Guest post by Ashley Preston
I know you want me to write a simple how-to manual for lead generation right now – something that helps you lay out your plan in a neat, step-by-step fashion. However, I am here to tell you that it does not exist.
There are no one-size-fits-all solutions to closing sales because no business offering is the same. Anyone who tells you otherwise is not showing your company’s unique value the respect it deserves.
Creating more leads and converting them into sales is both an art and a science, so we must have the mindset of a mad genius such as Salvador Dali, in addition to the painstaking laboratory rigor of Marie Curie. It takes an artist’s view of layers, tone, color, experimentation, proactive and reactive adjustments, and a little bit of bravery to find out what works for you and your business.
Think Like an Artist Instead of a CEO
As an artist, I can tell you that there are plenty of times I have started a drawing, spent hours on it, stepped back, and realized something was still not quite right. When that happens, I am left with two options.
Depending on the issue and the medium I am working in, I can sometimes correct it and keep moving forward with that piece. Other times, though, I see that I will ultimately spend less time working by abandoning that version and starting from scratch.
In sales, sometimes we spend so much time in the rapport-building process that we lose sight of what we’re trying to achieve – a sale. It may be beneficial to step back from the sales process and consider what nuance or elements have been missing. Are you lacking the warmth of trust, the heat of authority, or maybe the cool shades of thoughtfulness. Treat the relationship like a creative collaboration, adding these new tones as needed.
You may also want to look at your social media channels and the message they are sending about you and your business. What types of posts are getting the most interaction from your audience? What is getting them to comment? Are they responding more to questions or product information or funny posts? What content is getting the feedback you’d hoped for? Adjust your content strategy as needed until you’re attracting the right attention to your business.
Pay close attention to the flow of your sales conversations. You may even record them and analyze the play-by-play. Pay attention to the language your customers are using when they are interacting with you. You can mirror those word choices to better connect with them. Pay attention to their complaints if they have them; they are sharing pain points you might be able to help resolve. Conversations can reveal so much when we allow ourselves to let the moment dictate our actions.
I will sometimes start a painting with little idea of what I want to create – letting the painting naturally materialize through experimentation. This is much like analyzing client needs – taking one step (and one question) at a time until that discovery process is complete and a richly detailed image of the client's problem has taken shape.
While I have been immersed in art since I was young, there are plenty of techniques and styles I have not touched upon yet. I will often pull out my old art tutorial books or watch a YouTube video to see how other artists tackled something, but even then, it is up to me to incorporate the information in a way that works with my own style.
You may consider watching YouTube videos by thought leaders and sales experts (Jill Konrath, Gary Vee, etc.) or watching some sales role-play videos to tighten up your practice.
As an artist, you need to be willing to make mistakes and adjustments. The process of creating is just as important as the result. Allow yourself space to let the process tell you what it needs. Give yourself permission to start over when it is called for and don’t waste time on something that no longer works.
Give Yourself Space to Experiment
Bravery is not the lack of fear – it is action despite that fear. It is terrifying to take risks. Even as someone who is comfortable with some risk, I still feel afraid when I take chances, even if I believe the odds are in my favor that things will be fine.
Often, successful people are willing to deal with short-term discomfort because they know there is no perfect approach. All knowledge is useful. Learning from your sales and messaging mistakes allows you to refine the messages that best land with your ideal clients.
Sales is not a numbers game. It has always been about quality.
Make time to experiment with new ideas. Each week, or each workday, testing out new concepts and playing with sales pitches can make a difference in the results you’re getting. Think of all the things you might experiment with -- your greeting, your signature, your subject line, the first sentence, the length of your message, the tone of your message, or the font you’re using.
It takes conscious effort to allow yourself to openly create, but the rewards you reap from that kind of healthy risk are tangible.
Use Data to Refine Sales Messages and Get Results
There is not much point in doing something if we are unwilling to learn from it. The beauty of that type of experimentation is that you can collect a wide range of direct data to help you refine or recreate your message.
Pay attention to what techniques and language are connecting (or not connecting) with clients. Maybe they are smiling or leaning forward when you use a certain phrase, or you notice that you have connected with numerous potential clients through a certain social media platform. You may leave a sales meeting feeling how much they love you, but then they go radio silent and stop responding to your calls. Use that information to tweak and refine your strategy.
Keep a list of pitches that have worked well. Take note when someone responds exceptionally to something you said. Track response times to see when potential clients are generally online. Track your follow up and the time it takes to get a response during the week compared to over the weekend. Use whatever information you can pull to test your experiments, and adjust your strategy as needed.
Stop Looking for The Perfect Sales Conversion Process
Just stop. It can feel lonely and stressful when making choices that affect your business, reputation, and even income.
However, it is important to remember that you did not come this far to only come this far. You have made difficult choices before, and you will continue to make choices that you think will best benefit your business.
And that is the whole point. Whether you are the Director of Development or the CEO, you likely want to be in charge and have some say over what happens to the clients in your pipeline. You know what is best for your clients and your business, so own it.
Be Comfortable with the Unknown
It takes effort and practice to have faith in your process. We often want immediate results and concrete proof that something will work before we even attempt it, but you will get much farther by trying new ideas, using first-hand data to pivot your message and approach, taking the reins of your business and doing away with the limitations of any out-of-the-box program or process.
It’s our mission to identify development opportunities and help our clients think like artists. The best artists are willing to shape, and even scrap, their own work. Find your power, formulate your plan of attack and throw away that dusty old playbook. If you need help getting clear on your next best steps or want to schedule a conversation, send us a message.
