Duke Corporate Education Podcast #1 – Dorie Clark on the Link between Leadership and Your Personal Brand

Welcome to the inaugural episode of the Duke Corporate Education podcast, a show that offers leadership insights for business leaders.

Are you strategically building your personal brand through digital communications channels? Are you leveraging your personal brand to make yourself a better leader and bring value to your organization? Guest Dorie Clark shares best practice tips that will give you clarity on these two questions.  A marketing consultant, former Presidential campaign spokesperson, author and Duke CE educator, Dorie shares tips on the following topics:

 About Dorie Clark

Dorie Clark is a marketing strategy consultant, professional speaker, and frequent contributor to the Harvard Business ReviewTIME, Entrepreneur, and the World Economic Forum blog. Recognized as a “branding expert” by the Associated Press, Fortune, and Inc. magazine, she is the author of Reinventing You (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013), which has been translated into Russian, Chinese, Arabic, French, Polish, and Thai. Her most recent book, Stand Outwas named the #1 Leadership Book of 2015 by Inc. magazine. Dorie is part of Duke CE’s Global Educator Network.



Kevin: Welcome to the Duke Corporate Education Podcast. This is the podcast that offers leadership insights for business leaders, CLOs, and HR directors. I’m your host, Kevin Anselmo, and I’m pleased you’ve joined us for our inaugural show. We have a great interview guest for our inaugural show. It is Dorie Clark.

Dorie is a marketing strategy consultant and professional speaker. She is a frequent contributor to many leading media outlets. She’s the author of “Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future” as well as the author of “Standout: How to Find Your Breakthrough Idea and Build a Following Around It.” She consults for many companies, ranging from Google to Morgan Stanley, and most importantly she is a member of the Duke Corporate Education educator network. Dorie, welcome to the show.

Dorie: Thank you, Kevin. Great to be here.

Kevin: And it’s fun to go through a long list of all the different types of things you do.

Dorie: Yes, I appreciate it.

Kevin: So, Dorie, you write frequently about the links between leadership, idea generation and leveraging digital communications channel. So I thought that would be a great topic to explore with you here on this initial show on the Duke Corporate Education Podcast.

Dorie: Yeah, let’s do it.

Kevin: Great. So to start out, I want to talk a little bit about why it is important for our different audience segments – business leaders, CLOs, and HR directors – to manage their online reputation? Can you talk a little bit about that at the outset?

Dorie: Absolutely. When it comes to your online reputation, this is especially critical these days because if you go back 20 years even, when many of today’s leaders were beginning their careers, the internet was just taking shape. And when you thought about your professional reputation, your brand in the marketplace, it really was what do the people around you – your co-workers and colleagues  – think of you, and that was something that you could very much control based on how you performed at work.

The old advice about keep your head down and work hard was generally true because people would have a good degree of longevity at their companies, they’d be working with the same people, and over time, with repeated exposure, you could build a reputation and really build up influence through that.

These days, the situation has changed. There are two parallel tracks that we really have to be mindful of as leaders. One, of course, is the same as it was before, which is what is your reputation among your colleagues, among the people who have worked with you.

But the second, perhaps equally important, is what is your online reputation. Because these days we are doing business around the world. We are working with colleagues in our offices who are at worldwide ports of call. We’re doing business with clients around the world.

These are folks that are not going to necessarily ever meet you in person or certainly may only do so briefly, but then you continue collaborating with them. The way that they get to know you and the way that they actually oftentimes choose initially whether or not to do business with you is based on what they find about you online. So the stakes have really risen. And if we take our eyes off the ball and are not paying equal attention to our online reputation, we risk losing a lot of business and a lot of professional opportunities.

Kevin: Now, some people might say, and I’m sure maybe when you consult with companies you hear this feedback, “Well, it’s too risky out there. I could post something, and it could come across the wrong way. I could start some sort of fire storm.” What’s your message to the people who are hesitant about investing in their digital communications presence?

Dorie: I think the old viewpoint was that this is an area of risk, and you can contain the risk by not engaging. I think it is becoming riskier not to be online, and that’s for a couple of reasons.

One is that if you are not controlling the dialogue about yourself and your own brand and reputation, it’s happening by chance or other people are controlling it. So if you are not putting out good content, if you are not mindful of what’s out there, it’s probably going to be a random hodgepodge of things that may not represent you fully.

