Scroll Top
19th Ave New York, NY 95822, USA

How Inclusive Connections Help Build Your Brand As a Leader and Ally with David Sarnoff

How Inclusive Connections Help Build Your Brand As a Leader and Ally with David Sarnoff
How Inclusive Connections Help Build Your Brand As a Leader and Ally with David Sarnoff

Allyship is an ongoing journey, not a destination. There are best practices that’ll help you build your brand and reputation as an inclusive leader and true ally (and some not-so-best practices you’ll want to avoid).

My guest David Sarnoff has so many stories about experiences and lessons that have forged an awareness of the importance of inclusive connections. He’s taken what he’s learned–from his childhood to his current work as an executive coach and consultant–to build a brand of authenticity and consistency. Now, he’s training, speaking, and facilitating workshops to help others become better leaders, allies, and advocates.

In this episode of the Branding Room Only podcast, you’ll learn about the importance of protecting and cultivating your reputation, get David’s insights on allyship and inclusive leadership, and hear about the role of authenticity and consistency in building a strong brand. You’ll also discover the value of emotional intelligence, in-person relationship building, and how to have an effective mentor-mentee relationship in the workplace.

00:56 – David introduces and describes himself, defines personal brand, and shares his hype songs and favorite Winston Churchill and Maya Angelou quotes

6:38 – How David’s childhood gave him the most invaluable experience and education about how to interact with people

14:36 – The importance of authenticity and consistency in building and protecting your personal brand and true allyship in situations of bias or discrimination

20:23 – Why allyship is an ongoing journey for everyone and where people can go sideways with it and negatively affect their brand

27:16 – Why emotional intelligence is a crucial skill for brand building, inclusive leadership, and effective mentorship

33:56 – How leaders set the tone and build an inclusive feedback culture within their organization

38:07 – One thing that doesn’t get emphasized enough that’ll help you build your brand and become an inclusive leader or ally

41:10 – What David loves to do in his personal life, why he won’t compromise on ethics, and how his Branding Room Only moment is all about audience connection

Connect With David Sarnoff

David B. Sarnoff, Esq., ACC, is the founder of Sarnoff Group LLC. A Certified Executive Coach with ACC certification from the International Coaching Federation, he also provides leadership training, workshop facilitation and keynote speaking.  This valuable experience explains why David is often quoted and published in articles, journals and columns.  

As a former attorney, he is uniquely positioned to understand the mindset, demands and challenges of attorneys at all levels. David is also a consultant to Loeb Leadership and has been chosen by the Practising Law Institute, along with Natalie Loeb, contributing a monthly column to the PLI Chronicle on leadership and management in the legal profession.  

After practicing law for several years, he transitioned into executive search for over 16 years. David was a co-founder of executive search firm Morandi, Taub & Sarnoff LLC, for over 11 years where he coached hundreds of attorneys, legal professionals and consulted with law firms and legal departments. 

In September 2022, he was appointed as the Co-Chair of the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee of the New York City Bar Association. In December 2021, David became an Adjunct Instructor for the iCoach New York, now iCoach Global, professional coaching program affiliated with the Zicklin Business School at Baruch College. David is an alumnus of this program.  

Additionally, he served for 6 years on the Fort Lee Board of Education with 3 consecutive years as Board President.

David B. Sarnoff on LinkedIn

Sarnoff Group LLC

Loeb Leadership

Practicing Law Institute

Mentioned In How Inclusive Connections Help Build Your Brand As a Leader and Ally with David Sarnoff 

“Beyond 9/11: Life and Legacy of Joan Donna Griffith – A Conversation With My Father, Peter Griffith”

The Leadership Challenge

Sponsor for this episode

This episode is brought to you by PGE Consulting Group LLC.

PGE Consulting Group LLC is dedicated to providing a practical hybrid of professional development training and diversity solutions. From speaking to consulting to programming and more, all services and resources are carefully tailored for each partner. Paula Edgar’s distinct expertise helps engage attendees and create lasting change for her clients.

To learn more about Paula and her services, go to or contact her at [email protected], and follow Paula Edgar and the PGE Consulting Group LLC on LinkedIn.

Paula Edgar: Welcome to The Branding Room Only Podcast where we share career stories, strategies, and lessons learned on how industry leaders and influencers have built their personal brands. Now, let’s get started with the show.

Hi everybody, welcome to The Branding Room Only Podcast. I’m your host, Paula T. Edgar, and Branding Room is where we bring on influencers and experts to talk about their personal brands. I’m excited today to have somebody who has become one of my favorite soul for years and also folks to collaborate with, David Sarnoff.