Guest post by Ashley Preston
You did it. You finally took a chance and hired a coach to help you. They are promising to help you turn your life and your business around, but as you work with them, you can’t help feeling like something is a bit off.
Are you having buyer’s remorse? Or is it something else? Are you comfortable talking to them? Are they making it easy for you to open up and share what you need to with them? Or do you find yourself hesitating to use the services you paid for?
If you’re having doubts, you might want to ask yourself if you’ve hired the right coach. Here are five signs it might be time to look for the exit.
1. They Bully You or Harshly Judge You
You hired a coach because they could help you in areas where you admitted you’re struggling. They are there to encourage you; not make you feel guilty or dumb for not knowing something in the first place. No one should make you feel inferior for owning up to your own shortcomings and getting help to improve those personal limitations. That’s how we learn and grow as people.
If your coach is making you feel like you’re inferior, if they are talking down to you, or dismissing your concerns without valid reason, you’re not dealing with the kind of person who should be working as a coach. You can’t solve your real problems when you can’t talk about them without fear, and you can’t be truly vulnerable with someone who doesn’t show you the respect you deserve.
2. They Minimize Your Experience, Education, or Training
Coaching takes a great deal of compassion, empathy, and patience. It requires the coach to step into your shoes and understand where you’re coming from. A good coach will point out your strengths and remind you how far you’ve already come. That coach would embolden you to use whatever tools are at your disposal in order to move forward with confidence while helping you sharpen up other areas in your life so you can be even more effective.
However, if you have a coach who is telling you that because your training or experience didn’t come from the “right” place, or it’s not valid, then you have a crappy coach. It doesn’t matter how you learned what you know. As long as you have your facts straight and are confident in your experience, your perspective is valid and your knowledge is valuable. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, especially the coach who was hired to highlight what you bring to the table. No one gets to dim your shine!
3. They Tell You What Kind of CEO You Should Be
Did you build a business? Did you make decisions and sacrifices to get where you are? Did you create something and see its success bloom? With all that experience, you have developed your own style of work and management.
While coaches can help you reflect on parts that might not be working, or help you see some fresh perspectives that you haven’t considered, it is not your coach’s job to change everything. Why fix something that isn’t really broken? Don’t trust a coach who can’t see your leadership potential and success.
A good coach will work with you to create a better mindset so you can be the best version of yourself, not tear you down and rebuild you from the ground up. Walk away from the coach who makes you feel like a terrible CEO when it’s clear that most of what you’re doing worked long before they walked into the picture.
4. They Tell You They Know Exactly How to Fix Your Business
One size doesn’t fit all. Some coaches want to believe that a one-size-fits-all approach will work, but it is simply a lazy approach that doesn’t take into account the complexities of your operation or the free market. While a good coach can provide feedback, structure, and advice, these things should act as guidelines. You should have the room to ultimately make decisions that fit your own business without feeling guilty or stupid for doing so.
If your coach is saying things like “just trust the program, it works for everyone” there’s a good chance that their system isn’t battle-tested, and they don’t understand the importance of giving you the power to make the choices that will ultimately serve your company best. Only you will know what that is, and a good coach will know when to encourage you to do so.
5. They Bombard You With Too Much Information
You need to walk before you can run. A coach is there to develop your potential. A good coach wants to facilitate the learning process by challenging your thoughts and creating an environment that enables you to take it all in. They know that you should master the fundamentals before moving on to more advanced routines.
Good coaches care about how much you get out of the program. A bad coach, however, will likely throw a massive amount of information at you, sometimes in no particular order. They do so because oftentimes it makes them feel smart, and if you can’t take it all in, then it’s not their fault that you don’t succeed. It is a lazy approach that leaves you wanting.
If your coach isn’t taking the time to explain things, and if they aren’t giving you information that is digestible, you’re not going to benefit from the program like you should.
There Are Too Many Coaches Out There. Don’t Settle for Bad Coaching.
You should get what you paid for. You should feel supported and seen by a coach. You should feel like they are there to help you. You should feel like they are learning from you as much as you’re learning from them. You should be able to trust them and their vision for you.
If you don’t feel that way about your current coach, then it’s time to make a change. Don’t settle for less than what you deserve. Contact the team at Illustrious, ask about our Amplified Executive Coaching program, and let’s get you back on track with someone in your corner who believes in you.
Great leaders hire great coaches.
Over the last 7 years, I have had the honor and privilege to coach some of the most gifted, passionate and powerful business leaders — from other coaches to small business owners to Chief Innovation Officers.
Coaches don’t need to understand their clients or the business, they need to believe in them. They need to see the utmost potential in their client and identify the growth and development opportunities for that executive to leverage.
People hire coaches for a reason.
Some of my clients were at a crossroads, overwhelmed by uncertainty while trying to navigate their business at the length of a flashlight beam in the darkness.
Some of them were stuck — immobilized with fear and overwhelm because of financial pressure or because they were comparing themselves to others.
Some were growing so fast that they were sickened by their own velocity.
Some were bobbing in uncharted waters, depressed, isolated, and needing physical contact or someone to talk to.
Some had found success and simply wanted to find ways to give back to their community or show up as a better leader.
In every case, we talked about it. I asked questions. I noticed where topics were avoided, or where their body language shifted, or where they simply lacked the belief in their own power and agency. And then, I asked a different question.
Each time, they came away with some kind of insight and commitment to change -- one massive action (or small, next, best step) that they could take toward growing their business or becoming the visionary leader that they were meant to be.
Here are the top 8 areas in which I’ve seen clients move the needle, with sometimes game-changing breakthroughs.
