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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?

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A Jazz Approach to Creating Impact At Work

This summer I had the privilege of witnessing the legendary jazz artist Hermeto Pascoal in an intimate Portland venue during his “Jazz Esta Morto (Jazz is Dead)” tour. At 87 years old, he continues to grace international stages. For Pascoal, “Jazz” transcends genre labels, professional boundaries, and confining boxes. It’s a living, breathing entity, in a perpetual state of evolution, awaiting your embrace.

After the spellbinding performance, my husband and I strolled through the neighborhood, reluctant to let go of the experience of truly feeling life around us. What struck me was the realization that Pascoal achieved this musical connection to life by recognizing the unique strengths of each individual in his team and allowing them the freedom to create. It struck me that, like in jazz, your work isn’t confined to a job title; it’s an opportunity for a vibrant, ever-evolving expression of existence. 

“Jazz” often inspires imagery of a smoky basement club. For some it may sound calming, for others confusing, for all: evoking. Our lives at work are often the same; moving through various phases of swing and peril, of collaboration and solos. To be successful at work is about joining a band in a harmonious rhythm, while also expanding their technical and creative capacities. 

Creating Your Rhythm, Form, and Structure

Your role at work was designed to bridge resource gaps and address strategic needs, which presents an opportunity for personal growth and problem-solving. Just like jazz, the team’s work style matters. Are you entering an organization that is the swingy, improvisational type, or do sense it has more intricate complexities of bebop?

Start by identifying the organization style and how your values will work in harmony with it. When I switched jobs a year ago, I was joining a team that valued tenure and employee experience. I discovered a newfound commitment to work-life balance and creating healthy working relationships. Writing these intentions out with examples of actions and habits [that support those values] will give you a lighthouse to find your way when you become lost at sea. 

Your Instruments: Collaboration Tools

In our work today, collaboration tools are your instruments. Using them thoughtfully is akin to playing music on an instrument vs making noise. Instead of mindlessly opening up a Word doc, really ask yourself WHY?

For example, I identified priorities of collaboration and an evolving hypothesis in my work. Miro was a match for its collaboration features and infinite canvas. Identifying the outcomes first and then selecting the tool leads to that intentional sound vs noise. I created a quick table of the tools I used, their prime functions related to my objectives, and some example use cases so I knew the right tool to use for each situation.

Playing with the Band: Intentional Interaction

One of the biggest success factors in your current job comes down to how you are feeling in your role, and how others perceive you in it. If you are comfortable and feel accepted in your role, you will figure out how to navigate the ups and downs of performance. Identify your key stakeholders, set objectives, and dedicate time to learn from and grow those relationships over time.

But remember, it’s not just about taking center stage; it’s about listening to how others play their part. Invest time in understanding your peers. What do they bring to the table? What do they need and expect from your role? How do they perceive your responsibilities? Respond to how they play instead of forcing your rhythm on the group.

The Final Piece: Your Unique Expression

Just like you can recognize Miles Davis by his trumpet playing in seconds, your work has a signature. Tapping into this “signature” is self-actualization and will bring genuine joy if you share it with the world. Just remember, you don’t have to be the star player to succeed – you may find your joy through your presence in the moment of being with the band. In the words of Nina Simone, “Jazz is not just music; it’s a way of life, a way of being, a way of thinking.”

Instead of clinging to past outputs, create the music of the present. Select your genre, rely on your guiding principles, choose the right instruments, build harmony with your team, and express yourself in new, creative ways. 

This journey empowers you to respond to complex situations with wisdom and self-expression. Have fun, tap into yourself, and savor the moment with your peers. Let it swing.

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Team Meeting Agenda: Meeting Productivity

A survey recently concluded only 11% of meetings are productive with 65% of respondents saying meetings prevent them from doing work. Meeting Productivity is more important than ever, so here is a team meeting agenda that will help your team customize their experience to maximize productivity

Image of a meeting productivity agenda/workshop available in Miro

This new meeting health check template is a great way to start. It provides a space for your team to give feedback on their perceptions of how meetings are going and what they want out of them. If you create a plan that works for everyone, versus taking a canned approach that worked somewhere else, you will ensure the plan is something everyone on the team is committed to.

It may not be right the first time, so remember to use this template several times over the course of a year to get it fine tuned.

If you’re interested in reading more on why meeting productivity should be a priority, read my article on Linkedin and subscribe to my newsletter for new releases of virtual templates.

