Digital Leader: 5 Simple Keys to Success and Influence

Digital Leader: 5 Simple Keys to Success and Influence

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by Erik Qualman

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Digital Leaders are Made—Not Born

"Fail forward, fail fast, fail better is a winning concept from Qualman's latest book, Digital Leader."
-- Tony Hsieh, New York Times bestselling author and CEO of, Inc.

"People with a passion for something can be infectious. It's obvious that Erik Qualman's passion is


Digital Leaders are Made—Not Born

"Fail forward, fail fast, fail better is a winning concept from Qualman's latest book, Digital Leader."
-- Tony Hsieh, New York Times bestselling author and CEO of, Inc.

"People with a passion for something can be infectious. It's obvious that Erik Qualman's passion is social media."
-- Dan Heath, New York Times bestselling author of Made to Stick and Switch

"Qualman is to social media what Deming is to quality and Drucker to management."
-- Scott Galloway, professor, Stern School of Business, NYU

"Erik Qualman is a Digital Dale Carnegie."
-- Todd Young, CEO, ProspX

About the Book:

"Digital footprints are what we post about ourselves. Digital shadows are what others upload about us. Collectively, they have changed the world forever. As leaders and future leaders we need to adapt to this new world."
-- from Digital Leader

Digital leaders are made, not born--you have it within you to become an effective digital leader. As a leader in the digital age, your reach is boundless. With advanced technologies, you can exert more direct and indirect influence than ever before--anywhere at any time. And everything you do, fail to do, and wish you didn't do is documented forever in the digital universe.

Digital Leader explains how to take full advantage of everything the digital age has to offer, while avoiding common pitfalls that can damage your "digital legacy."

Bestselling author Erik Qualman explains what modern leadership means and describes how to be an effective leader in the digital world. In order to succeed, you need to adjust your leadership skills to adapt to today's digitally open world--and you need to start today. Qualman breaks the process down into five powerful truths you can use to establish your leadership "stamp":

Simple: success is the result of simplification and focus

True: be true to your passion

Act: nothing happens without action--take the first step

Map: goals and visions are needed to get where you want to be

People: success doesn't happen alone

Basing his conclusions on a wide range of research and resources, Qualman provides an abundance of real-world examples and tips to help you create a path to success while leading others to achieve their best.

Product Details

McGraw-Hill Professional Publishing
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.20(d)

Read an Excerpt


By erik qualman


Copyright © 2012 Erik Qualman
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-07-179242-4

Chapter One

Life, Leadership, Legacy

"A man is the sum of his actions, of what he has done, of what he can do, nothing else."GANDHI

At one time, if you reached a certain level of celebrity or significance, you may have been immortalized on a postage stamp. Neil Armstrong, for example, was the first man to walk on the moon and a stamp was created, chronicling the event. Few people, however, attained this level of notoriety. The digital age has changed this concept: now every single one of us has a digital stamp. This new stamp is not simply reserved for the Gandhis and Elvises of this world and has greater reach than ones derived of paper and glue.

Digital footprints and shadows constitute our permanent imprint on the world: a detailed summary of our life for our contemporaries and for people of the future to view and consider. Digital footprints are the information we post about ourselves online, while digital shadows are what others upload about us. Collectively, these two items have changed the world forever, and as current or aspiring leaders it is necessary to adapt to this new reality. While others will help or hinder along the way, you will ultimately determine how effective a leader you become and your overall stamp on life.

With the advent of radical and accessible technology, each one of us, for the first time in history, is creating an influential mark forever—we are all mini-digital celebrities and heroes to someone. The fact that what we do today will be recorded for eternity is new to most of us and it can be downright overwhelming. Where exactly does our privacy end and our legacy begin?

As leaders, how does this new world affect the way we lead? How do we not only successfully lead our own lives, but those of others, whether they be our children, employees, church members, teammates, or beyond? What habits do we need to embrace to be effective digital leaders, knowing that our actions can be influential today, tomorrow, and 100 years from now? If you truly want a life that inspires, you need to change your leadership habits to adapt to the new digitally open world. This adjustment needs to start today.