1. SELF CARE
An insight into self-care may be as simple as “I need to have more fun!” Other times, the client has realized “I need to take care of myself otherwise I can't help anyone else.” I’ve also heard clients say, “I’m the one creating all of this pressure on myself.” This is important because they have realized it is their own hand on the levers and gauges creating the tension and conflict within not only themselves but their relationships.
One client, who had been quarantined during the pandemic, was so affected by the isolation that she couldn’t focus on her business at all. I could see in her downcast eyes and her buckled shoulders that she was sad. I could hear in her voice (esophageal constriction and vocal fry) that she was weak.
By the end of the call we had identified a new, very specific, goal: “I am starved for touch so this week I will schedule a coffee with my friend and hug them for at least 20 seconds.”
*Coaches are not therapists. We don’t look back at wounding, we look forward and focus on goals. If a client displays symptoms of depression it is our responsibility to refer them to (or encourage them to seek out) a clinical approach.
Sometimes clients forget how amazing they are. They forget everything they’ve accomplished or only remember the last thing they did (the play before the timer ran out, the last speech of the campaign). Imposter syndrome can creep in and their mindset may move from a dynamic, growth state to rigid and fixed.
By reminding clients how amazing they are, and inspiring them to affirm their attributes or accomplishments aloud (sometimes very loud), they can turn that mindset around. I’ve heard things like, “Wow! I’ve done some amazing things in my life and I need to remind myself what a badass I am.”
One client, who doubted their worthiness, pushed back on her own negative self-talk saying, “No. I deserve to make good money. I want to share my business and my mission with the world. In order to make that happen, I need a bigger platform. So I need to keep suiting up and showing up.”
3. PERFECTIONISM / FEAR
Resistance feeds on fear.
Recovering perfectionists will tell you they deal with a chronic and crippling fear of failure and disappointing others -- that they simply cannot launch version 1.0 because it won’t be good enough. They may say they have “high standards” and that their superpowers lie in “planning” and “thinking things through.” The coaching goal is not to make the client smarter, but more effective. And that requires thinking and action.
I like using the analogy of the sea and the stars. The sky represents perfection. We can gaze upon it from afar, appreciating the beauty of our sunsets or the splendor of the Milky Way. We can use the North Star to guide us and chart a clear course. The waters we’re on, however, are choppy -- tossing us back and forth, threatening to swallow us whole. The boat we’re sailing is constantly being rebuilt and repaired. Life (and your experience or interpretation of it) is imperfect. Don’t confuse the water with the stars.
The best you can hear from a client is that “expecting perfection is unrealistic and unfair to myself and others.”
4. TIME MANAGEMENT / STRATEGY
The brain is not designed to hold all of your appointments and deadlines. It is not intended to retain your annual strategic plan or your team’s objectives and key results. That's what mark-making and visual tools are for. Write that shit down.
The most surprising and staggering observation from my years of coaching is the amount of business owners and executives who don’t have a handle on their schedule or their plan.
Some are wasting time where they shouldn’t. (“If you’re saying yes to this, what are you saying no to?”) Some don’t use a calendar or they use too many. Some use a calendar for their business, but not for their family, leaving their spouse and children feeling stranded, angry, and confused.
When we break the big thing into smaller things, I’ve heard clients say, “That doesn’t feel intimidating. My brain can handle it when it’s broken down into smaller chunks.”
For small business owners, this is vitally important. I’ve heard them say things like “I need to create a visual sales pipeline to track my leads so that opportunities stop falling through the cracks.”
When it comes to time management, I do a happy dance every time I hear a client say, “I will buy a planner and start writing down my commitments” or “I will look at my Google Calendar every morning so that I feel like I am more in control of my day.”
It’s important that my clients know what story they’re telling. I do a lot of StoryBrand workshops, helping organizations put their client in the center of the story, elevating their customer as the hero, and showing up as their guide. We talk about the work of mythologist Joseph Campbell and novelist Kurt Vonnegut. We talk about The Hero’s Journey and the shapes of stories.
When coaching clients consider the beginning and middle of their story from the outside, it’s sometimes easier to imagine where the ending should logically take them.
I’ve heard clients have major insights such as, “Oh. I’m not the Hero at all. I’m the Oracle.”
I’ve also heard them say, “I’m further along in my journey than I thought I was” and “All the ingredients of hope and change are in my story. I just need to get better at telling it.”
One client decided to tap into her own history as a survivor of abuse in order to help others tell their story and grant them the power of choice. She said, “So many people feel like they don’t have a choice. If I can create choice for others in restricted spaces, there is unlimited potential.”
6. MARKETING / SALES
From writing polarizing copy to creating compelling content, marketing is something I love helping my clients think about. I spent over ten years leading a marketing team in the media industry. Inbound marketing, advertising, and event activation/sponsorships are in my blood.
One of my clients was struggling to build an annual content calendar and had brainstormed a bunch of ideas she thought were failures. She had been focused on generating one great tagline to describe a year-long program and had what she thought was a list of 10 garbage ideas. I asked her to read them to me. One after another she said the most amazing things that left me wanting to learn more. I didn’t hear a list of slogans or taglines, but a list of succinct, compelling topics. They were all the things she wanted her clients to learn. I told her that she was correct -- she had failed to write a tagline, but she had succeeded in writing 10 of the 12 monthly themes for her content calendar. She only needed two more. Her jaw dropped. “You’re right! These are great! Each one of these could be a monthly theme that includes a live video, a blog post, a newsletter, a guest interview on my podcast, you name it.”
Another client admitted to “getting awkward” during the sales process -- usually right after telling her prospect the cost of her services. “I spend all this time building rapport, and then after I say the dollar amount, I get quiet and business-like and something changes,” she said. “I know they can feel it.”