David is the principal of Sarnoff Group LLC and a consultant to Loeb leadership. Welcome to The Branding Room, David.

David Sarnoff: Thank you so much, Paula. I am thrilled to be here and honored as well.

Paula Edgar: Oh, well, thank you. Do me a favor and give me a little background about yourself before we jump into the conversation.

David Sarnoff: Sure, well, I started out my career as a paralegal when I was a junior in college, went to law school, was a clerk associate, spent about nine years at a New York City law firm, and then got burned out, transitioned into executive search, spent over 16 years coaching and consulting lawyers, law firms, and legal departments and loved the coaching aspect of what I did, and then I discovered formal executive coaching.

I went back to business school for executive coaching and leadership training, found what I was meant to do, and that was almost six years ago. I do executive coaching one-on-one executive coaching, group coaching, and I facilitate workshops and speak at conferences and panels. I’m also a columnist for a column in the PLI Chronicle.

Paula Edgar: Fantastic. We’re also affiliated to one of my favorite institutions in the New York City Bar Association, where you co-chair the diversity, equity, inclusion committee. So thank you for your leadership there.

Well, let’s jump into my favorite topic, which is branding. Tell me, David, how do you define personal brand?

David Sarnoff: For me, your personal brand is your reputation. It’s the first thing someone thinks about when they hear your name or they hear your company. How do you influence what that person thinks when they hear your name or your organization?

For me, your personal brand is something that’s intentional, that you have to always be mindful, nurture, cultivate it, and protect it because it’s difficult to build and grow, but it’s very easy to damage.

Paula Edgar: Oh, yeah. Oh, yes. I love that concept of protecting your brand. I think a lot of the conversations that I’ve had have been about how to build it, but not about how to make sure it stays that way so I’m really glad you brought that perspective in.

Okay, so that being said, for your personal brand, how would you describe yourself in three words or short phrases?

David Sarnoff: I was thinking of those phrases. I think the first one that comes to mind is that I always show up. I’m dependable. I’m there for people, my clients, my colleagues. They just know I’ll be there. There is never a question, if it’s a blizzard, if it’s a hurricane, I’ll find a way to be there. I care about people. I’m genuinely curious about people and their life story. I want to get to know them. That’s a big part of my brand.

The other phrase I would say is, I persevere. I have had challenges and adverse times and been supporting people who went through difficult times. Somebody who’s going to push through it and have that internal strength or fortitude to do it.

Paula Edgar: I love that. You show up, dependable, perseverance, you care. I think all of those very much resonate for who I know you to be, and so I appreciate that self-reflection. Do you have a favorite quote or mantra?

David Sarnoff: Yeah, so tough to pin me down, I’m going to give you two or three. My go-to quote for that perseverance is Winston Churchill during the dark days of World War II. He said to inspire the British people, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” Don’t let it overwhelm you, whatever that challenge or difficult circumstances is. Keep pushing through and you’ll get out of it.

I’m a huge Maya Angelou fan and I use this quote in many of the workshops that I do. When I coach leaders on raising self-awareness, “People will forget what you did, people will forget what you said, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Paula Edgar: Yep. So very true. Every time somebody pulls that quote as their quote or their mantra, I always think about someone who did not make me feel good. I’m like, “It is true, right? It’s like, yeah, I’m going to remember that.” That’s I think a little bit of my Brooklyn. I got to make sure you understand what you’re looking at, which we’re going to talk about in a little bit.

Okay, so what about this? What song are you playing in your head when you go into a room where people are going to know that they’re going to get full authentic David or/and which is the song that you use if you’re having a bad day to lift you up? It could be the same song or two different songs.

David Sarnoff: If I got to get amped up and bring that Paula Edgar energy into the room, I’m listening to Over the Hills and Far Away by Led Zeppelin. Slow and just brings the drums and the guitar. If I need a little pick me up, one of my favorites is Sly and the Family Stone Everyday People. It’s a song that makes me smile.

Paula Edgar: Those are some good selections. I like it. The mixtape is growing and getting better as we speak.

David Sarnoff: There’s a lot more to that, but I’ll leave those two.

Paula Edgar: All right. Okay, so why don’t you give me some more context about how you have become the David Sarnoff that’s in front of us? Tell me a little bit about your story and how it shaped who you are in your personal brand.

David Sarnoff: Thank you for the question, Paula. I was born in the Bronx. I have a twin sister and I have an older brother and older sister, 8 and 10 years older. There was a significant difference. My dad was one of the last of the old time seltzer men in New York City, did it for 30 years, 6 days a week, 12, 14 hours a day in the rain, the snow.

