Transformative Leadership

Navigating Change through Visual Systems

On New Years Day, I was feeling disconnected. We came from a social event where the typical conversations started about resolutions and weight loss. I started to question the cues happening to trigger the motivation to get fit: was it because they really wanted to or because society was feeding visual cues about why they should? We have all the potential to be healthy, well-balanced individuals, but we often stay stuck repeating the same patterns. I discovered some interesting aspects about the systems at play, leading to a discovery that can ignite leadership transformation through the use of visual systems.

Our digital lives impacting well-being

Our extensive social media use, driven by superficial visual cues, affects not only personal well-being but permeates into our professional lives. The average time someone in the US spends on social media per day is 2 hours 3 minutes; over 31 days a year. A whole month of consuming information, much of it visual. The #1 form of imagery consumed? Celebrity photos. These celebrities make a beauty standard that the average person can’t reach, yet they use to compare their lives to. Studies show that more social media time leads to more negative body image and depression for girls. More depression, more apathy and inaction. We often view these aspects in an isolated sense – social media is a personal activity so it just impacts the personal. However, it deeply impacts all impacts of our society including the professional space.

An image worth 1000 words and $1.68m… although I wish it wasn’t.

Unmasking hidden information of our psychology

Robert Kegan defined orders of consciousness, which are developmental stages of how we make meaning of our lives. The three main levels for adults are:

  • Socialized mind: Relationships and approval define self-worth.
  • Self-authoring mind: Self-directed thinkers that can question beliefs.
  • Self-transforming mind: Building on the self-authoring mind to identify and explore self-limiting beliefs, biases, and social system impacts.

Social media is a visual system that keeps us at a socialized mind level (or lower), depending on others for social cues and approval. Our self-worth is tied to the expectation of what our lives should be, and we spend our time absorbing information on what is socially acceptable or not (and what to be outraged about). All of this is hidden information with a negative effect.

The Impacts of Individual Focus

The pandemic provided an opportunity for a personal transformation. Engaging deeply in meditation, journaling, and exploring my beliefs laid the groundwork. Through a journey of intrinsic motivation, I started tracking my habits to experience the satisfaction of accomplishing small goals, and to learn from the data of my behaviors. Each week and month brought heightened self-reflection, self-awareness, and self-regulation, fostering not just a habit of exercise but a mindful transformation. This internal journey, a dance between psychology and habits, extends its relevance to group dynamics in the workplace.

Fitness Tracker progress.Yes, I prefer analog.

What all of this means professionally

Individual goals, whether intrinsically or extrinsically motivated, often overshadow collective achievements in the workplace. If I only focus on my individual health, I can become isolated as the group remains unhealthy. If one only focuses on their self career achievements, they leave a legacy of their professional gain but the group remains stagnant. 

To grow individually and collectively, I initiated workshops using visual systems to align these elements:

  • Our values and agreements
  • Our strategies and goals
  • The progress of our work (task status and whiteboard workshops)
  • Retrospectives of how we can improve

Scaled out team board

Closeup of purpose, values, and identity

Within a month, engagement transformed. Team members became proactive problem-solvers, excited about their work. By the first quarter, a newfound team bonding emerged, reflected in offline engagements. Daily focus on work progress translated to impressive accomplishments seen at monthly and quarterly reviews. Individuals, not for promotion but genuine exploration, contributed more complex quarterly reflections and plans, enhancing their growth to support group goals.

The key unseen opportunity

While individual growth is essential, the key lies in collective change to avoid feelings of isolation. Visual systems provide the solution, uniting diverse perspectives, fostering exploration, facilitating reflection, and collectively celebrating learning. In a world consumed by social media and streaming, our professional time together emerges as a significant opportunity for leaders to drive meaningful change.

There is a vast amount of time spent on social media and streaming videos, but our professional time together stands as a more significant opportunity for leaders to drive meaningful change. This unseen potential is what we must collectively make apparent, and ask each individual if they are ready to seize upon that chance for transformative impact. It starts with you; are you ready to start your leadership evolution?