It’s sort of the ostrich phenomenon. Just because you’re not googling yourself doesn’t mean that other people aren’t googling you. So you need to know what’s out there and make sure that it’s aligned with how you would like to be seen in the world.

The other issue that I think is really important is that most people have adequately clued into the negative elements which is, okay, we need to make sure there’s not stupid stuff about me online. We need to make sure there’s not keg party photos or dumb things that could tarnish your brand. I think most professionals get that.

What I think people are missing, the big opportunity that people are missing is the fact that you actually are missing out substantially if there is not proactive positive things about you online. And I’ll give you an example of what I mean.

Kevin: Yes, please do.

Dorie: A few years ago, and I think the trend has accelerated even more since then, this was about 2010, 2011, I was consulting for a company. They were hiring a new director of marketing. And this was a guy who was pretty well-accomplished senior professional, had a good resume. They were interested in bringing him in for an interview.

They look it over, and they say, “Okay, well, let’s Google him.” Of course, as people do when they’re getting ready to make a hiring decision. They Google him. There’s almost no information about him online, and it made them so suspicious they almost canceled the interview because they were very concerned that he had fabricated his resume.

And it turned out that he hadn’t actually, but they ended up calling double the number of references that they would have otherwise because they were so worried that his lack of presence online actually spoke to some degree of deception. We’re now entering a world where the internet is your resume, and people are looking for external verification and external validation to back up the things that you’re claiming on your CV. So if you don’t have that, it actually does put you under a cloud of suspicion.

Kevin: Great. I really like the ostrich effect. I think that’s the key takeaway for the podcast. So let’s talk to two different audiences here. Let’s first talk to the person who perhaps has very little, maybe they have a pseudo LinkedIn profile. But let’s just say they have practically nothing online. Where does that person begin in terms of building his or her digital leadership presence?

Dorie: Well, I do think that LinkedIn is the logical starting place. If there is nothing else about you online, LinkedIn should be the place that you start. And the good news is that it doesn’t take much. It takes probably 60 to 90 minutes of concerted effort. It’s something you can block out on your calendar this week to really create a nice LinkedIn profile.

And by nice I mean it should have your photo. It should have reasonably fleshed out categories where you list your jobs that you’ve had. You list what your descriptions were. Maybe you write some recommendations for people and ask them to write recommendations for you, etc. You want to have a reasonable number of connections so that you actually look like you’re using it.

If you have a profile with two connections, people are going to look at it and say, “Oh, well, it’s clear she hasn’t look at this for 10 years, so I won’t bother to friend her.” So doing that takes 60 to 90 minutes. It’s pretty easy. Once you have that, I would suggest that it’s useful for most professionals to try to, instead of going broad because we just don’t have time for it, I mean, regular people don’t have time to be on 10 social networks, you shouldn’t bother, but go deep in one or two. LinkedIn is one.

The other one you could consider is Twitter, depending on your profession. If you’re a photographer or a designer, maybe it’s Instagram. But pick one or two to go deep in. I’m actually a really big fan of blogging because I think that content creation is really key.

Now, the asterisk, of course, is in some industries, some regulated industries you may have less flexibility to do this, but in a lot of places, you do have flexibility. And now that you are able, anyone with a LinkedIn profile can blog on LinkedIn. The interface is very simple. If you can use Microsoft Word, you can blog successfully on LinkedIn. It’s a great thing because it enables you to easily create content, and it is findable by people in the moment when they are most interested in hearing from you.

Because they’re already looking at your LinkedIn profile, clearly something is drawing them there, and it’s the moment where you can really shine, where you can say, “Hey, here’s how I see the profession. Here’s how I see it going.” And others can look at it and say, “Oh, I like the way she thinks about that,” and it makes them more interested in doing business with you.

Kevin: So there’s also a number of different examples. I want to talk now about top leadership. There’s a number of different examples out there of top CEOs who are using digital communications channels effectively, and that’s helping various aspects of their business and their leadership. Can you maybe talk about that for a second?

Dorie: Yeah, absolutely. When it comes to using social media to communicating effectively, this is something that is a tool that, I think, really every CEO or every senior leader should be using. And it’s amazing to me that not everybody is on the bandwagon yet, but it’s a very powerful way that people can be communicating directly.

