“We don't have a choice onwhether we digitally transform,” Erik Qualman said. “The onlyquestion is how well we do it.” (Photo: Charles Garnar)

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Every business professional has a reputation in the businesscommunity as well as an individual “profile” — what people think ofyou, whether they know you or not. In the digital world, thisprofile is your digital stamp. “All of us have digital stamps asindividuals and companies and brands,” said Erik Qualman in theopening keynote on April 2 at the 15th Annual BenefitsPRO Broker Expo in Miami, Florida. Hethen introduced the audience to a new formula: Digital Stamp =Digital Footprints + Digital Shadows. Our digital footprints arewhat we post online or the trail we leave when we visit websites,for example. Digital Shadows are what others post about us online —when someone comments on a Facebook post or Instagram photo, forexample.

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“Privacy is now dead,” Qualman admitted. “Any shred we can giveback to employees and customers they'll thanks us for. That helpsdigital leaders create trust.”

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Qualman's presentation, “Digital Leadership: Becoming theDisruptor vs. the Disrupted,” focused on how to use those digitaltools to create core habits that we can use day to day to be betterleaders, more productive, and happier. To get the audience thinkingabout digital leadership and where we're headed, he pointed out thefollowing trends:

  • In 2020 the average person will have more conversations withbots than with their spouse.
  • 80 percent of mobile consumption is video.
  • Humans have a shrinking attention span: A goldfish can focusfor 8 seconds, humans only 7 seconds.

“We don't have a choice on whether we digitally transform,”Qualman said. “The only question is how well we do it.”

Learning 'socialnomics'

As Qualman explained, referring to his book of the same name,“Socialnomics” is word of mouth on steroids, what he describes as“world of mouth.” Fifty years ago, word of mouth was local. Brokersgot referrals from local businesses, friends or neighbors. Now,thanks to social media, that has become “world of mouth,” andreferrals can come from across the country or across the world.

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Thinking has shifted so that integrity and reputation are nowthe same thing, said Qualman, which was not always the case. “Wenow live in a fully transparent, post-privacy world,” he added,“and that's a good shift. But everyone in this room has beenpracticing that all along.”

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Reassuring the audience, Qualman said, “Digital isn't designedto replace face-to-face interaction. It won't replace meeting forcoffee or a meal.” It's designed to replace distance and deepenrelationships because brokers can now use video conferencing, emailor social media to stay in touch. “We live in the Jetsons era. Butthose who live like the Flintstones win.”

Five habits of digital leaders

Qualman then introduced the audience to the concept of S-T-A-M-Pand the five habits of digital leaders, similar to Stephen Covey'swell-known “7 Habits of Highly Successful People,” which mostattendees had read. The letters stand for:

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Simple True Act Map People

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Qualman asked the audience to think about which one they'realready strongest in. “It's OK to only be good at one or two, notall five,” he stressed. He then reviewed the key attributes of eachone, encouraging the audience to think about how to leverage thoseattributes to be better digital leaders.

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Simple — In Qualman's view, keeping thingssimple wins but it's difficult. When he asked for a show of handsof those who make to-do lists, almost all hands went up, and mostadmitted writing those lists with pen and paper. Making a“not-to-do” list is better, he said, recommending that you make a“not yet” list for everything new — projects, tasks or strategicplans.

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Lists are important to use, Qualman said, because we think we'remulti-tasking but we're actually “switch-tasking.” When we'retrying to multi-task, we get less done because the brain is alwaysswitching back and forth between two or more tasks. Research hasshown that “switch tasking” is the equivalent of not sleeping for36 hours.

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As our mothers told us, we're more productive if we focus on onething at a time. “We work best in 20-minute segments followed bystrategic breaks,” said Qualman, encouraging the audience to keep20-20-20 in mind. We should try to move every 20 minutes, and look20 feet in the distance at a fixed object for 20 seconds. Thisrelieves eye strain, which causes the whole body to be tired andkeeps us from doing our best work.

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True — Most digital leaders know who they areand how they want to achieve their goals, Qualman said. Whenthey've got this figured out, they take their teams with them.They've also thought about the one word that they want people tothink of when they think of the leader, for example, inspire,passionate, kind, considerate or brave. Qualman's word is“empower.” He wants to be the leader that empowers others to dobetter, be better.

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“What one word do you want to describe you?” he asked theaudience. “Think about it and focus on it.”

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Act — “Nothing happens without action,” Qualmansaid, “but why don't we take action as individuals and as teams?The number one reason is that we're afraid to fail. Digital leadersare not afraid to fail.”

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Qualman observed that we don't evaluate failure asorganizations. We need to ask ourselves, “How do we embrace failureas individuals and as organizations?” That allows you to learn andavoid making the same mistake twice.

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“Become 'flawsome.' Embracing our flaws helps you becomeawesome,” Qualman said.

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Map — “We need a firm destination, and we needto be flexible about how we get there,” said Qualman. He noted thatthe path to success consists of leaping over hurdle after hurdle.One turnaround specialist he spoke to explained that when shestarts working with a company in trouble, she meets with its top 50customers, asking them, “What's the main product you buy from usthat you use most, and why do you buy it from us?” She then focuseseverything else on those answers.

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Qualman asked the audience, “Are you taking the informationyou're learning and doing something with it?” He also urged them tobecome pioneers and challenge the status quo, as the best digitalleaders do. “If you aren't getting pushback, then you aren'tpioneering,” he added, noting that you shouldn't use old maps toget to new destinations.

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People — “Surround yourself with the rightpeople,” Qualman said. “Augment your personal networking, whichyou're already good at or you wouldn't be at this meeting, withdigital networking.”

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Qualman recommended that everyone “Post it forward.” Hesuggested taking three minutes a day to forward emails or posts topeople who might be interested in the content. He also recommendedendorsing someone on LinkedIn for a skill you know they'regenuinely good at. “When you do that you're networking before youactually need the network,” he said.

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“Digital stamps are very powerful right now,” Qualman concluded.With the right tools, brokers can use the stamps to become digitalleaders. “At the end of the day you're creating a smile,” he said,“solving a problem for someone.”

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Rosalie Donlon

Rosalie Donlon is the editor in chief of ALM's insurance and tax publications, including NU Property & Casualty magazine and NU PropertyCasualty360.com. You can contact her at [email protected].