“Why on earth would you shift your approach halfway through a sales call,” I asked. “Is it because you switched from words to numbers?”
“No,” she laughed.
“Is it because you think you’re charging too much?”
“No. In fact, I could probably raise my rates.”
“Then what changed? What’s different at that moment,” I asked.
“I’m scared,” she admitted. “For the first time in the conversation, I’m afraid they’ll say no.”
After that, we found various ways for her to release the pressure and expectations she put on herself going into each sales call as well as to keep her energy consistent when talking about money.
Some of my coaching clients have felt like they are “drowning” in the rising waters of change or queasy from the speed at which the business is scaling. Growth is change and change is hard.
There are three types of change -- developmental (when things naturally grow, unfold or evolve), volitional (the boss has updated our sales goal, so we need a new strategy) and circumstantial (we couldn’t have predicted that the volcano would erupt, but it has, so now we run).
When navigating growth, it’s important for most of my clients to know who or what is causing the change, and whenever possible, have agency or a sense of control over the direction. I’ve heard clients say “I need to reach outside my comfort zone” when skilling-up or moving from competence to excellence. I’ve heard them say, “I need to look outside my bubble” when hiring new team members. I’ve also heard them say, “I know this change is coming. There’s nothing I can do to stop it. And I can handle the growth!”
Mindset is important for confidence and self-image, but the client must also identify who or what they want to be. If you want to be a rockstar, but don’t see a charismatic leader when you look in the mirror, the audience will know you’re bluffing. They’ll smell it a mile away. If you want to be a successful business owner but think of yourself as someone who “isn’t that good with numbers,” your numbers will reflect it. You don’t have to be Mick Jagger or James Brown to be a successful bandleader and front-person. And you don’t have to be a mathematician to be a business owner. You only have to see yourself as who you imagine yourself becoming.
This is what facilitates change in an individual, when the smoker commits to the vision of themself as someone who doesn’t smoke. This is what facilitates personal and professional development, when the administrative assistant commits to the vision of themself as the VP of Operations. They do the things and make the decisions that person would. They surround themselves with the kind of people that person would hang out with.
This is important when developing vision and purpose in business. Knowing whether you are an accountant or a “fractional CFO to experts in the manufacturing industry” can make all the difference in the way you position yourself, talk about what you do, and connect with prospects.
I’ve heard clients say, “I now know what kind of leader I am and it feels good.”
One of my clients was a former therapist who had transitioned to a group coaching model. She was excited and intimidated by the Wild West of the unregulated coaching industry. She had spent years following guidelines; encouraging her patients to lick their wounds and talk about their worst times; avoiding giving direct advice, not making recommendations about helpful resources, books or podcasts; and not sharing or disclosing her own story. Now, as a coach, she was expected to do the opposite of all those things.
Her inner therapist would raise its fearful voice and tell her it wasn’t right to do those things. It would say she wasn’t qualified and that she might cause harm to someone by giving them the wrong advice or by being too tough on them. She was in a real identity crisis. One day, she had enough. The desire to grow her limitless coaching business far outweighed the desire to battle with insurance companies over copay, and she said, “That’s it! I’ve got to tell my inner therapist to back off when she says I shouldn’t do those things. I’m a coach now.”
If you’re interested in hiring an executive or business coach, sign up for the Amplified Executive Coaching program here. See you on our next call!
Guest post by Ashley Preston
There is a belief in the business world that almost every employee is replaceable. There are numerous CEOs who will shrug when they hear the staff is struggling with the workload. There are plenty of executives who think that demanding schedules and high expectations will help filter out the mediocre workers and leave only the best ones standing.
Those same CEOs watch people leave year after year, either through voluntary or involuntary departures. They regularly make rapid changes with each new worker they bring in – hoping to find the formula that keeps profits growing. They look to hire people who will continue to bring 110% to the table every day. They certainly do not mind when these workers put in the extra time and energy to advance company interests.
These CEOs will often put more and more on these new workers’ plates until these employees can no longer handle the workload, and then let them go for being unable to perform like they once did. It happens again and again, and while the company continues to adjust to make room for new people who are still eager to right the ship, they continue to waste time and money trying to perfect a system that is deeply flawed at its core.
These companies will continue to hit ceilings that without a knowledgeable, passionate, and energized team, they will never break through.
Here is the true cost of employee burnout and high turnover – and what you can do to stop the bleeding before your best talent walks out the door.
What it Costs to Regularly Replace Workers
Employee turnover is expensive, and the entire team feels it when a superstar leaves the company.
Researchers report that the cost of losing an employee costs the company thousands of dollars, and the more important the position, the more it will cost to fill.
Hourly workers cost on average $1,500 an employee, including the cost of hiring, onboarding, training, ramp time to peak productivity, loss of customer engagement, and general morale impact. Technical positions cost companies about 100-150 percent of their salary. C-suite turnover costs over 200 percent of the salary to replace and get up to speed.
They describe employees as appreciating assets that create more value for the organizations over time. It is estimated that about two-thirds of all sunk costs are intangible, including lost productivity and knowledge.
One case study argues that retaining a sales person for three years instead of two, along with better onboarding and management practices, yields a difference of $1.3 million in net value to the company over a three-year period.
However, the most substantial impact on turnover is not the cost – it is the damage that it does to your remaining employees. A beloved team member’s departure can have a huge impact on company morale. It leaves holes in team dynamics and can leave other employees asking if they should be looking for a different job too.