If you think back, he started doing it relatively early on, but got very good results, somebody like John Chambers at Cisco, he was using video messages. And you don’t have to be doing everything. Again, I want to drive home the point, you should pick technologies that feel most comfortable to you. What is most interesting? What is most amenable?

For John Chambers, he was into the idea of, oh, instead of just writing an email to people and they’re reading it in their own voice in their own heads, so it’s not necessarily coming across the way that he intended it. He thought, “You know what? If I can film this video so that people can see me and hear me saying it, that might be an especially powerful way to communicate with a large global workforce.” And so he made videos his thing to really great plaudits and great effect. So that can be a key way to do it.

There’s lots of other ways that people can communicate and show a little style. Eric Garcetti, who’s the mayor of Los Angeles, to take a political example, a political leader, he has an Instagram account. And lots of politicians have Instagram accounts that are run by their staff, their PR staff. And it’s just a series of picture of, oh, look, it’s Eric Garcetti giving an award. Oh, look, it’s Eric Garcetti receiving an award. That would be easy. But what Eric Garcetti actually does, which I think is far better, is instead of outsourcing it to a PR staffer, he does it himself.

And he actually really likes photography, he’s a good photographer. And so he uses Instagram to take pictures of things that he sees that are interesting. So it’ll be a backstage picture before the awards ceremony, or it’s a picture of a flower that he really likes that he saw walking around. Or it’s a picture of just something that captures his eye.

And it enables you to see the world the way that he does, which I think is one of the key things that distinguishes a good leader. It helps show, in his case, voters who he is as a person. And when you can do that as a leader, it’s a very powerful way of connecting with your stakeholders.

Kevin: So can you also talk a little bit about social media as a means of attracting talent for those people that are perhaps in an HR director type of role?

Doris: Yeah, definitely. So we all know that there is a perennial war for talent, but especially in certain geographies, especially in certain industries, especially in certain verticals, it is really brutal finding the people that you need out there. And there’s been research into what companies college students want to work for.

And perhaps not surprisingly the ones that are always in the top 10 list are usually very sexy consumer-facing companies – an Apple, a Google, etc. And so those are the ones that have a lot of advantage of free advertising because they’re being talked about in the cultural imagination.

If you are particularly in a company that’s maybe a little bit more invisible to consumers, or ones in an industry that is not considered as “sexy,” how do you get the best talent? How do you draw them to you? Well, I think that social media can actually be a very powerful for that.

One of the case studies that I teach in my business school teaching is about Maersk, the shipping giant. And they have used social media in a very innovative way. They’re the definition of what you might call a boring company. I mean, they transport stuff, and they’re B2B. There’s not that many people in the world that actually are in-charge of hiring and booking shipping containers.

And yet, they’ve made a big investment and a big play in social media because they realized, you know what? We have a story to tell, and frankly it doesn’t cost that much money to do it. It’s just the price of a couple of staffers in this multi-billion dollar organization. They do social media. They’ve been able to get more than a million Facebook fans, a huge presence on Twitter, on Instagram.

And they have pictures from around the world of their shipping containers, and it creates a social dialogue. It familiarizes people with the company. I’m willing to bet that most consumers, if you said, “Name a shipping container company,” the list is not very extensive of ones that they can name, but if they can name one, it’s probably Maersk because they have been exposed in that way.

And so expanding brand awareness, telling your story, showing how you actually are a sexy company because you do cool things, you have good values, you help people, whatever it is. Whether it’s fertilizer or insurance or shipping containers, there’s a way to tell your story, and it makes it that much easier to recruit talent because your name is being talked about and people understand who you are and where you’re coming from. So it’s more likely on an inbound capacity to bring the right talent to you.

Kevin: Yes. I want to talk to you a little bit about feedback. You know, I think one thing that’s sometimes really difficult to do for leaders and anyone for that matter is to make sense of feedback online. Now, it’s one thing if you’re talking face to face to someone and trying to understand the feedback, but when it’s online, and let’s say you read a blog post and you’ve got 50 different pieces of comment, how do you make sense out of it? And let’s face it, some of these comments are not always the most, let’s say, kind or well-phrased or constructive pieces of feedback. What kind of advice do you give to leaders on how they can make sense of feedback that is given online?