Don’t forget that every now and then you should have a fun meeting! Try out my free template for a virtual Halloween game with your teammates.

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A Virtual Halloween Game for Work

Being remote provides unique opportunities to play virtual Halloween games for work. It bonds your team, introduces some fun, and celebrates the season!

I created a free template in Miro: “Team Trick or Treat”. Check it out!

Image of a virtual halloween game for work, on Miro

Why celebrate Halloween virtually with your coworkers?

For dispersed teams out there, engaging activities are critical. Here are a few statistics to consider:

  • Over 50% of employees have stayed at a company because they felt like part of a team.
  • Nearly 75% of employees see teamwork and collaboration as essential.
  • TeamStage reports that 46% of job seekers said culture was one of the deciding factors in the application process, 88% found it at least relatively important.

What this Trick or Treat board covers

  1. Nightmares: What is haunting your team? Make sure to address each point in this area, taking their concerns seriously and finding a path to resolution.
  2. Favorite projects: Understand what people are enjoying so you can try and replicate those things in other areas or simply prioritize that time.
  3. Creative ideas: Open up the stage to suggestions – just make sure you take the time to follow up on them.
  4. Shoutouts/gratitude: 93% of employees “who reported feeling valued said that they are motivated to do their best at work and 88 percent reported feeling engaged.” Take the time to express gratitude!
  5. Costume fun: Can’t have Halloween without costumes. This is a fun way for your team to virtually share past costumes or utilize the Miro tools to create a digital costume.

See the template here to get started on your virtual Halloween game for work.

Interested in some other virtual games? You might like our Righteously Retained exercise to find out what your employees need to thrive.

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Branding Market Research

I recently had a 3 week project focusing on market needs. My main objectives were to better understand my audience and their needs, and to define products that would resonate with my target. All of this can also inform how to fine tune my brand so my messaging (visual and language) really resonates with my target segments. Here is how to go about your own branding market research:

Branding market research is broken into quantification, qualitative, and value propositions

Quantification: Market Sizing

Determining your market size will end up helping you fine tune the characteristics of your segment. This should be a typical TAM / SAM/ SOM exploration (here is a great article on how to do this). My project is for personal branding so some of the typical items I would utilize in market sizing are not going to work. However, I still went through the process because it’s a great activity to consider all the things that will scale down your addressable market due to things like competition or the channels you have selected.

Qualitative: Interviews, surveys

Time to get out of the data and start getting real world data for your branding market research. This should not be about having people tell you what they need. Just remember this quote by Steve Jobs:

“Some people say, “Give the customers what they want.” But that’s not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do. I think Henry Ford once said, “If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, ‘A faster horse!'” People don’t know what they want until you show it to them. That’s why I never rely on market research. Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page.”

-Steve Jobs

Market research is important and Steve isn’t saying don’t do it. He says he never RELIES on market research for product innovation. Leverage your research to understand their wants, needs, desires, habits. Let it be a foundation for your own creativity. Don’t ask them what they want, ask them what they love and hate. What’s on their mind?

Also, keep it short. If you send a survey, try just 1-2 questions of what you want to know the most. It’s better to get 20 people answering a 1 question survey than 3 people asking a 10 question survey.

Value Propositions

After you define your target and learn more about their needs, it’s time for creating the promises of what you will deliver. This is key to the branding and your overall marketing strategy. Ultimately the value propositions are created out of a foundation in market research, but it’s still a guess. The best thing you can do is consider your value propositions a hypothesis that needs testing. Before you go all in to creating a multitude of resources behind the value prop you create, test it out! Testing can be as simple as interviews or even an MVP to gauge interest.

The book “Testing Business Ideas” by David Bland and Alex Osterwalder is fantastic for working through this process. It lists tons of ways you can run experiments to learn in an iterative style about what really resonates with your audience.

Find a balance between data and creativity

For my project, I was very data and scientific focused. At the end of my sprint I realized I was too formulaic about it and had not allowed more room for creativity. This was a determent to the value proposition because ultimately it’s a value prop for why you should stand out from the rest. I needed to add more of my voice. To hear more about my personal process, check out my blog post on personal and professional development.

In your own project, consider if you have created enough market research AND enough of your own creative vision to let your brand really sing.

If you would like assistance in your brand development or market research, contact me about consulting.