically to solve one issue or problem and when that problem was solved, it wasn't that the company didn't need them anymore, but their unique skillset was not applicable anymore. And so they were often let go.

Well, at first, when they came to me, I feel like a therapist in some ways. They looked at me and they said, "I'm such a failure. I keep getting let go." And I was like, "No, it's the exact opposite. You have been so successful at what you do is that when you get it done, it's done and it's time for you to move on." Once they looked at that environment, they suddenly realized, "Oh," and they started looking at their next step and their next role and I continue to work with them over the years. And there were three new roles that they stepped into, but this time they stepped in with the understanding and an idea that, "Oh, I'm stepping into this role to solve a problem and when the problem's done, I'm probably not going to be here anymore." They owned their own persona, their own future.

Now you're in an environment right now where the social cues that you normally receive from work have changed. You don't get to see people talking in the hallways, "Oh, so is my boss talking to somebody or is that person talking," the gossip, the rumor mill is way different because we don't see things. You don't get to read the body language. We're relying so much on the video side of things and the digital side of things, which means you really need to step up your digital game when it comes to interacting with your coworkers, those employees that work for you or employees or management that you work for, for your peers and for your prospects and customers and partners that you're engaging with. You need to dramatically change the way you approach this idea of, what's my value and how do I do that?

So here's a couple of things to think about. There's a great book out there called The Soft Edge written by Rich Karlgaard, a friend of mine. And in the book, he talks about three sides to any organization. One side is the physical, the components, the infrastructure. The other side is the processes, the things that people do, but the third one, the soft edge. By the way, the reason he points those out is those are easily replicable. If you have an idea, you can put that idea out there and somebody can copy it overnight. Somebody can produce it cheaper, 3D print it somewhere. It becomes much easier, so a process can be copied and physical aspects can be copied, but one piece that can't be copied is the soft edge, the piece of the triangle into an organization that simply is what we can refer to sometimes as culture.

And that culture cannot be replicated. You can't copy the culture. You can't copy fans. You can't copy the intangibles that sets you apart. What are some of those intangibles? Some of those intangibles that Rich identifies is trust. Trust is basically the idea of creating an environment that engenders trust and propels high-performance. In my own organization, one of the things I try to do as much as possible is to instill trust and give ownership to those people who I've asked to do something. Sometimes it's been funny because they'll say, "Oh, doesn't Richard needs to check to make sure this is okay?" And I've entrusted my team to say, "No, he does not need to be. He has entrusted me to make the decision." And that's been a critical component of how we've built culture here at Bliss Point.

Something else that Rich talks about, smarts. I know a lot of things. Somebody asked me the other day, what can I riff on for 20 minutes with no preparation? Well, that's a pretty long list. I read a lot. I'm interested in a lot of things, but it's a finite list because there's a lot of things I don't know. And in my business, I tried to get my team to understand and know more about a process than I do, so that their expertise, they're smart they know. And then oftentimes, I'll even have them hire an agency later on to do the very thing I asked them to do, but the key is they now know how to do it.

Okay. There's a couple of more. Teamwork is one of them. Getting the teams to break the silos. Steve Jobs was famous for this, breaking down those silos, getting people to work together. Taste is an interesting one. When Rich talks about taste, it's kind of like, it's that intangible. Maybe it's something that you instinctively know and recognize and understand when you just see it and you know it. It's kind of a famous way of thinking about that. You'll see it when you know it. And then story, telling a story. Now, how does this all apply to you and your role right now? What it has to do is when you're in a digital first environment, you need to start thinking about these things that sets you apart. How do you convey culture? How do you convey trust when it's a digital first environment? When you have to engage with customers first online before you ever, if you ever get a chance of actually connecting with them in person, and it's not just customers. I have talked to so many of my clients who have hired or been responsible for hiring people during COVID, where they've never met them. There's no physical interaction.

About a year or so ago, I was doing a lot of training and I was standing in front of an audience and I had one individual tell me, "Look, I don't accept a connection on social media from anybody I haven't met." I didn't handle that well because what I asked them was, "What is so mystical about the three feet of distance between you and I occupying those three feet of distance at the same time, in the same space in the universe that makes you trust me more simply because we occupied that space other than some type of other social proof point that might happen on social media?" Think about how limiting you are to yourself. Do you know me? Do you and I actually know each other? Well, if you've listened to my show, you've listened to a couple of episodes, you've heard some of my guests, you know why I've invited them on, if you've listened to my previous podcasts, 600,000 downloads, people got to know me, but we've never met.