Dorie: Yes. So honestly my top piece of advice for leaders is mostly don’t listen to feedback. At least not feedback in that capacity. And the reason for that is that there’s a lot of people like to mouth off online, and I think anybody that has ever used YouTube, for instance, will see great evidence of that.

I think that certain venues are more high brow or more respectful. YouTube, in particular. When people don’t necessarily have to use their real identities when they sign in, that has created issues where people sometimes feel more free to say whatever enters their head.

I think that accepting feedback, listening to feedback is very important, it is very valuable, but it’s listening to the right people. By which I mean listen to your customers, listen to your stakeholders, listen to the people who actually matter to your enterprise.

If people who are outside observers don’t like what you’re doing, well, too bad. You’re probably not targeting them anyway. I think that one of the great arts of leadership is distinguishing between who you should be listening to and who you shouldn’t.

You’re foolish if you don’t listen to feedback from your customers or your employees, but you’re actually pretty wise if you don’t listen to criticism or complaints from people outside your ken because they may not even understand the premise of what you’re trying to do in your business. So to get your head turned by them being critical or wanting to just engage in one-upmanship, I think it can be a real distraction.

Kevin: Yeah, great point. So one of the things that’s on the mind of many leaders is idea generation and innovation, and you wrote a whole book on standing out, how to find your breakthrough idea. Can you talk maybe about some of the different things that you learned in that book that would apply to the listeners of this podcast?

Dorie: Yeah, absolutely. So one of the things that I think is most critical and the reason that I wrote “Stand Out” is that ultimately we live in a world where we’re under a lot of business pressure. There is a push in a global economy toward commoditization of whatever industry is. Even things that previously were fairly high-level and sacrosanct are now being squeezed.

And if we as corporate leaders want to resist the inexorable pull toward having to compete as the lowest-priced option, which we all know is a very dangerous position to be in in the marketplace, we need to give consumers a really good reason to want to do business with us specifically. And where do we get that? Where do we get that creative edge where we are able to charge premium prices?

Well, it comes from being known as the best in your field. It comes from being known as the expert in your field. That applies literally if you’re in a professional service business of some sort, but also metaphorically if you are pushing a product, you want to be known as the highest quality. You want to be known as really offering something distinct.

And so in “Stand Out” I walk people through a process of being able to develop breakthrough ideas so that they can continually innovate and then spread them. Find a base of people that value that and that will help you evangelize about it. So that was the process that I really tried to unlock.

Kevin: Do you have any examples of business leaders, people in different companies who might have done what you’re talking about just now?

Dorie: Yeah, absolutely. I think one example that I actually like to cite is Howard Schultz at Starbucks. Sometimes when people think, “Oh, I need to come up with a breakthrough idea. I need to be innovative,” they think that this is an almost insurmountable task because it sounds big, it sounds like, oh my gosh, I have to develop the theory of relativity or something like that. And the truth is it does need to be innovative, but it doesn’t need to be that innovative.

And what I mean by this is you look at Howard Schultz, he did not invent coffee. He did not invent coffee shops. What he did was bring together two ideas, and that was the concept of an American-style coffee shop, which Starbucks started out as, and the Italian version of coffee. And he melded them together, he combined ideas in an interesting way and said, “Let’s see how these two things match up.”

And he didn’t even get it right at first. Starbucks was too Italian at first. And there’s opera music and things like that, and the American consumer wasn’t really into that. But he tweaked it, he iterated it, and ultimately that combination was fruitful.

And so actually mixing ideas, mixing disciplines is one of the five strategies that I actually outlined as being a really good prompt or an idea generator about how your company can be more innovative.

Kevin: Can you go through those five different steps real quick?

Dorie: Yeah, absolutely. And they’re actually less like steps in terms of having to do all of them and more like a smorgasbord. You can really choose what works best for your company.

Kevin: Yes, options.

Dorie: Exactly. So one is mixing ideas, mixing disciplines the way that Howard Schultz did. Another one is going deep on a niche strategy. So really having your company get to be known, or you as an individual, being known for a real expertise in a narrow subject matter and owning it, completely owning it. But then once you’ve established that, you can begin to expand out incrementally from there. So that’s number two.

Number three is you can actually develop great expertise and a great expert reputation by becoming known as a resource that provides original research. And so it means if you’re let’s say developing a website or something like that, or if you’re just trying to build your brand as an individual, how do you get known for having real expertise?

