Career Lessons from Kim Kardashian

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Kim Kardashian and her husband-to-be / baby daddy Kanye West just landed on the cover of Vogue magazine (U.S. edition), which is supposed to the world’s most influential fashion magazine. Back in 2007, I thought her fame would fizzle out after 15 minutes, but it seems that it’s only strengthened over time. Now, the girl who used to arrange attention-hungry socialite Paris Hilton‘s closet has reached the pinnacle of fame.

According to Forbes, Kim Kardashian’s net worth is estimated at $10 million in 2013. From a sketchy sex tape to a business and media empire, you have to admit that Kim Kardashian has had one heck of a career trajectory with plenty of ups and downs.

What are some career lessons we can learn from her rise to a business mogul?

1. Who you know matters 

Kim Kardashian first garnered media attention by hanging out with famous people. As Paris Hilton’s close friend and personal stylist, they were often spotted and photographed together. She also briefly dated former boy band crooner Nick Lachey (when he was still relatively famous) as well as quasi-famous singer Ray J.

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While it’s quite unclear how exactly the Kardashians got their own show, reports suggest Kathy Lee Gifford, who is Kris Jenner’s long-time friend, and / or Ryan Seacrest knew the family and thought they were quirky enough to deserve their own show. Whatever the actual story was, famous people with good connections were involved.

Therefore, your connections and the strength of their connections matter tremendously. Whether you want to be a reality TV show star, a C-suite member, or a billion dollar start-up founder, knowing the right people is one of the most important things you can do to build a successful career.

 

2. Turn lemons into lemonade

This is probably Kim Kardashian’s biggest strength. Having a private home video leaked for the world to see is probably every person’s worst nightmare. Instead of hiding in a hole (which would be my natural reaction), she milked every ounce out of that limelight. She immediately signed up for a reality TV show and a Playboy cover. In fact, she changed the narrative. Instead of having the world focus only on the trashy nature of a sex tape, she opened the doors to her family, showing the world her other dimensions as a sister and a daughter.

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Whenever we may face a bump in our career, it’s important to look at all angles to see how you can turn an impossibly bad situation into a good one. If you’re fired, then will this finally gives you a push to start your own business? If you have an awful manager, then can you learn how to be a good one?

 

3.  Be vulnerable

Humans are social animals. We are hard wired to connect to each other. Being vulnerable, we admit that we are imperfect and that we have weaknesses. We drop our shield and open a door for others to connect. People want to connect with, help, and like others that show their vulnerable sides.

While Kim Kardashian lives the life of the rich and famous, she let’s the world see her vulnerable sides as well. For someone that has a team of hair and make-up experts, she often walks around paparazzi-infested L.A. with no make-up. On her reality show, she openly cries (in a less-than-beautiful way). People like that. People like to see her in good times and bad. It makes people feel like they know her and that she is approachable. Perhaps that’s why she’s a tabloid obsession for so many years.

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At work, it’s important to understand and admit your limitations. I don’t mean list all of your weaknesses to your colleagues. In a situation when you can’t get the information or can’t learn quickly, you need to ask for help. This will not only help you accomplish your task better and faster, but also allow you to learn more effectively. Another bonus is that it forms a stronger connection with someone else, building your network.

 

4. Build a strong personal brand

In addition to a hit TV show, the Kardashians have their own clothing line, make-up collection, boutique clothing stores, fragrances, fitness videos, and more! They have managed to build an empire around the Kardashian name. They’ve done so by becoming masters of media. They are everywhere all the time, keeping their brand relevant and top of mind. Kim Kardashian has over 20 million Twitter followers and 13 million Instagram followers.

They’ve also learned from past lessons. In the beginning, they endorsed almost everything under the sun from alcohol to diet pills, diluting their brand and credibility. Now, they seem to have found their niche and focused their business endeavors on beauty and fashion.

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Self-promotion at work is a necessary evil. People will not consider you for new opportunities or exciting projects unless you promote the good work that you’ve already done. You not only need to be top of mind for managers, but you also should build a reputation for a particular skill / expertise. When a senior manager thinks she really needs somebody to get a particular job done well (e.g., run a marketing campaign or start a new business), then your name should be one of her first thoughts.

 

5. Take chances

The Kardashians have a multi-million dollar empire because they saw opportunities and took them. Some worked out (e.g., her fragrance) and some didn’t (e.g., her song “Jam”).

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The lesson here is the more calculated risk you take, the higher your likelihood is to succeed. You basically won’t know until you try. The next time at work, sign up for a new project, work with someone new, or just think differently. If you try and fail, then try again and do things differently.

Personal Branding: In and Outside the Office

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Last Friday night, I somehow won best female costume at our company’s year end party. The theme was rock / pop stars, and I attempted to be Katy Perry with a blue wig and cupcake bikini top tight pink dress (a slightly more conservative approach that still mildly resembles my character’s wardrobe choice). My victory was solely due to the non-existent competition as only 30% of the total attendees made any attempt at wearing a costume.

While I accepting my prize and company-wide recognition, I had very mixed feelings as I stood on stage under the hot lights. I couldn’t help but think: While this is technically an outside the office party, how does this affect my personal brand inside the office?

As I twirled my fake, long, blue hair, I thought: Do people think I’m fun, or do people think a little trashy? As I adjusted my tight pink dress, I thought: Are people focused on my looks now, or do they still think I’m competent and (mildly) intelligent at work?

I contrast this recognition with that of another colleague of mine. She is the head of our company’s running club. Each week, she organizes fellow runners to a marathon training session. Prior to the race, she even ordered and distributed run packs which includes a running shirt, gel, and Cliff bars. On top of that, she finished her first marathon in incredible time!