It does not help when those same employees must take up the extra slack. If the team is already taking on a full workload, they might not be happy to spread themselves so thin. Halting those projects could lead to delayed releases and lost revenue but pushing employees to work harder and more risks employee burnout and even more staff turnover.
Employees can spot a toxic work culture from a mile away and will not feel the need to stay loyal to a company that does not feel the need to make improvements. 47 percent of active job seekers cite company culture as the primary reason they left.
Companies with high turnover might soon find it difficult to attract top-tier talent after a while too. There are so many ways for current and former employees to review the company and its culture. Earning a reputation as a revolving-door employer will not do you any favors in attracting good candidates.
Regardless of the industry, some turnover is just part of business, but keeping good employees happy and productive is the best way to ensure company success.
How to Reduce Employee Turnover
Researchers say that about 75 percent of all turnover cases are preventable. There are proactive steps you can take to ensure your employees feel seen, valued, and empowered to help the company succeed.
Say Thank You
Failing to recognize employee achievements and celebrating their successes is one of the fastest ways to burn out your staff. It will make them feel undervalued and make them more likely to disengage from the job. Companies that have strong employee recognition programs have a 31 percent lower voluntary turnover rate compared to companies who do not take the time to say thanks.
Leverage employee spotlight programs to highlight a job well done. Take advantage of your company's social media platforms to recognize good employees. Be sure to use rewards as you can – while monetary are always welcome, you can get creative with how you say thanks. What matters is just that you take the time to say thanks.
Make sure your employees feel like they have a say. Give them an easy way to provide constructive feedback so they can raise concerns and address issues before they become problems.
Thanks to technology, you can use tools like employee engagement surveys to let them share their thoughts anonymously. Keep tabs on your rockstar employees and be sure to check in to see what they like about their position and what you can do to help them further succeed.
Offer employees what they want. Benefits like flexible schedules, remote work, and substantial health insurance packages are major draws for new employees. Nearly 40 percent of employees have left their job for one that offers remote work.
Make sure your employees understand you see them as people with lives outside of the office. Being an empathetic employer has major benefits too. Not only will the reputation help you attract better employees, but the employees you already have are more likely to work harder. Nearly 80 percent of employees are willing to work longer hours, and 60 percent of them will accept less pay if they feel like their employer cares about them.
Taking care of your employees takes care of business. It is the best way to ensure that you and your entire team can perform to the best of your abilities and create the success you are striving for.
If you are struggling right now, contact us to see how to regain control of your company culture, realign your mission, and close any communication gaps you have.
According to Turi McKinley, Executive Director at frog design, “Design thinking is just a fancy name for the creative process.”
The ability to think like a designer, through multiple iterations, and learning from the worst failures is the most important skill a leader can have. Design thinking is rooted in empathy and the ability to put the customer or client at the center of the journey.
Design thinkers use physical and virtual space to expand and extend their intelligence and are unafraid to try new things. The best design thinkers use visual tools to explore new avenues of value for the business. The executive should be testing and building not just products, but entire worlds.
Here are the top four abilities of design thinkers. They can be used to directly address the four problems of business (listed below) and they are so simple you can start practicing them today.
1. Frame (and Re-Frame) the Problem
Take a step back, look at it from a different angle. Use multiple lenses and literacies interchangeably. What does it look like as a spreadsheet? A project plan? A to-do list? A GANTT chart? A drawing with Sharpies on butcher paper? Consider the human impact (subjective), the organizational or relational impact (intersubjective), the business or bottom line impact (objective). Ask yourself, “How else might I/we look at this?” Give yourself permission to play, be curious and creative.
2. Enable Experimentation
There is no such thing as failure. View everything as an experiment, and you will always get results. If you are always testing and learning, then you will have valuable data that can be reviewed and synthesized into your next launch. Additionally, it stands to reason that results from testing on any target group will carry over to similar users. Design thinking is less of a process and more of a sequence. Model a bias toward making in the business (always be prototyping) and schedule time for this to happen. If it’s not on the calendar, it’s not real.
3. Communicate Your Ideas
As a leader, you must come back from (not overcome) the exhaustion, overwhelm, and fatigue. After regaining a sense of clarity and purpose, you must be able to open your mouth and broadcast those big, wild, visionary dreams to the team again and again -- “painting done” until it’s done. Smart leaders know they must do this visually. Think of the coach at the front of the room sketching out the play on the whiteboard. Think of the best PowerPoint presentation you’ve ever seen (OK, I lied, that one doesn’t exist). Think of the first time you were shown how to use a tool or paintbrush. Think of a political speech that moves the hearts and minds of the people. People don’t follow a business, they follow leaders. In most cases, it’s not the leader they’re drawn to, it’s the challenge that the leader is able to articulate. What challenge are you asking your team to help you overcome?
4. Direct the Team
The best CEOs lead from the bottom of the pyramid. They know that they will get the results and outcomes they need through other people. Not only are they focused on a succession plan, with at least two people lined up behind them -- mentoring and teaching others what they need to know in order to succeed -- they are encouraging and facilitating collaboration among team members. The team needs to be able to turn toward each other to create tools and solutions in the leader’s absence. They should be equipped with the best resources, given permission to make decisions, given access to “lab” space where they can experiment, and given permission to fail. Demonstrate the process, model the best behavior, show them what you want done, and your team will not let you down.
Four Big Problems
And, here are the top problems that business leaders find themselves in. These challenges to growth or innovation can be remedied by directly applying a little visual aptitude (and the abilities described above).