Well, it’s writing case studies. It’s creating white papers. It’s doing things like creating podcasts. All of that, that original research, that original content shows you are an expert, that you have command of the subject area.

People go to Amazon, for instance, yes because of wide selection, yes because of good prices, but one of the things that people actually find most valuable is that it is a compendium of reviews that is almost unparalleled. And that has become a very valuable competitive advantage for them. So that’s number three.

Number four is about what I call tackling a big idea, tackling a worthy idea. And essentially what this is about is that if you are going to attract talent, if you’re going to get people excited about your idea, if you’re going to get people so fired up they want to give you money in terms of funding, if you want to really mobilize a team behind something and get people to pay attention, you need to pick a worthy target.

If you are focusing on making a widget that is a twelfth of an inch thinner, that’s nice, but it’s not going to inspire the imagination. If you can pick a goal that is worthy, and it could be solving world hunger, but it doesn’t have to be. It could be just a goal that is big enough and worthy enough in your industry. If you can pick that, that has power and that’s a way to get known for your ideas and to build a reputation in the marketplace.

And fifth and finally, it’s what I call creating a framework. And essentially this is finding a way to take a 30,000-foot view of your industry, your field, and describe a process that enables people to see it in a new way, to structure it in a way that makes sense.

And so how do you walk people through that? If we think about social science, it could be something like Elisabeth Kubler-Ross comes up with the five stages of grief. Okay, that’s really helpful. People now refer to that all the time.

If you are thinking about internet marketing, there’s a guy named Jeff Walker who created something called the Launch Formula. It is a very clear formula that people follow. His big thing is you do this rollout series with three videos, etc., etc. He created a framework which people found so effective. Now, it’s a thing. Now, when people talk about internet launches, they always refer to Jeff Walker’s launch formula. And so if you can create a framework like that, you can be an expert, your company can be an expert.

Kevin: Yeah. So, Dorie, final question. We’ve covered a lot of different topics related to leadership and idea generation and a link between leveraging your digital communications channels and how that assists and helps you in the process. Can you talk a little bit about how you teach that in the classroom, with your Duke’s e-clients as well as the other teaching that you do, as well as your consulting work and other teaching assignments?

Dorie: Yeah, absolutely. So in terms of the work that I do in the classroom, obviously it’s very tailored to the individual client and what their needs are. But one of the most important tools that I like to offer in my arsenal is making sure that there is a good mix of theory, stories, and personal hands-on activities.

And so basically what this looks like in most engagements that I would be doing is you want to be providing a structural strategic framework so that people can understand the big picture of how any given topic, whether it is innovation and idea generation, whether it is effective use of storytelling, whether it is crisis communication, any of these things – what is the structure, how do you think about it, big picture?

But then we need to think about how the human mind works. And you can remember structure up to a point, but what you really remember is stories. And so I try to use case studies and stories to essentially put flesh on the bones of the structure so that people can really have ideas and examples that are relatable, that they are going to remember, that can carry with them.

And then finally, you mix it up with hands-on activities so that the learners, the executive education learners, are not just listening to it, but are also really thinking critically about how to apply these examples to their own lives so that the next time they’re faced with this situation, which may be the next day at the office, they have fought through how am I going to do this, what are the pieces, what are the steps, what does it look like for me and for my company? And when you’re able to do that, it really takes the learning to the next level. It takes it away from the ivory tower and makes it much more practical and applicable.

And one other thing, Kevin, that I’ll just mention for folks that are interested in learning more and diving in is actually the free resource that folks can download off my website, if they’d like. It’s a free 42-page workbook that I adapted from my book “Stand Out.” It’s the Stand Out Self-Assessment Workbook, and they can get it for free at my website, DorieClark.com which is D-O-R-I-E-C-L-A-R-K-dot-com.

Kevin: Great. And where else can people find you on the web?

Dorie: Thank you. That is Dorie Clark Central. It’s DorieClark.com. There’s more than 400 free articles there. So people can check that out. And I’m also on Twitter, @dorieclark.

Kevin: Great. Dorie, it’s been a real pleasure having this chat with you. I’m sure that our audience is going to be appreciative of your different insights. And I appreciate you taking the time to chat with us.

Dorie: Kevin, always a pleasure. Thank you.

Kevin: All right. Thank you. Take care, Dorie.