The five habits of digital leadership form the acronym STAMP, referring to your personal stamp on your life and others. Each of these principles are discussed in depth throughout the book:

SIMPLE: success is the result of simplification and focus

TRUE: be true to your passion

ACT: nothing happens without action—take the first step

MAP: goals and visions are needed to get where you want to be

PEOPLE: success doesn't happen alone

A legacy of leadership isn't something far off in the distance, it is created by what you do now. Starting today, we will embrace our digital world and choose to lead a passion-filled and purposeful life, putting you on a path to success. By engaging in the five habits of digital leadership, we will empower others to achieve their best. In return, we will benefit from our followers' success—one needs to "give in order to get."

Whether you are a soccer mom or a CEO, to effectively lead you must understand how to properly navigate in a fully transparent society. Today, anything you say or do online or off will find its way into the digital realm. You can no longer have both a private and public life—they have become one and the same. The footprints we leave in the sand will be washed away with the coming tide, but our digital footprints last forever. For most of us, this shift is a radical one.

For example, Howard Schultz, while chairman of Starbucks, was disturbed when an internal digital memo leaked out to the press, social networks, and various blogs. Schultz approached his head of global communications, Wanda Herndon. "Did you hear about the memo?" asked Schultz. Wanda said yes, she knew about it. Schultz shook his head in disbelief and spoke about how hurt he was with the breach of trust. "Howard," Wanda said in the matter-of-fact way that Schultz had come to expect and appreciate from her, "Nothing is confidential. This is the new reality."

Schultz admitted as such, "The leaked memo helped me comprehend the enormous sea of change occurring in how information was flowing as well as what was being communicated. Technology was redefining the nature of relationships and how people spend their time. The fundamental societal shift was affecting the psyche of our own people and our customers. But not until the memo leaked did it affect me, and none too soon."

Internet security company AVG surveyed mothers in North America (USA and Canada), the EU5 (UK, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain), Australia/New Zealand, and Japan. The survey found 81 percent of children under the age of two have a digital profile, with images of them posted online. In the US, an astounding 92 percent of children under the age of two have an online presence.

According to JR Smith, AVG's CEO, "It's shocking to think that, while a 30-year-old has an online footprint stretching back 10-15 years at most, the vast majority of children today will have an online presence by the time they are two years old. A presence that will continue to build throughout their whole lives." He cautions parents to think about the type of information they upload about their children to the Web, since that content "will follow him or her for the rest of their life."

"Our research shows that the trend is increasing for a child's digital birth to coincide with and in many cases predate their real birth date. A quarter of babies have sonogram photos posted online before they have even physically entered into the world." Smith recommends parents think about two things:

"First, you are creating a digital history for a human being that will follow him or her for the rest of their life. What kind of footprint do you actually want to start for your child, and what will they think about the information you've uploaded in future? Secondly, it reinforces the need for parents to be aware of the privacy settings they have set on their social networks and other profiles. Otherwise, sharing a baby's picture and specific information may not only be shared with friends and family, but with the whole online world."

Whether you are Howard Schultz or a concerned parent, this new reality can be daunting. The pages that follow will attempt to simplify what modern leadership means, both online and off.

Many technophobes that hear the term "digital" immediately believe it doesn't pertain to them. Make no mistake, even if you have never physically touched a computer, your life is being digitally chronicled by others right now. For example, a granddaughter posting a mobile video to her favorite social network of grandma singing karaoke is an example of a digital shadow.

A digital legacy has the capacity to highlight all the wondrous and shocking things that represent a life, not only in the future, but currently as well. Despite the term "digital," this idea is not simply about technology. If our offline behavior is being chronicled online then it affects our offline behavior as well. Whether we are digital savants or neophytes, all of us have the capability to accomplish our best life. A happy and purpose-filled life ultimately means that generations to come will view our legacy with awe and admiration rather than with empathy or apathy. In the present, it also means we have the capability to lead those within our physical proximity and those halfway around the world. Simply put, word-of-mouth has transformed into world-of-mouth. As a result of advances in technology, a leader's influence is now boundless.

Now more than ever, what is of upmost importance is not what we take from this world, it is what we leave behind. We need to collectively ask ourselves as individuals and leaders: Are we leaving the world better off than we found it?