For those who might be too young to know what a seltzer man is, he delivered cases of these heavy glass bottles, as well as soda, syrups, and beers on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and in the Bronx, Pelham Parkway, Fordham Road, and Arthur Avenue.

My parents had a lot of influence on me. They came from very humble beginnings. My dad grew up in East New York, immigrant parents. I know Paula said she’s a Brooklyn girl.

Paula Edgar: I’m an East New York girl.

David Sarnoff: Yeah, an East New York girl. My dad went to Jefferson High School and he grew up in poverty. His father was older and struggled to assimilate in America and had a lot of challenges. My dad went to work at nine years old, shining shoes, selling newspapers, helping support the family.

Paula Edgar: Wow.

David Sarnoff: He was just like that his whole life and he never complained. He never asked for anything. He only wanted, “What do you need me to do? How can I help you?” I just saw that from a very early age and at 10 years old, he would take me to work on the truck.

My brother was already doing it many years before me, getting up at 4:30 in the morning, driving to the south Bronx, where he parked his truck, and then load up and then delivered 12 hours a day.

The first few times I went by lunchtime, I couldn’t move [inaudible]. But he taught me the hard work and he had me knocking on people’s apartment doors, strangers, and getting their order and how to engage them and introduce myself. That was the most invaluable experience and education I got.

Paula Edgar: I remember for all of you out there, David reached out to me and said, “Let’s get to know each other. Let’s have a call.” As much as I always have the desire to do that, I’m always like, “Oh, gosh, I don’t have time.” But number one, you inspired me to start doing that more and to be more deliberate about it, particularly people who you want to build a relationship with.

But I can tell you this, there’s never been a time that I have done that with anyone where I felt like that was a waste of my time, that you just have the opportunity to get to know people more under the surface and realize just how much we all have in common.

What resonated for me from the conversation that we had, and you’re talking about your dad, number one, the fact that he’s from New York, Brooklyn, and that both of our dads went to Jefferson, but also that it was a part of the lessons that you learned about how to interact with people who are different than you.

Your father teaching you about the value of people across the board, regardless of who they are, where they came from, what their circumstance was. So can you talk a little bit about that? Because that for me really solidified something.

David Sarnoff: Yeah. I saw from a very early age, my dad really connected to other people’s struggles and pain. I remember the very first time in 1978, driving into the South Bronx. I was born in the Bronx as a maybe by the time I was toddler, we moved to New Jersey. I was exposed to Manhattan and Pelham Parkway and didn’t see neighborhoods that were really challenged.

When we were driving through these neighborhoods, I was like, “Who would want to live here?” My dad got very firm and he said, “Hey, everybody here is working hard to support their family, and they’re doing the best they can. You don’t always get to pick where you live. So be grateful.”

That just resonated with me. I connected to it. I just saw how he treated people. When we would go into a building on Riverside Drive or the doorman buildings with elevator operators and porters, he would bring me in first time, introduce me, and say, “Hey, this is my son.”

It was many people of color and diverse backgrounds and immigrants and almost to a person, they would shake my hand like, “Your dad’s a great man.” I had so much pride in that. [inaudible] Ma, I love you and you did a lot. I’ll bring her into the conversation.

Paula Edgar: We are fully equitable when it comes to our parents, but I do understand the things that resonate for you, particularly because I don’t know that a lot of people really get to see their parents work, it’s like you know that they’re doing something so that you can eat, but to actually see your parents work and to see your father being regarded in that way, I just think it has a two-way thing.

My father, who now the audience all knows because he has been on the podcast, he would talk about when I went away to boarding school, which I was one of the few kids of color, and they went to visit, or they would talk to my advisor on the phone, and they’d be like, “Are you talking about Paula, the Paula that we know?” and seeing yourself or somebody who you love through other people’s eyes is really helpful to value them more and to understand that it’s not just the role that they have with you, but that they have a role out in the world where people also value them.

So I really just appreciated that because I can tell by the way that you interact with others and how I’ve interacted with you, that there’s a straight line through those lessons, through the lessons that you give to other people and the things that you do now.

David Sarnoff: And there’s so many of those experiences. One example, I must have been like 12 or 13, I was delivering to this old woman’s apartment on the Upper West Side. She grabs me by the arm, she takes me to the window, and she wants to show me landmarks outside.

