Women Of The C-Suite: “Establish your authority with knowledge, not position”

With Natasa Djukanovic, CMO at Domain.ME

Establish authority by knowledge, not by position — I know it’s easier said than done, but you are not a leader because you are pretty or because you have a fancy title in front of your name. When I got my first promotion, I felt I still had to prove I deserved it, and I know other people in the team thought the same. My only choice was to learn faster and work harder than others. The first big problem we encountered was, accidentally, something I was prepared for, something I read about, so I managed to keep calm while everybody else was freaking out. My calmness, self-confidence, and willingness to help others — and because I knew how to solve the problem — was something that, in their eyes, defined me as a person who wants to help others and more than that — who knows more than others.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Natasa Djukanovic, the chief marketing officer of Domain.ME, the international tech company that operates the internet domain “.ME.” She’s spent her entire career at the intersection of banking, social media, leadership and technology, and is constantly trying to figure out the secret to being in three different places at the same time.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

The CEO of domain.me, the company I work for, used to work for me for seven years, I was his boss. Sometime after we both left that company, he asked me to join the company he founded in the meantime. Today he jokes that it was his payback time and that’s why he hired me. :) Joking aside, the domain industry was new for me and positioning our ccTLD in an already established market seemed like an exciting challenge; of course, I was also looking forward to us working together again, too.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

I am always the first person in the office every day, and once I encountered lots of leaves that the wind blew in through an opened window the night before. So, I took a broom to clean up, but as I was sweeping the dust and the leaves, a client entered the office. When I asked him if I can help him, he looked at me, gave a disgusted “No”, and sat on a chair. Then, a colleague entered the office and started talking to the client, but as he couldn’t help him, he referred to me for help. You should have just seen the client’s face. And the best part was the pride with which my colleague looked at me.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Our primary challenge when we started the business was to get recognized in an industry that was somewhat conservative at the time. Coming from a small southeastern European country, and as a newbie, we aimed for disruption in the domain name industry. The domain registries, as we are, usually work as B2B companies and don’t communicate with the end-customers. We thought — we are the newcomers, we have to stand out. The industry conferences unofficially had a business dress code; we decided to show up in T-shirts with “I work for .ME” slogan. We knew that we, as a team, needed to embody the values of our company so this was the way to show our personality. In a nutshell, we wanted to communicate our values and they are all based on a personal relationship we have with our customers. Our launch coincided with the global marketing movement where the focus moved from mass to custom services and from corporate to “human” branding. So, we gathered courage and aggressively advertised .ME as the go-to domain for the new movement in branding — personalization, both when it comes to businesses who want to make their business or service more personal, and for people who want to work on their personal brands. Today, .ME is known for both, so we did something right.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

The whole .ME team is passionate about giving back to the community and using our knowledge and skills to advance the tech sector in Montenegro. We feel very passionate about corporate social responsibility and look strategically about it throughout our company. We are creating and funding projects in the field of tech education and development and are constantly working on something new. At the moment, we have begun preparing for the next year’s Spark.me conference, in addition to several ongoing programming schools for middle and high-school children we support every year.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

I am not sure if that’s the right thing to do, but I often take on the role of a mother on my team, which is done strictly by instinct. I am not the overly-protective kind of mother, more like one who encourages her children to think critically and act independently. The one who supports them in their endeavors and is there to provide advice, without needing to take over. Having someone believe in you, and also having them expect greatness from you, is incredibly powerful. I try to give that to my team members, and I see them thrive because of it. This, of course, means knowing who my team members are and approaching them as individuals and as people first. And through this approach, I realized that I managed to take all those “female” qualities people often regard as a weakness in the workplace — compassion, sensitivity, empathy, love — and turn them into a strength.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

Lead by example. Show your qualities and expect other team members to follow you. Encourage them to follow you. And don’t work too much, because it would scare them.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Establish authority by knowledge, not by position — I know it’s easier said than done, but you are not a leader because you are pretty or because you have a fancy title in front of your name. When I got my first promotion, I felt I still had to prove I deserved it, and I know other people in the team thought the same. My only choice was to learn faster and work harder than others. The first big problem we encountered was, accidentally, something I was prepared for, something I read about, so I managed to keep calm while everybody else was freaking out. My calmness, self-confidence, and willingness to help others — and because I knew how to solve the problem — was something that, in their eyes, defined me as a person who wants to help others and more than that — who knows more than others.
  2. Encourage open communication — this is what we should be the best at. If your employees do not feel they can to openly state their opinions, you are lost as a leader. You are not letting your team be the best they can be. Once, when a new girl started to work for us, I made a claim and she lowered her head and didn’t say a thing. I wasn’t sure what the gesture meant so I asked her. She blushed but stayed quiet; she didn’t state her opinion. I asked her if she thought I was wrong. I can only imagine how that sounded to her, but she said yes. She thought I was wrong, but she was shy and her previous experiences taught her to stay silent. I wanted to learn from her. She was hired as an expert in project management. This is how we actually started to work more together. She needed some more time to feel free enough to express her opinions and publicly disagree, but I knew the only way to reach that point was through mutual learning and trust.
  3. Ask your team members to offer a solution when encountering a problem — because they are more rooted in the problem, they know it better, and they will feel more responsible for a solution. If you continue to solve the problem for them, even though you may solve it quicker, the learning opportunity is significantly diminished.
  4. Praise your team members and if they have done something really good ask them to present to everybody. Also, if they have made a mistake and found a way to correct that mistake, ask them to speak about it as a good experience.
  5. Ethics, both work and life ethics are the most important qualities a leader needs to have and practice. Your employees, and your team, have to have the highest level of respect of you as a leader in order to want to follow you.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

When I first started working, I was very enthusiastic and ambitious. However, because this was a time before the Internet, it was difficult to learn as quickly as we do today. Luckily, there was a lady who called me over and showed me — in a very logical way — what the most important aspects of that particular business. That meeting lasted only about a half an hour, but it created a base for all of my learnings later on. She gave me a big pile of papers, and said to come back for more if I find something new. I will never know why she did it, because she was not my supervisor, and she certainly didn’t have to, but since then I am trying to repay that “debt” by helping others in similar situations.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Panta rhei” or “everything flows, everything changes” by Heraclitus. For me, this applies to people most of all. We have to change. Otherwise, we get stuck. When we get stuck in our convictions and personalities, we get the disease of thinking that we have the best ideas and that we are always right. So, to keep changing, I try to do something new once every week or so — meet new people, try out new things, talk about different things, go to new places, experience new things. This led me to start pushing the boundaries and fighting my fears, but also learning to let go. I started hiking and discovered an entirely new me in the mountains. I climbed Kilimanjaro, skydived, sailed. All of this gave me a new perspective on life, business and most of all on myself. That affected my job because I am more willing to test out new things and accept other people’s opinions.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I often organize free workshops on marketing and social media for students who want to work in those fields. However, what I like the most is mentoring young women who want to start their own businesses. I began by helping my friends with their small businesses, only for them to ask me to help their friends and so on. It is a great pleasure to see those women succeed and thrive. Sometimes, it is just a small change for their website, and sometimes it’s an entire strategy. Some are more successful than the others, but those who are willing to try usually need just a little push, and I am there to push them.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

Even a long journey starts with a small step. If every one of us would always give back when someone is in need, where would the world be? By geometrical progression, it would spread fast and wide, and eventually everyone would have their basic needs met.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)

Felix Kjellberg, aka PewDiePie. Because he is one of the first YouTube celebrities, who changed a lot but kept his audience (because it changed as well), grew up, and became prominent with his open war against corporations and IP law.