Experienced writers advise that if you want the next big idea, you should first write a book. About midway through writing the international best-selling Socialnomics, I found this idea. Around the same time, I started getting questions from my MBA students, Fortune 500 businesses, small business, churches, non-profits, friends, and family. As I toured the world and gave keynotes on the same stage as prime ministers, celebrities, CEOs, and heads of charities, these leaders' and the audiences' questions and needs started to feel the same. The concerns centered on personal privacy, the overwhelming amount of messages they were inundated with, the want to produce more and respond less, and how to maintain relevance and standout. These people wanted to know how these issues played into their ability to maintain, or enter, a leadership role in this changing world. The pattern that was emerging to me was how do I achieve my best life, leadership, and legacy in the digital age? So I set out to determine the answer.

This book is not intended to be a "one-and-done" read. The hope is that you take notes and highlight the portions most relevant to you, then revisit them frequently. You will find "Digital Deeds Sidebars" peppered throughout the book as well. These practical and digital suggestions are designed to provide helpful tips and applications in understanding the available online and digital tools. New tools come out often, though, so please check my site,, for the latest information and updates.

While others will help or hinder along the way, you will ultimately determine how effective a leader you become and your ultimate stamp on life. The following poem may say it best:

    My Life Stamp

    As a youth with little a plan,
    My dad oft asked,
    "What footprints are you going to leave in the sand?"

    It meant little then,
    But with time,
    This became a motivating line.

    If up to me,
    What will be,
    My ultimate legacy?

    A legacy for me,
    It would seem,
    A far off, lofty dream.

    After all, who am I?
    I'm just average,
    Somewhat shy.

    Then I realized something you see,
    It is up to me,
    My ultimate legacy.

    Social media, search,
    Mobile, and more,
    Leave digital footprints on the floor.

    Digital shadows,
    If you will,
    Following all that I fulfill.

    My grandchildren and great grandchildren,
    What will they see and think of me?
    What is my digital legacy?

    Will they see that I pursued my dream,
    Or that I settled,
    For something in-between?

    That I lived a life doing things l loved,
    Or one filled with,
    Should of, could of?

    Digital footprints remain for all time,
    So I can't commit,
    The ultimate crime.

    What is that crime, you say?
    It is, of course,
    Not seizing the day.

    Yes, before I die,
    I'd rather fail,
    Than not even try,

    I will reach for the sky,
    And cry.

    I'll cry from joy not sorrow,
    Because I lived for today
    And planned for tomorrow.

    My legacy,
    You see,
    Is truly up to me.

    That's my view,
    But, now I ask,
    What will you do?

    —Erik Qualman

This book will be there for you when you need inspiration to live a fulfilling life and will act as a guiding light to help you lead others—please use the material as such. In many ways, I have written this book as much for me as I have for you. While I do my best to adhere to the principles laid out here, I'm still a long way from following them consistently.

For those of you at the pinnacle of your career or personal life, this book will serve as a reminder that even the most accomplished people need to revisit the principles that were the foundation of their success. If not, their stay at the top will be short. This statement holds particularly true today and in the digital decades ahead.

Let's start the continuous journey of improving your life, leadership, and legacy.


1. Life is complex, those that simplify it win

2. Complaining is toxic for a digital leader

3. We all make mistakes; it's how we digitally handle them that separates us

SIMPLE: success is the result of simplification & focus

TRUE: be true to your passion

ACT: nothing happens without action—take the first step

MAP: goals and visions are needed to get where you want to be

PEOPLE: success doesn't happen alone

Chapter Two

Remove and Improve

"The trick isn't adding stuff, it's taking away."MARK ZUCKERBERG, Facebook Founder.

Sean Parker, the cofounder of Napster and early advisor to Facebook, had this to say about Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg: "Really great leadership, especially in a start-up, is about knowing when to say no—evoking a vision very clearly, getting people excited about it, but knowing when to draw the line, especially with products. You can't do everything. That's a lesson Mark didn't know yet. That's a lesson Mark learned."

Like Mark Zuckerberg, we all need to learn and constantly revisit this "less is more" mantra. The saying "small is the new big" has been around for some time, yet many of us find it difficult to put into practice. Whether you run a billion dollar company or are just trying to run your life, in a digitally paced world success is dependent on simplification—a task which is far from simple.

