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7 Questions on Leadership with Roger Darnell

Name: Roger Darnell

Title: Principal & Chief Communications Officer

Organisation: The Darnell Works Agency

Roger Darnell is an author, communications consultant, publisher, and career guide. Already central to billions of positive media impressions worldwide, his ambitious collaborations with entrepreneurs and media luminaries continue soaring to new heights.

Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!

I hope Roger's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!


Jonno White

1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?

Generally speaking, the challenges facing leaders are infinite, due to everyone being different – and subject to both good and bad days. Leadership involves the talent and ability to guide others toward achieving a given objective, where success requires those being led to be prepared and equipped to do their parts. I had military experience early in my career, and that is a system that is built from the ground up to address these complications. There, I learned that the best management systems constantly train followers toward leadership, which is always my goal in leading others.

Because I work with many different companies alongside top leadership and have a senior role myself, I am always trying to assess their strengths, fortify them, and sometimes, elevate their outlooks and actions discreetly. If this sounds nuanced, it is – and with certain people, it can be impossible. If I can help a leader see and/or feel the importance of expressing themselves, or building a system in a certain way that is going to positively impact the results we are seeking to achieve, those are the wins I strive for. Beyond that, within my role and the scope of my objectives, I always aim to optimize processes, strengthen relationships, and lead others to understand the importance of sound strategy and management, and to standardize their actions and operations accordingly.

2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?

Based on early experiences in school, sports, and the military, I attained various levels of leadership in a world of different ways. Launching a film club in college and serving as its president was a pinnacle achievement.

Since the age of 22, I’ve been self-employed for all but 27 months. Early on, as a freelance talent and consultant, I always had a keen sense of being a leader, but on a limited scale. By the time I started working in marketing and public relations roles at the director level, I began to realize all it takes to guide the internal and external communications of a company that is not my own.

Landing with a top-tier PR firm in Los Angeles where my role was tightly focused on PR consulting, there was no escaping the importance of the leadership and management qualities of my client companies. So, when I launched The Darnell Works Agency in 2000, I did so knowing that I was ready to lead it and provide all the skill and expertise necessary to positively impact the companies I chose to work with.

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

By and large, I am geared toward providing extraordinary service to the clients of my agency, and being available to them most business days during the course of the workday. Over time, I came to realize that I also needed to treat my own agency as a client – and while it took a while to get there, I also eventually started giving myself (the writer, producer and artist) the same treatment.

In earlier times, the writer has always gotten attention, but that was usually relegated to after hours. When our kids came along, I had even less time for that … but as they grew older, my creative drive rose. While continuing to gratefully embrace my clients as my primary focus, I feel this idea of affording quality time and attention to my business and myself has been extremely beneficial, across the board.

As for logistics, I use several matrices to manage my time, addressing all these needs for it. A decade ago, I implemented an 80:20 approach. Practically speaking, this breaks down to me using the first two hours of most business days for whatever my current side project or personal focus is, with the remainder of the business day available for DWA client work. Using this approach, I have written three books, all of which were published and promoted over the past three years.

Following this approach, every day is its own highly rewarding journey.

4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?

For more insight into why this is important to me, please refer back to the beginning of my answer to your first question. The lesson I have been reminded of is this: Even when I am at my best in generating extraordinary results for my clients, the feedback can sometimes be non-existent.

The work I have performed through The Darnell Works Agency for dozens of companies spans more than two decades, and it has always been remote, with only occasional interactions in real life. Also, from the start of my engagement, I am always in the hot seat. If I fail to deliver sufficient results or measure-up according to their standards, I’m out. So, naturally, feedback is critical to me for staying on-track.

When I hit a home run and the result is virtual crickets, that’s when I need to rely on other means for assessing my effectiveness and ensuring I am hitting the right marks. Obviously, lack of acknowledgment is not necessarily negative. After all, everyone is different (including leaders) – and subject to both good and bad days. In situations like this, I remind myself that it’s not about me, it’s about pursuing our objectives, and I turn my focus on to what’s next. It also helps a lot to remember that two of my current clients are among the most successful companies in their industries, and we have now been working together for 10 years.

5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?

I will mention Robert Greene’s Mastery. Earlier I described coming to adopt an 80:20 approach used to manage my business days. One of the biggest personal projects of my career came about when I decided to create some training to teach others what I have learned in business. This simple idea turned into a massive book project, which ultimately became two books (The Communications Consultant’s Foundation, and The Communications Consultant’s Master Plan, both published in 2021 by Routledge/Taylor & Francis Books). In about 2015, I reached out to my mentor Randy Baker, to tell him about the project and my ideas for publishing it. Right away, he told me I needed to read Greene’s book, explaining that it was required reading at some leading educational institutions.

For the record, in support of the development of my books mentioned immediately above, my book shelf expanded by at least 30 volumes in total. Many of them provided essential information that informed my writing, and the lessons I was able to convey when my books came out.

The reason I attribute so much importance to Greene’s is due to his phenomenal writing. To be sure, his subject matter was foundational for me, as he illuminated through story after story the arduous journeys undertaken by a litany of groundbreaking historical figures, each of whom completed some rigorous education to establish themselves and achieve great feats. I read the book as quickly as I could upon receiving it, and most days during the writing of my own, I prepared myself by dipping back into random sections. I recommend Mr. Greene’s book without reservation.

6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?

Through my work, I’ve learned to focus on objectives. You really get the heart of someone’s agenda when you ask them what is the most important thing they are needing to achieve.

So, I would counsel young leaders to make a regular practice of focusing on what they wish or need to manifest. To help them succeed, I’d tell them that they absolutely deserve to have it become reality, and suggest they do at least one thing every day to move further on that quest. Know it can happen, work toward it, and move ahead to the best of your ability every day, even when it seems impossible.

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?

If you have followed along so far, you will have gathered that feedback is important to me. Due to my writing, I have received positive responses from people as far away as Africa and India, letting me know that I have given them something they can use to improve their lives immeasurably. Add to this the highlights of my achievements in business, where some illustrious business leaders have engaged me for 10 years or more to help them succeed. Although my client relationships through DWA don’t always achieve interstellar results, the average engagement over 23 years exceeds 30 months.

Most importantly for me, I am tremendously enthused by the work I completed over the past week, and I am inspired to achieve even greater work in the days to come. To me, this accumulated strength and wisdom owes everything to what I know of leadership. Also, I very much look forward to learning more.

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