She’s not letting go of my arm. I’m trying to pull my arm away and she won’t let go. Then after four or five minutes, she let go and I was like, “Have a nice day.” I’d go out to the hall. My dad’s coming out of another apartment, like, “This woman wouldn’t let go of my arm.” He’s like, “She’s lonely. She wanted somebody to talk to. You gave her five minutes of joy. You did a mitzvah, you did a good deed.” Just reframing it and again, connecting to that other person’s situation.

Paula Edgar: Right. I think seeing people’s humanity, you would hope it’ll be innate, but I think we know from how the state of the world, and not just today, but for a while now, that it’s not necessarily innate for folks to do that and a lot of people don’t necessarily prioritize other people’s experiences when they are navigating the world. I appreciate that.

Talk to me about this, you talked about having been a paralegal and then going to be a lawyer and then understanding the space of leadership development and navigating what folks around best practices and diversity, equity, inclusion, and all kinds of those things when it comes to the workplace.

What in there resonates for you in terms of how certain factors impact your brand when it comes to the workplace, leadership, and diversity? Anything that resonates for you from that question.

David Sarnoff: From those days, and thinking about some of the partners and colleagues who I worked with, some who were amazing, dynamic, great people, and others not so much, I think what stood out for me was people contradicting who they said they were.

I think this is a brand killer. When you hold yourself out as one thing and people expect that and then they see something else, you’re done. When I talk about protecting and cultivating your brand, consistency. Back up what you hold out to the world.

I saw people who were like, “I’m a mentor. I cultivate relationships. I listen to clients,” and then you’re in the trenches with them. They’re screaming and throwing things and throwing you under the bus, you don’t want to deal with that person again. Again, I try to learn from those experiences and you got to walk the talk.

Paula Edgar: You do have to walk the talk. Consistency and authenticity are so key anywhere. Not just in a workplace, but particularly in a workplace because I think there’s a higher standard of expectation because you’re a boss, a manager, or a leader, and then other folks are looking towards you for leadership, for you modeling who they may want to be or what the culture exists.

There are so many people, to your point, who will say, for example, I’m just going to give an example here, that they’re an ally, but they ally very comfortably.

David Sarnoff: I like the way you phrased it.

Paula Edgar: Yeah. Talk to me about what you’ve seen.

David Sarnoff: Yeah. So, allyship has been a journey for me and I’m constantly learning. It requires experience, taking risks, putting yourself out there, but understanding the person you’re trying to be an ally to is much worse than you do.

I have a good friend and mentor, Ron Jordan. Ron is a legal recruiter. He recruits attorneys of color, predominantly Black attorneys. Ron and I have built a relationship and a friendship over the years. He’s the first one many years ago who recruited me to be an ally.

“David, need you to be an ally. We need people like you to stand up and speak.” I didn’t really know what that meant at the time. We talked about it and he introduced, “David, I want you to talk to this person, they’re an ally.” I was once on a panel several years ago and I referred to myself as an ally.

After it was over, a woman of color pulled me aside and said, “David, love what you said, but can I give you some feedback?” I’m like, “Sure.” “Don’t call yourself an ally. Be recognized as an ally.” Because anybody can call themselves, to your point, “Oh, I’m an ally.”

I once interviewed a woman named Lori Boozer who I also met through the Bar Association and she just also moved me and I said, “I want to talk to you,” and the next day, we’re doing a Zoom and throwing it up on LinkedIn.

Lori said something impactful for me. She said, “I don’t need somebody to come to my cubicle and pat me on the back and say, ‘Oh, I feel so bad that happened.’ I got a therapist for that. I need somebody to step up in the moment when it happens and say, ‘We don’t accept this behavior.’”

So being an ally means intervening in the moment. My colleague, Joy Stephens, who I do a lot of workshops with. Joy is a Black woman based in Atlanta who’s one of the best facilitators and just engaging people on a variety of topics. She’s a chemical engineer by training.

We do a thing on Performative vs. Authentic Allyship. Joy says, “If you go march in a rally, that’s performative allyship. Because you get to go home to your hot meal and your warm bed, and what did you do? What did you do to really change things?”

I haven’t always stepped into those moments where I should have. I try to, and if I could just add a nuance to it, I also have to be mindful in situations of my privilege not to make it worse for somebody.

I have to be incredibly mindful of that, that I’m doing it in a way where I’m intervening to address somebody’s behavior, but I’m not making it worse for the person that I’m trying to help.

Paula Edgar: Right, yeah. I often will say when I’m doing facilitation and training, I’ll say, “Think of the ally as along with, not instead of, not for.” It’s making sure that you are, to your point, making things better or at least shifting things so they’re not making them worse.

I love that you called out the piece about it being an ongoing journey. I encourage people, particularly leaders, often to say, “I’m on an allyship journey,” because that’s all of our truths. There’s no one who’s like, “I have gotten there.” “Here I am on the mountaintop, and now all of you can come in.” It’s not that, but it’s that every situation that we’re in, every time we interact with somebody who has been marginalized or underrepresented, we can show up in a space.

I have to tell you that my allyship journey was put on like a thousand when I had kids. Because on one hand, people look at me and it’s like, “You’re a Black woman, you have your own issues, there are things that are going to happen.” But for me, it’s like number one, children will teach you that they are inclusive from the very beginning.

They only know, “That person is my friend and they have my Lego.” That’s it until we learn the differences. Oftentimes it’s like, “My kids taught me they/them.” They taught me the pronouns before it was even anything because they have already understood that people’s humanity and personhood were a part of their experiences.

I feel like we are all on a journey, we all continue to learn. Even in the space of having some expertise there, there are still opportunities to learn. So I appreciate that. I think people will get and hear from you that even when you have this information, there’s still more that you can learn. There’s still more that you can experience, and humility is a big part of your allyship journey.

David Sarnoff: And I seek feedback all the time. I’ll call up my colleague, Dr. Fritz Galette, or Joy, I’m like, “Here’s what happened. Here’s what I did. What should I have done? Did I do okay here or did I make it worse?”

Paula Edgar: Yeah. I’m glad you said that too, because that is something I’m asked about all the time where people will be like, “Hey, this thing happened and I wanted to get some feedback so I asked a friend,” and I’m like, “It has to truly be somebody who is open to that where you have that relationship with to do so.”

Obviously, it sounds like you have that, but where people go off in their allyship journey, which I do think impacts their brand, is when they are eliciting information or perspective of people they haven’t built a relationship with, and asking them to do more because of their identity.

Like, “Hey, one bad person that I met down the street, can you please tell me if I did alright?” I think that it’s so helpful to be able to understand that nuance, you’re talking about you’ve done the work, you continue to do the work, and you have a network of people who you can get feedback from so that you can continue the work.

David Sarnoff: Yeah, and it was worth building that network.

Paula Edgar: That is true. That’s the way that allyship is supposed to work because those people can give you feedback, and they can also say, “Hey, today I don’t feel like it. Ask me tomorrow.” I think that’s an important piece.

I see such disappointment in people’s faces sometimes when they’re like, “Well, I went and talked to Joe and Joe didn’t want to talk to me.” I’m like, “Joe doesn’t have to talk to you. That is Joe’s prerogative. He can do what he wants to do and your ask sometimes shows up in a place of privilege.”

But to that end, there’s so much we can learn. I love that we veered in this way in the conversation because truly for me, I think one of the biggest dings on your brand is when you are not open, you don’t have a growth mindset, and you don’t understand those places for you to learn and to be better.

To that end, you talk often with people about being inclusive leaders. Are there some reflections that you have about folks who are on that inclusive leadership journey that connects with brands as well?

David Sarnoff: Yeah, I think absolutely because it’s also one of those things about calling yourself an ally. If you say you have an inclusive culture, oh, it better be because particularly in recruiting now, and I’m loathed to generalize but there’s a lot of research with generational differences, and I do a lot of work on generational challenges and solutions, young millennials, Gen Z, they look at your DEI statement, they look at your core values, they look at your mission statement.

You’re holding yourself out to the world as we’re respectful, we’re inclusive, we address bias. If you are not consistent and diligent, you’re going to lose a lot of talent because they have no tolerance for it or very low tolerance for it.

I have two Gen Z kids in college and they grew up in Fort Lee, New Jersey, a community that’s highly diverse, has a very large Asian population compared to others, and all people of color, and my daughter said something that hit me and I thought was great to hear as a parent.

She wants a sleepaway camp and she’s traveled and she said, “I’m really glad I grew up in Fort Lee because when I go visit my camp friends, all their friends look and all their friends just seem like replicas,” as opposed to she got to meet people for from different cultures and backgrounds and grew up with them and that was rewarding for me to hear that.

Paula Edgar: I mean it’s such an important aspect of growing up. If you grow up in silos, then you tend to stay in them and then your perspective on the world is very much one perspective as opposed to at least being able to be curious enough to know that there are other things that can drive your perspective.

My son last night, I was helping him with his homework, he had to write an essay and was reading a short story by Amy Tan. The story was basically about her culture and that she was embarrassed because she had a preacher’s son come over the visit for dinner and they had food that was so Asian culture food and she was embarrassed because of the food.

I was talking to my son about it and I was like, “What do you think of some of the challenges?” and he goes, “She doesn’t know herself. She’s not authentic. She doesn’t have self-awareness.” I was just like, “Somebody’s been listening to their mom.”

That for me was very helpful because I was like, “Okay, good, you’re getting something of the things I want to teach you, and clearly the teachers are also trying to do that as well.”

When you think about the work that you do, are there other things that come up for you that you see often that have that inconsistency when it comes to what people are saying and what they’re doing and how it impacts the culture or the experience of people who they’re working with?

David Sarnoff: Yeah. A lot of other topics that I present on are EQ versus IQ. I have a particular focus on emotional intelligence. I’m certified in the EQ-i 2.0 assessment to measure emotional intelligence. It’s about having the self-awareness of understanding how you show up, how you’re perceived by others, and what the impact of your words and actions is.

From an allyship perspective, and I addressed this at a recent Bar Association panel, and I’ve seen other attorneys who happen to be white men talking about feedback with equity, particularly in law firms, we develop talent, we mentor, we give feedback, but if you ask people from underrepresented communities, if they get the same developmental feedback as their white colleagues, many times, if not a majority of the times you hear no.

There was a partner from a big law firm who recently said, “I have colleagues who tell me privately I’m uncomfortable.” They make it about their discomfort. I’ll ask leaders, “What stops you from giving feedback to people who don’t look like you?” “I don’t want to hurt somebody’s feelings or I don’t want it to escalate into a conflict.” They make it about them, as opposed to this other person needs the knowledge and experience in your head to develop the skills and grow their career.

When I work with people who I’m coaching around that and getting different perspectives, and I coach people to lead with care and empathy, sometimes I get the eye roll or cringe, “Ooh, care, empathy,” but it allows you to be incredibly direct.

If I say, “Paula, I care about your career’s growth and skill development. Because I care, I need to give you this feedback,” they’re saying people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

Paula Edgar: Yeah. I do agree with you that particularly in the legal profession where we both navigate, there’s this poo-pooing of what has been referred to as soft skills, but I think they are essential skills, that you can have all of the intellect that you want but if the way in which you show up doesn’t resonate, then you cannot reach the heights that you might if you have that EQ.

David Sarnoff: We’re talking about brand creation, brand development, brand protection without emotional intelligence skills. These are learned behaviors. People over time through practice and experience can improve their emotional intelligence, whether their tendency is to be an extrovert or an introvert, it just manifests in different ways.

But to engage people, to educate them about your brand, you have to know how to connect with them. You have to read body language, facial expressions, non-verbal communication, and recognize whether or not you’re connecting with them, you’re boring them, you’re frustrating them because a lot of times, people don’t listen, and actively listening is a high-level emotional intelligence skill, resisting the impulse to speak, and hear what people need because if your brand is “We service our clients,” but you’re not listening and you say, “We know what you need,” they’re not going to be your client for a long time.

Paula Edgar: What you just said made me think about mentoring. If you want me to pivot for a little bit because I feel like a lot of the people who you probably interact with hold themselves up as mentors and that EQ piece on both the side of the mentor as well as the person who was the mentee, I find that if there is a disconnect there, it’s like flying in the night and it just doesn’t work.

I don’t know, and I know I didn’t tell you this in advance, but somebody told me, I need to ask you this question, is there something that you have in terms of reflection on the mentor-mentee relationship or even the sponsor-sponsee relationship that resonates for you when you think about this concept of understanding emotional intelligence and thinking about who you are and what your brand is and how that can be disconnected or how it can be seamless when it’s done right?

David Sarnoff: Yeah, great question. I recently worked with a law firm client on helping them develop a mentorship program. I did it with Joy Stephens and one workshop was on EQ versus IQ. One was giving and receiving feedback and active listening.

But I think what makes mentorship relationships effective is establishing mutual expectations and communicating what each of us wants out of this relationship upfront. The organization needs to be intentional about how they’re pairing people up and get to know them, got to understand what their goals and aspirations are as a mentee. Who’s the right mentor to address this?

It doesn’t mean that’s the only thing they’re going to talk about. In one situation, I did a bunch of level-setting interviews with stakeholders in the organization. I interviewed a female associate who said, “They just gave me a female mentor and didn’t even ask me, I actually wanted a male mentor to get a different perspective and experience and understand what they did to get where they are.”

Paula Edgar: Yeah. I’m glad the universe told me to ask you that question because I definitely feel like there’s so much good intent, and I love intent. I think it’s important to have good intent, but it doesn’t override the actual impact and that you have to be strategic about what you want the impact to be, even if your intent is wonderful, that’s not it.

A lot of people just want the intent to be great. Like, “I want to be a good mentor, so I want them to be just like me,” and I’m like, “That’s not good mentoring.”

David Sarnoff: A hundred percent. I think you really hit the nail on the head where there’s a leadership program called The Leadership Challenge created by Barry Posner and Jim Kouzes, two professors in California.

It’s a widely used program in corporate America and beyond. They have an assessment called the Leadership Practices Inventory, the LPI, and over three million people have taken it, and they distill leadership down to 30 behaviors.

There’s one behavior that’s in the least frequent of over 90% of the people who take the assessment, and it’s asking for feedback as to how my performance impacts you. Because we don’t want to get vulnerable, we don’t want to ask what we need to do better because we think we’re doing everything great.

It reminds me, I was once coaching a practice group leader at a very large firm and I said, “Do you ever ask your associates what you can do better to support them?” He stared at me for about five seconds and said, “No.” I said, “What stopped you?” He said, “Well, I never thought about it. I just figured if they have something to say to me, they’re just going to say it.”

I said, “Oh, so when you were a third-year associate, you walked into the practice group leader and said, ‘Hey, I got some feedback for you,’” doesn’t work.

Paula Edgar: Not at all.

David Sarnoff: Leaders model the behavior they expect of others, as you said before. If they’re not out seeking feedback, members of their team and organization are going to be reluctant to do it as well.

Paula Edgar: Yeah, that, times a thousand, and I am so not surprised that hearing a leader did not want feedback. It is a very ego-ed space and we work in these tiered systems where people feel as if, to your point, someone who is not in the tier that I’m in cannot give me feedback. In fact, I am standing here in perfection. So I’m not sure why you think I would even need feedback.

Because every time I have gone into a firm or any other environment that’s corporate and suggested 360 feedback, people look at me like I have six heads. They’re like, “You mean you want other people to tell me how I’m doing?” For me, that is a clear example of not having a growth mindset because you want to get better. You want to know the things that might be preventing you from actually excelling to that next level or being regarded in the way that you want, that your intent is to be regarded.

So I’m glad that you said that. I really know the points in my podcast where people are going to mess with me and it’s going to be this one and they’re going to be like, “Yeah, oh, my goodness, the leader that didn’t want to hear.” Imagine that.

David Sarnoff: They’re also setting the tone for the rest of the organization and it’s part of the culture. Just think of all the brilliant ideas that are not going to get communicated because you don’t ask, or you don’t encourage, where if we have a feedback culture, we expect each other to give and receive feedback.

It may sting, it may be uncomfortable, but it’s in the spirit of “This is how we all get better, and we create this shared mission culture where we’re all striving for a goal. In order to do that, we need to be honest and direct with each other.”

Paula Edgar: Yeah, I had an in-house corporate client tell me that they’ve started asking their law firm’s outside counsel about the feedback culture. I thought, I was like, “What? This is amazing,” because they found a correlation between the feedback and being given consistently and the experiences of the associates.

I think we all knew it innately but to actually affirmatively ask the question, I just love that because it will shift cultures because they’re asking. That will be an emphasis in places where it’s not occurring to make it occur more so they can actually answer, hopefully in a very thoughtful, strategic, and honest way.

Okay, so all that being said, do you have any advice for people who are trying to build their brand and become inclusive leaders or allies? What advice would you give them?

David Sarnoff: I believe you have to be visible. You have to get out there. I’m a hand-to-hand person. I don’t blast emails, I’m big on LinkedIn, I love interacting and engaging with LinkedIn, and I’ve built an organic community around my connections and followers.

I don’t pay for connections, I don’t advise that because people are going to want to know that they have some connection to you. So, like you said earlier, if somebody inspires me or they say something incredibly intelligent, which happens more and more because I don’t say those things, I want to get to know them better and what experience led them to that.

We were just at NALP together in DC and I saw this great generational presentation and I went up to them, I said, “Look, the next time I’m in Chicago, I want to take you out to dinner because I really want to talk to you about this.” They’re like, “That’s great.” That’s how you build your brand.

People, it’s a combination of social media and in-person, but I think the in-person does not get emphasized enough. The generic term is networking, I use relationship-building because I want to hear somebody’s story.

I think a mistake many people make is as soon as they meet somebody, they start selling or whatever the motivating forces, they go right there and I think that turns people off as opposed to “Where’d you grow up? Where’s the most favorite place you’ve ever traveled to?”

Yeah, I love hearing where people have traveled and what connected to them in their travels. Through my experiences and like what I talked about with my dad, I can connect or I try to connect with people no matter where they’re from. If they’re from Texas, Nebraska, or Seattle, wherever, I try to make a connection to them.

Paula Edgar: I love that. I think even having the desire to do so makes people connect with you more. That so often we are so laser-focused that we’re walking through rooms and not looking at people in the eye, or I just want to get to the speaker, but there are so many other people around here who have value and understanding that. Yes, and looking at their phones, yes, yes.

It’s like the best thing and the worst thing at the same time. I love my phone, and shout out to Android, but it does prevent us from actually paying attention to each other, who we are, and our experiences. Tell me, what about the fun stuff? What do you do for fun?

David Sarnoff: What do I do for fun? I’m a good eater. Got to balance that out. I love sports. My family’s a sports family. Pre-COVID, a little bit after, we used to every summer try to go to a different ballpark in the country and toward the city we were in.

My wife loved bringing our kids to ball games because she felt like it was a captive audience. For three hours, they were stuck in that seat and she could ask them all the questions she had and hopefully created nice memories for them.

I love socializing, going out with friends, meeting new people. Those are things that I enjoy. My dad was never into cars and gadgets and that wasn’t something that I got into either. But I do like being around groups of people either around sports or around being social and love to travel.

Paula Edgar: Yep, we have all those things in common. Okay, so tell me, this is your stand-by-your-brand moment, what is the authentic aspect about yourself that you will never ever compromise on?

David Sarnoff: For me, I think it’s ethics. I’ve been pushed to the wall a couple of times. There was one instance, when we contracted a coaching engagement, and you mentioned 360, so I was coaching a leader of an organization, and I did a substantive 360, interviewed about 10 people in the organization, anonymous, confidential, created a feedback summary report, and that report is only for my client, the coachee, and it’s up to them of what they do with it.

The executive director said, “I want that feedback report.” Then I said, “You can’t have it.” He said, “But I hired you. I’m paying your bill.” From the very beginning, that was confidential. You don’t get to see it. It was a pretty tense exchange where I was risking losing the client, but I wasn’t going to abandon my coaching client because talk about a brand killer, “I’m an honorable ethical coach, but if the client who’s writing the check says they want it, I give it to them.”

Who’s going to trust you? And word travels fast. Again, for me, I’d rather lose the business than lose my brand reputation and how people see me.

Paula Edgar: I love that and I love the story that highlights it because it’s so true.

All right. Tell me about your magic. What is your Branding Room Only moment? If you were in a room on the stage, what are people coming there to see or experience about you that’s a special part of David?

David Sarnoff: Just I think where I have skill is connecting with my audience and coming across as genuinely curious, just there to share knowledge, share experience, I may make mistakes, I may miss their words. What you see is what you get.

But I want to make them laugh, I want to make them think, and I want them to walk out saying, “I learned something new today.” I think when people come to my conference panels or webinars, that’s what they expect now on some level. Maybe I’m overstating but just kind of a neuron link, how I hold myself out is also how sometimes I get feedback.

When I go to conferences like NALP or the Association of Legal Administrators, people will come up to me and say, “I enjoy your LinkedIn feed.” But I recently got feedback where I was talking to a leader in an organization. I’m like, “Yeah, I do coaching and workshop facilitation,” and they said, “Oh, following you on LinkedIn, I thought you only do DEI.”

I thought that was great feedback for me because that’s how he’s experiencing it. So it made me be more mindful and go back and saying, “What is it that made him think that?”

Paula Edgar: I’m glad this is how we’re closing because one of the things that is important about branding is having an understanding of how you show up so that if that is not necessarily the way you want to show up or you have other nuances that you want to show, you can then create a strategy to make sure that that is more present. I think that’s a perfect way to end our conversation.

I know, it goes by so quickly. I want to thank you, David, for being in The Branding Room with us and everybody, tell us how we can connect with you, how can people find you, and learn more about your work.

David Sarnoff: Sure. LinkedIn would be great. You could search David B. Sarnoff,, and

Paula Edgar: Fantastic. All of those will be also in the show notes. Everybody, thank you for being a part of The Branding Room audience. Tell a friend, share this episode. They need to know about self-awareness. They need to know about allyship, inclusive leadership, and EQ for real. Bye, everyone.

David Sarnoff: Thank you so much.