Multitasking Inhibits Performance (More than Smoking Marijuana)

There is a great t-shirt that reads, "Multitasking, the best way to screw up both jobs." Many people would argue, however, that with all the tweets, texts, status updates, phone calls, and social gaming, we must multitask. Increasing workloads, dreams, and ambitions further force us to attempt to cram more and more into the limited time we have. You may ask, "But don't we need to multitask?" The answer is no, we don't. We believe this process makes us more efficient, but ironically, improper multitasking actually leads to less efficiency.

Decreasing Productivity

A study at The British Institute of Psychiatry showed that checking your email while performing another creative task decreases your IQ in the moment by 10 points. This decrease is the equivalent of the effects from not sleeping for 36 hours—and exhibits more than twice the impact of smoking marijuana.

In a study of 1,000 of its employees, Basex, an information-technology research firm, found striking data showcasing inefficiency. It was determined that 2.1 hours per day is lost to interruptions. This figure indicates over 26 percent of the average workday is wasted due to multitasking and unwanted interruptions. Jordan Grafman, chief of the cognitive neuroscience section at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, explains, "There's substantial literature on how the brain handles multitasking. And basically, it doesn't ... what's really going on is a rapid toggling among tasks rather than simultaneous processing."

Another study, conducted by professors at the University of California, observed the workflow and time-on-task of employees at two high-tech corporations. They discovered that the employees only spent an average of 11 minutes before being interrupted or having to move on to something else. It then took them 25 minutes to work their way back to their original task.

Microsoft Research Labs ran a different type of study, but the results were similar. It found that following an interruption, such as an email or phone call, the participant then moved on to something different 40 percent of the time. It is incredible that only 60 percent of people stayed focused on their original task after an interruption.

A study by Stanford psychologists Anthony Wagner and Eval Ophir found college students who often juggle many flows of information, such as checking status updates, reading email while Web texting, and chatting on the phone, performed significantly worse than those college students that limited their multitasking activity. As for what caused the differences—whether people with a predisposition to multitask happen to be mentally disorganized, or if multitasking feeds the condition—"that's the million dollar question, and we don't have a million dollar answer," said Clifford Nass, a Stanford University cognitive scientist.

Researcher David Meyer, Ph.D., helped conduct a multitasking study at the University of Michigan. "People in a work setting," says Meyer, "who are banging away on word processors at the same time they have to answer phones and talk to their co-workers or bosses—they're doing switches all the time. Not being able to concentrate for, say, tens of minutes at a time, may mean it is costing a company as much as 20 to 40 percent" in terms of potential efficiency lost, or the "time cost" of switching. Meyer indicates, "It's kind of like one of the Dirty Harry movies with Clint Eastwood. At the end of the film Clint says, 'A man's gotta know his limitations.'"


Excerpted from DIGITAL LEADER by erik qualman Copyright © 2012 by Erik Qualman. Excerpted by permission of McGraw-Hill. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Erik Qualman is the author of Socialnomics, an AMA “Book of the Year” finalist. PC Magazine ranked as a Top 10 Social Media Blog. For the past 18 years Qualman has helped grow the digital capabilities of Cadillac, EarthLink, EF Education, Yahoo, Travelzoo, AT&T, and others. He has keynoted alongside Al Gore, Julie Andrews, Alan Mulally, Tony Hawk, Sarah Palin, and prime ministers. He sits on the Advisory Boards of Manumatix and Bazaarvoice. He lives in Boston and is an MBA Professor at the Hult International School of Business.

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Digital Leader: 5 Simple Keys to Success and Influence 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
By reading the 45 pages sample I knew this was a book I should read in full...for my own benefit and anything I can do for those around me and, why not, for the coming generatios.
Tanya7 More than 1 year ago
As the owner of a PR agency, I was engrossed in Qualman's Digital Leader. He takes the time to truly dissect the importance of your digital stamp. He provides real-life examples of what we should learn from or take into consideration as we create our own stamp - or watch our shadow being created. I would recommend it to anyone - business owner, team member, student - whoever you are - you can learn from this book and the way that the nature of our digital world today is influencing and impacting us. But most importantly, he encourages the readers to leave the world a better place. I'm a better person for reading it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago