Updated: Feb 18, 2019
At a recent leadership and digital technology event, I participated in an interesting experiment.
The room was full of seasoned C-suite professionals and up-and-coming business leaders. We covered a diverse range of industries: pharma, biotech, higher education, IT, military/private security, supply chain management.
The facilitator asked us to make a list of keywords that described how we wished to be seen by others in our respective fields. The activity focused on the public identity and values we wished to portray to people meeting us for the first time, as well as those with whom we work every day.
For a few minutes, each us worked alone to refine our personal list of descriptors to no more than ten items. Next, the facilitator asked us to pick a partner we did not know and tell our partner only our name, organization, and title. He asked us to keep our keyword list private for the moment.
We were asked to take out our laptops and spend the next twenty minutes performing a web and social media search on our partners. The facilitator suggested that we go beyond our partner’s corporate “about us” page. Check their Facebook account and photos. How’s their LinkedIn page? Read their tweet history. Have a peak at Instagram. Search their name and undergraduate college together as an image search. And so on…
He then asked us to make a second keyword list that described our impressions of our partner based on what we found online.
Finally, we compared how we each wished to be seen by others, with what our online profile and behavior portrayed to our partners.
Across the board, the activity produced some dramatic and diverse contrasts between the image people wished to portray and the one that their online profile suggested.
At the mild end of the continuum, some described themselves as highly organized and motivated. Yet their LinkedIn page was only half-completed and full of broken links. Others wished to be seen as entrepreneurial, yet there was no evidence of any innovative or risk-taking projects.
There were also some tougher lessons. Some described themselves as compassionate and emotionally intelligent collaborators. Yet their social media accounts were a stream of anger, caps-lock invective, and opinionating that castigated entire swaths of people they might encounter in any workplace.
Others said they worked hard to be seen as serious, professional, and highly capable. Yet, an online search easily produced photos of keg-stands, blunt smoking, and other sundry party shots. By the look on some people’s faces, I’m sure there were other more serious mismatches that were easily found with a casual web search.
Everyone was given time to process with their partners. It was a sobering experience.
Everyone in the room was highly competent and accomplished in their respective fields. In person, nearly everyone was interesting, kind, professional, and even inspirational. But the online personas frequently gave a much more mixed impression; sloppy or inconsistent at best, troubling at worst.
This activity led to a few