1. Big Picture Paralysis
One of our clients told us their strategy felt like “a tumbled bail of rope.” They needed the line to be clear and hanging at the ready. Our job was to lead them through the process of liberating each of their lines of business from snags and knots. Business is complex and messy. And the overload of information can make our brains slow down, or worse, come to a halt. If you’re experiencing this, you may be hearing or saying things like, “I can’t get my priorities in line” or “I don’t even know where to start.”
Solution: Reframe the Problem
2. Reliance on Process
Sometimes we’re lazy. Sometimes we want to read a book or watch a video and have someone else give us the answers. Sometimes we want to take the easy way out. Unfortunately, in business, there is no proven method or set of instructions to follow. You are not recreating a recipe to prepare that perfect dish you saw on YouTube. You are not creating a piece of clothing from a pattern. Following steps 1-4 will not get you a repeatable outcome. When you are stuck in “step reliance,” you are destined for disappointment and you may be saying things like, “I wish someone would just tell me what to do.”
Solution: Enable Experimentation
There are many reasons you feel tired. It can be from informational or emotional overwhelm. It could be the strain of mode-switching from the constant pivoting and responding that’s required in your business. It could be that you aren’t managing your time or work effort wisely. Sometimes leaders simply feel oppressed by the unknown -- a sense of uncertainty that is not the invigorating or adventurous kind. For whatever reason, if you are feeling exhausted, pushing through it will never solve the problem. Stop. Walk away. Take a breath. Take a nap or a vacation. Return with clarity and strength.
Holding on too tightly to the reins of your business will limit collaboration and severely hamper the open sharing of ideas. You might be creating the illusion of collaboration by having meetings where the team brainstorms possibilities only to end up returning to your original thought or argument, saying, “well, we really have to do this” or “I’ve made an executive decision that we will go this way.” If you are focused on control, you may also be too concerned with things like loyalty or team members being “all in” instead of measuring and getting actual results.
Solution: Direct the Team
Guest post by Jennifer Oppelt
Great leaders are thoughtful and deliberate, not impulsive, reactive or demanding. Leaders motivate, encourage collaboration and inspire others to lead.
There’s no shame in admitting that you have room to improve as a leader. We all do. The first step is awareness. As an executive, here are some red flags -- indicators on your dashboard -- that will let you know if you are the bottleneck or source of your team's dysfunction.
1. It feels like you’re wasting time in meetings
Do you have an objective for the meeting -- a reason to meet or something to accomplish? Has your sales meeting turned into a training/coaching session? Has your weekly standup turned into a festival of grievances? Are you asking for input from the team only to circle back to your original idea or argument? Get a grip on your meeting flow. My husband wrote a book about this.
2. Turnover / Employee Churn
Your people aren’t sticking around. It’s an even bigger warning sign if you’re having trouble retaining your top talent. You know what they say about the losing poker hand. If you look around the table and can’t tell who it is, it’s you. There are many reasons why people leave jobs. Their position may lack purpose and fulfillment. Their strengths may be underutilized. Growth opportunities may not be available. Or, they may not align with or respect company leadership. You must take personal responsibility for creating a work culture that is engaging and inspiring.
3. The team is not hitting their goals
The team might still look as busy as ever, but there is a decrease in productivity. They might be unclear on the objectives. As Brene Brown instructs, you may need to “paint done” for them. This means providing a high level of visual detail so that the outcome is crystal clear. With a clear vision of the target and the proper words of encouragement, any team can get motivated.
4. People seem to be holding back
Your team members used to be filled with brilliant ideas but they’ve stopped pitching them. Your new hires have a certain sparkle that seems to fade once they get into the grind of the day-to-day. Your team is no longer providing feedback, opinions or pushing back against your ideas. They’ve given up or are just saying “I don’t know.” This isn’t normal. If you want a culture of contribution and collaboration you need to listen to your team, make sure they feel valued and incorporate some of their ideas and feedback.
5. You or your team have no work/life balance
If you are working 24/7 and you can’t step away from the business to take a week’s vacation, something is seriously wrong. No one likes to think of themselves as a micromanager but that’s exactly what you are if your team can’t make decisions or move projects forward without your constant involvement. Empower your team to lead. Set them up for success with clear expectations and remove obstacles that prevent them from taking ownership. Cross train your team and provide accessible SOPs so that everyone can enjoy time off while the business runs smoothly. Keep an eye on team members' workloads and hire proactively to avoid burnout and costly mistakes from hiring in panic mode.
6. Implementing or sticking to a strategy feels impossible
Succeeding without a plan is possible, but not sustainable. You can build the plane as you fly it for a while but things start falling apart when you don’t take time to plan. Constant change and pivots create chaos which leads to confusion and eventually mistrust. The time you spend on creating and onboarding your team to a strategy is a worthwhile investment. With a good strategy you can get clear on team priorities, assign accountable champions and define measurable outcomes that let you know if you are on track.
In my executive coaching groups, I’ve proposed the question, “What is a Visionary Leader?”
The responses vary. Some describe leadership in terms of spatial orientation (“first through the door,” “stand with,” or “servant leader”) while others describe a leadership that is visceral and relational, having more to do with presence than position.
Below are some examples of each. It’s possible that, as a leader, you feel more than one of these, or some combination. Regardless, it’s clear that when people describe Visionary Leadership, they think of something greater than themselves -- something that is expansive, inclusive and multi-dimensional.
What makes a leader visionary may be their ability to switch between these styles depending on the situation, organization or project.
1. Leading from above
You may be tempted to think of “leading from above” as implying hierarchy (or worse yet, patriarchy). You may think of the traditional, top-down, “command and control” leadership roles of corporations past. However, what I hear when people describe this orientation is that the leader is put on a platform or pedestal by the team. This gives them someone to look up to and also gives the leader line of sight across organizational divides (see Vision below).
2. Leading from below
The best CEOs lead from the bottom of the pyramid. They know that they will get the results and outcomes they need through other people. This “servant leader” knows their role is to clear blocks and obstacles for the team in order to keep them motivated and productive.
3. I go first
Some leaders want to be the first through the door. They are willing to take the bullet or the hit to prove something to the team. These kinds of leaders might be described as pioneers or trailblazers. They might be the kind of leader who will show the team instead of tell them. These executives -- those leading from the front -- need to occasionally look behind them and make sure the team is still there.
4. Leading from behind
The rarest of these is someone who leads from behind. This is the pack-leader wolf who leads her group from the rear, monitoring those at the front, watching for attack from all sides. This type of leader makes sure they have a clear line of sight into the team, its interdependencies, weaknesses and threats. They make it a priority to have the right people in the right seats.
5. Standing with (or alongside)
This kind of leadership looks more like advocacy or mentorship. It may be described by others as “handholding” or “propping up” but this orientation puts the leader and team member on equal footing. Don’t confuse this type of leadership with the manager who would rather be your friend than your boss. These leaders show up as a thinking partner, collaborator or a coach. They bring a coaching mindset to bear on each problem, asking the right questions and allowing the team member to be responsible and accountable.
This type of leadership looks like a circle (or a dance) where the spatial dynamics shift and change with the phases of growth of the group. Traditionally, a circle or council is considered to be a more “feminine” (read: marginalized) model, though movements like Holacracy are attempting to bring these models into the mainstream -- and make the old new again.
1. Vision (Seeing)
These leaders are the eyes of the organization, seeing what others can’t. They have an ability to perceive and process large amounts of information, which gives them a birds-eye-view of the business and insight into team dynamics. (See “Leading from above”)
2. Heart (Hearing)
These leaders are said to have their “finger on the pulse” of the business. They spend time listening and responding intuitively to subtle changes. They are also said to be the “heartbeat” at the center of the organization that keeps the blood (energy) pumping.
3. Empathy (Feeling)
These leaders are described as highly empathetic. They occupy the interpersonal “we space.” They value language and human interaction. Their style is highly relational, emotionally intelligent and communicative. (See “Collaboration”)
Drop us a line to pre-register for Joran’s Visionary Leadership online course - launching Fall 2021
I’d love to know what Visionary Leadership looks and feels like to you. Please leave your thoughts or insights in the comments.
According to the Wall Street Journal, WeWork CEO Sandeep Mathrani recently said that remote workers are less-than-engaged with the companies they work for. Mathrani’s conflict of interest here is staggering as his business model clearly depends on people leaving their homes.
Then, Morgan Chase & Co.'s Jamie Dimon said remote work doesn’t work well “for those who want to hustle.” This contradicts a recent SHRM article which stated that:
You cannot tell me that remote workers don't have "hustle" or that they aren't committed. As I see it, there are only two downsides to an all-remote team. The first is losing physical touch and biofeedback loops created by being in the presence of others. The second is losing the opportunity for leadership's shitty ideas to go sour around the water cooler. Having that side conversation in the hallway or throwing some over-the-cubicle shade can be a necessary ingredient to determine viability and feasibility or to create stable bonds in the culture.
CEOs leading in remote environments risk fabricating grim fairy tales of how work is going unless they are surrounded by the inputs and outputs of the team.
I've seen CEOs make confident and horrible decisions despite the cost to culture and strategy.
I've seen leaders get caught up in their own bubble and believe their own bullshit because no one would push back.
I've seen entrepreneurs endlessly chase new and novel ideas, calling it "innovation."
I've seen too many bosses mistake faith, loyalty or acquiescence for buy-in.
Real alignment – real wisdom – is a matrix of legacy, mindset, certainty and inclusion. This is the mythical Zone of Genius. If you aren't leading from this place, you may very well destroy what you're building.
The Leadership Line (Uncertainty → Certainty)
Certainty in this case does not mean your personal confidence or optimism about your vision or the business’s prospects. On the flip side, I'm not talking about uncertainty in terms of futures, foresight or plausibility. I’m not saying that you should claim to know things you don’t.
I'm talking about organizational uncertainty -- a lack of vision or transparency, poor communication, no line of sight into or across divisions, low team morale/confidence, lack of alignment around (or commitment to) OKRs, etc.
Uncertainty in this sense is deeply felt and unmistakable. It makes the business (and those inside it) feel like they are floating on a loosely-bound raft, sure to drown at any moment.
Leading with certainty lowers resistance to change because everyone has enough information, there is transparency in the planning and they are confident that you’re the leader that will take them there.
The Culture Line (Exclusion → Inclusion)
On one end of the culture line, team members are excluded, left out of rooms or conversations they feel are important, and kept in silos.
An inclusive culture convenes the right voices around the table, puts the right people in the right seats, creates openness and psychological safety, and facilitates meaningful and productive dialogue among team members. An inclusive culture might look diverse or include different opinions or communication styles, but it always respects the individual and treats conflict as an opportunity for growth.
The Mindset Line (Fixed → Growth)
In her 2008 book, Mindset, Carol Dweck wrote that people with a fixed mindset avoid challenges, give up easily, see effort as fruitless, ignore feedback and are threatened by the success of others. Those with a growth mindset embrace challenges, persist in the face of obstacles, see effort as the path to mastery, learn from criticism and find inspiration in others’ success.
Great leaders view themselves and others with a growth mindset. An individual’s mindset varies wildly depending on what their mind is fixed upon. Being able to spot a fixed mindset is the key to loosening it up and allowing for growth. Notice when your beliefs are telling you that something or someone is “impossible.” Possibilities emerge when you quickly reframe negativity.
The Legacy Line (Immediate → Generational)
This line indicates the depth or complexity of your decision-making. On one end, we find immediate and short-term benefits to yourself, your reputation, or business. These are quick wins that yield small- to medium-sized returns.
On the other end, we see decisions that take into consideration and may benefit the seventh generation and beyond. These decisions might be described as visionary, ethical, sustainable, or having a “long tail.” These require patience and deliver longer-term results, sometimes even beyond the lifespan of the founder.
From updating your strategy to scaling your team, growth is change and change is hard.
Visual Consulting (sometimes called Process Consulting)* is when a consultant is hired to visually “facilitate the organization to perceive, understand, and develop the organization’s business and human processes, in order for the client to improve the situation themselves, as they define it.”
This differs from “Expert Consulting,” where the client has a perceived and predetermined need and a consultant is brought in to share their expertise related to that specific need.
It is also different from “Pair-of-Hands Consulting” (or staff augmentation) where the consultant (or consulting team) is brought in to fulfill work that the client lacks the time or resources to deliver.
Visual Consulting is about teaching the client to fish, not fishing for them, or selling them fancy fishing equipment.
If you are experiencing the following, you may need someone to consult with on your vision, culture, story or strategy.
There are four things to look for when hiring a process consultant.
1. They are Process-Agnostic
If a consultant tells you they have an out-of-the-box solution, don’t believe them. There is no one-size-fits-all remedy. There is no killer app in consulting. It is dynamic, empathy-based work that requires deep listening and should include the wisdom (and the elements that work) from different maps, models and methods. A good consultant should have a belief in human potential and a passion for building capacity on your team, regardless of what book they’re reading.
2. They Understand the Process of Change
Look for a consultant that understands the positive and negative effects of change, what resistance to change looks like in individuals and groups, how to ease or work through that resistance, and ultimately, how to empower teams to lead themselves through change. If the change work (or creativity, or innovation) ends when the consultant leaves the room, they are not the right consultant for you. A good consultant strives to develop resilient, emotionally intelligent teams that are well-versed in the language of change and fire-tested in the crucible of transformation.
3. How They Do Anything is How They Do Everything
Take notes on the sales/discovery call and their approach to setting boundaries and expectations. Notice the way they organize information and their attention to detail. This is exactly how they will engage with you (and possibly your clients). If they are late, rushing, scattered, forgetting things, their tone is too negative (or jarringly upbeat and positive) this is not a good sign. A good consultant matches your energy, makes you feel at ease, asks great questions, and sometimes provides clarity and answers before you can form the questions.
4. The Proof is in the Artifact
They are a visual consultant, so look at their visuals. Are the final deliverables something that will be ready to share or distribute with your team/organization? Do they have visual impact? Will they be memorable or just another “dumb” report? The efforts and summary of your work should not only live on and easily shake hands with your implementation lead or strategic plan, but they should inform (or change) the way you tell your story -- internally and externally.
If you still have questions, let’s set up a Discovery Call to discuss what’s happening in your business.
* Source: Visual Consulting: Designing and Leading Change, David Sibbet and Gisela Wendling, PhD.
Guest post by Geoffrey Nelson, M Ed.
As virtual events and meetings evolve, we are discovering new uses for our tools. Murals, it turns out, can work more like game boards than whiteboards. Map-based murals look like rooms in a virtual space, each one with its own function and theme. These murals can look like chocolate factories or alpine mountains (check out the highly-stylized work of Benjamin Dehant). They can evoke a series of clearings in a dense, yeti-haunted forest. They can mimic a museum floor plan, complete with galleries of client work.
Map-based murals use spatial cues to deepen participants' engagement and focus.
Map-based murals support high-quality, high-value work. Like good architecture, their design invites action, directs attention, and fosters emotion. Architectural affordances like signs, corridors, and kiosks guide us through the mural’s virtual space. Implied geometry tells us that there is even more interesting work ahead. Sub-maps linked to the main mural create private workrooms. These nested workspaces are perfect for gamified activities. They heighten the excitement of competition we miss from live events.
To make a map-based mural, consider employing a designer or modifying a map or image in Photoshop. This fundamental image should be saved as a .JPG and locked down. Rooms in the design need plenty of space for your participants’ emerging content. Each room should give visual cues about its purpose.
Consider covering sections of the mural to build suspense and to hold attention to the task at hand. You can add an intriguing image or message to the covering element: a locked door or “No peeking!” Lock these down too. When you’re ready to reveal the next section of the map, delete the covering element or send it to the background. Alternatively, you may add elements (or backgrounds of entire sections) to the outline using the “Add to Outline” feature and toggle the visibility using the eye symbol in the outline.
This focuses participants on the visible content and unburdens their working memory.
Refer to the theme of a map-based mural only as much as it facilitates the work. People need to know how the theme relates to their objectives, strategy, or lines of business. Everyone wants respect even while they’re brainstorming in the forest clearing or slaloming the Alps.
As playful and fantastic as these map-style murals can be, we’ve never run into a credibility issue. We used map-style murals with Fortune 100 execs who loved the experience.
No one complained about the yetis.
Geoffrey Nelson, M Ed. is a people-builder, manager and trainer of creatives, and a conscientious process refiner. He leads talented people beyond their definition of possible.
ABOUT THE Author
Joran Slane Oppelt is an international speaker, author and consultant with certifications in coaching, storytelling, design thinking and virtual facilitation.