Through the running club, she’s expanded her network and created wonderful PR for herself through running. Perhaps others attribute positive qualities to her professionally because of this extracurricular activity. I, at least, think of her as reliable (as she trains with club members weekly), goal-oriented (setting time objective for her race and achieving it), organized (creating and ordering the race packs), and team-oriented (as she manages the club).

Perhaps winning a costume contest as Katy Perry doesn’t quite create the same positive branding effect as leading a running club…

The lesson learned here is: be more selective and thoughtful about activities outside the office to excel at and attract attention for. Preferably, choose activities that highlight your strengths and build upon desirable professional qualities.

On the bright side, at least I didn’t wear this (well, at least the part below the neck)…

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Self-promotion at work = a necessary evil?

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This week, a mentor of mine gave me this feedback: “You need to publicize your work. If you don’t tell others, then nobody will know”.

My first reaction was: Self-publicity? What a waste of time! I’d rather roll up my sleeve and do “real work”. Who wants to look like a loud-mouthed fool yapping about how spectacular she is?

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that there are actually quite a few tangible benefits from tooting your own horn.

1. Spread good work

If you actually did do some spectacular work, then you owe it to the world to disseminate this information. What would our world be like if the person who invented the wheel just kept it to himself? If your work truly adds value to your organization, your customers, your stakeholders, or our world, then you need others to replicate, scale, and build upon it.

2. Give credit to others

In today’s world, we rarely work entirely in isolation. Therefore, there is usually an entire team behind a project. By promoting your project’s work, you are not just promoting yourself, but you would be giving credit to others. Recognizing the work of others not only thanks them for their efforts but also makes them more inclined to work with you in the future.

3. Build your own brand

If you put your head down and work away, then you limit your network and sphere of influence to only the people that you work closely with. Promoting your accomplishments not only raises your profile in the organization but also establishes you as a subject matter expert. For example, if you launched a successful social media campaign for a product, then promoting this accomplishment could brand yourself as a social media expert.

This could lead to more opportunities that would not have existed before. Perhaps other product teams would have heard of your work and invite you to help with their campaigns. Maybe the company recruits you to become the new head of social media. None of this would be possible if nobody knew about your work in the first place.

Self-promotion can be time-consuming and tricky to execute. With too much promotion, people may think you’re narcissistic and a bit shameless. I think the key is to focus on the work, its value to others, and the team rather than on yourself.

Public speaking = a necessary evil for managers?

A few weeks ago, I was asked to speak in front of 100+ people, including fellow employees (among them our high flying execs), external groups, and the media. I almost fainted when I received the news. All I could imagine was looking like this kid…

Since then, I have been observing various managers in my company and their relative public speaking ability. We all know that great leaders are typically amazing public speakers (think Martin Luther King Jr. rather than George W. Bush). However, I am learning more and more just how important good public speaking skills is to becoming a great manager (and not just a sports coach or political leader). This is a shame because public speaking is so feared that it has its own phobia name: glossophobia. Jerry Springer made an astute observation / joke about public speaking once:

I read a thing that actually says that speaking in front of a crowd is considered the number one fear of the average person. I found that amazing – number two was death! That means to the average person if you have to be at a funeral, you would rather be in the casket than doing the eulogy.

Why public speaking is must have skill for managers

From “rigorous” research after weeks of observing other corporate leaders, I believe here are some reasons why public speaking is a necessary evil to becoming a good manager (no matter what organization / sector you are in).

  • Communicate your key points and messages clearly and convincingly: For me, this was particularly apparent during conversations about budget and resource allocation. For managers that could clearly get your message across, then to them the spoils go.
  • Build credibility: Stuttering, limited eye contact, and plenty of filler words don’t exactly inspire confidence. Thus, people may automatically dismiss you even before they actually listen to your content (no matter how good it is).
  • Inspire and move people to action: As mentioned earlier, this is a key part of a manager / an organizational leader’s responsibility, marshaling the necessary people and enabling them to accomplish certain objectives. This is much easier if you can rally your team like Al Pacino in Any Given Sunday.

How to improve your public speaking ability

In preparation for my dreaded speech, I’ve been on a quest to improve my oratory ability. Here’s what I picked up so far as some critical must have’s for a convincing speech:

  • Get the mechanics right: These are the basic foundation for a great speech, including: no stuttering, no filler words, look confident and make good eye contact, insert natural pauses, place your hands, feet, and body in natural position (vs. wringing your hands or putting them in your pockets). The list goes on…
  • Identify your key messages and keep them simple: People have attention spans shorter than a dog in a park full of squirrels. Therefore, it’s crucial to figure out what are the key 1 to 3 takeaways you want to impart on your audience. Once you have identified those messages, you need to embed them in you speech in a simple, direct, and highly digestible way. A tactic that some politicians use is the “tell them” method. (1) Tell them what you’re about to tell them; (2) Tell them; (3) Summarize what you just told them.
  • Use the power of stories and stats: Since childhood, we’re all programmed to pay attention and listen to stories. Embedding vivid and interesting stories in your speech will make it more memorable. It’s also important to incorporate some statistics in your story (if relevant) to establish more credibility in your messages (so it doesn’t sound like you’re just making everything up.)
  • Speak authentically: Bill Clinton is the king of connecting with this audience and speaking as if he’s just chatting with you over a beer. The most inspirational and moving speeches are those that come from the heart. Ok, but how do you do that? I think the most important elements to convey authenticity include: (1) revealing something personal (not too embarrassing…but much like the one in the Al Pacino video above), (2) understanding your audience and tailoring your speech to their interests / concerns, (3) believing in your message, and (4) injecting some emotion in your speech by changing your speaking pace, volume, and non-verbals.