And so you have to change the way you think about this digital first relationships that you're building and you have to learn how to have trust with them. So here's a couple of things you can do as a leader to actually instill that trust into your teams. One, use your social media to initiate and reach out and engage with them first. Oftentimes, I see leaders create content. I even helped them create content and we sit down and we talk about what they want to create. They put it up there, their employees, or their team, or their peers comment on it and then they respond and they comment. It's a very specific tactic that we use to help them build awareness. But what happens when one of their teammates or somebody who reports to them or a partner or a customer shares a piece of content of some kind and you as a leader, take a moment to go out and simply either like it or actually take the time to say something insightful.

Deep breath because we're all so busy. And I hear what you're saying, "I don't have time for that." Really? You don't have time for that. Think about that. Your team never sees you. Your customers never get to engage with you. They might see you in a Zoom call. They might get an email from you, but that's the only type of engagement they're getting. You need to find the time. You need to find the energy. And I'm really emphatic about this. Go find ways of connecting, just even if it's just a like, although I hate the like because it's so minimal. You can do more than that. Take the time on LinkedIn right now as a leader to go and initiate a connection request with those employees you haven't connected with.

"Well, Richard, I've got 600 employees that work for me." Yeah. So? "I don't have time to go do 600 connections." Well, okay. So you never want to talk to those people. "Yeah. I want to talk to them. I want them to know what I'm thinking and saying." Did you just hear yourself? You've got to make that effort. And it's okay to ask for help. I have one client who has thousands of connection requests. They are the CEO of a multi-billion dollar company. They get thousands. So what we do is we set up filters to make it a little bit more effort for people to connect, but that doesn't mean that we don't have them actually initiating connections with... first of all, they're direct reports.

When we first did the training, it was shocking because as we brought up everybody's profiles during the training, several of the executives noticed they weren't connected to each other. These were people leading a multi-billion dollar multinational company and their coworkers and they're on the Zoom call together, but they'd never actually taken the effort to connect with each other. That's one of the most powerful things you can do as a leader. Now, I might hear you saying, "Well, why don't I wait for them to connect to me?" I have talked to a lot of people, junior people and the biggest challenge they have is they don't want to reach out and initiate the contact because our social taboos make it feel like we're sucking up. We're interrupting. We're bugging them. And yet that's not the case. But by you doing it first as a leader, by reaching out to your customers, your partners, your prospects, your employees and saying, "I'd like to connect with you. I'd like to see you. I'd like to pay attention to what you're doing," social media is a way we do it and digital first, particularly on LinkedIn is how we go about doing that.

Okay. This can be challenging. I recognize that, but this is a great way for you to get out in front of your prospects and customers to be present and you need to adapt. And so trust is one of the biggest things that you can do, and the biggest ways that you can do that. So be proactive. Don't just react. Be proactive. Take some time. If you need help, it's okay. And I already said that. If you need help, it's okay. And that help can come... I help. I help a lot of executives know what's going on in their social media because they don't have time to pay attention to everything. That's why I'm there. I filter out, I watch, I'm like, "Hey, here's something you need to respond to," or, "Hey, here's something you need initiate."

One of my clients had a very senior media person call them out on social media, call them out. And basically just said they were phoning it in that they weren't putting in a lot of effort. This is the CEO and this media person on their Twitter account that was followed by tens of thousands of people called out the CEO. And when he and I sat down, I asked him about that. And he says, "I have no idea what you're talking about. What are you talking about?" I said, "Yeah, you've been called out on social media." He said, "My PR team's not told me." Well, that's because the PR team's not watching that. And so that's an example of getting help. So I started to help him simply monitor, is there something he should be paying attention to? And that's one of the things that you can do when you ask for help just, "Okay, what should I be paying attention to?"

They don't have to write the content for you, although there's been occasionally where I'm like, "Look, you need to comment on this. Here's some things you probably want to say." And the executive texted me back and she says, "Okay, here's what I want to say." And I'm like, "Okay." And we have her say it. These are different ways that you can make this work, this digital first leadership. You got to learn the tools, but then you've got to learn to get it into your system and make it possible.

Hopefully, you found this helpful, whether you're an executive or a leader, but realizing that you need to be out there, you need to be engaging, you need to find ways to connect with people and not hesitate. If you're a junior person, feel free to reach out and connect with your executives. And if you're an executive, don't hesitate. Actually, it's imperative to build trust with your own team by being one of the ones to initiate that conversation. And it doesn't even have to be about anything, just initiate the conversation. Hopefully, this has been helpful. I always appreciate you listening. And I always appreciate the feedback and the comments that I received from so many of you. So I want to say, thanks for listening. Take care.

If you've liked what I've had to say, and if you'd like to continue the conversation with us, I encourage you to join us on Facebook. I know this is oftentimes about LinkedIn, but Facebook has got one of the best places to actually get together and talk in groups. And I'd like you to join our group. You can find our continuing conversation on the Digital First Leadership podcast Facebook group, where I'll share more tips and we'll be able to engage and ask questions and get to know each other a little bit. Thanks for listening. Take care.


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