The Voice for Insightful Leadership with Shelley Row, P.E.

Your Search for leadership

The night was warm as we stood looking over the Annapolis harbor at the gathered crowd. It was a perfect evening for (are you ready?) tango. Yes, tango. Argentine tango, to be specific. The bricks of the Annapolis City Dock were covered by a smooth dance floor and a small band played tango music. If you are not a dancer, Argentine tango is not like a typical ballroom tango. Ballroom-style tango has specific steps. Argentine tango does not. It is all improvisational. The men learn to lead by shifting their bodies. Women learn to sense and follow their lead.  As we watched, the men were steady and (relatively) straightforward with their steps while the women twisted, turned, and flicked their feet with grace and style. They represented a subtle communication between leader and follower that resulted in beauty and art.

When I think about being an insightful leader, there are three lessons from tango.  The tango leads provided:

  1. Direction. The leader provides the forward direction. Will he steer his partner slightly right, slightly left or straight ahead? He watches other couples and navigate between and around them. He adjusts their rate of progress to account for others. It’s the same for leaders in an organization. You, too, provide direction and navigate employees, staff and projects around obstacles. In your case, obstacles may be political, technical, financial or personnel. It’s your job to watch the surroundings, notice openings and deftly steer the organization forward as though you are dancing together.
  2. Framework. The tango lead held his frame. He provided a firm, physical frame that gave his partner the boundaries for her dance. Within his arms and the space around his steps, he contained the space of the dance. A leader does the same. You provide the organizational framework within which staff perform and work happens. In this case, your frame work may be the organizational culture, a way of doing business, the boundaries of acceptable business practices or acceptable behaviors at work.
  3. Flexibility. Perhaps the most striking part of the tango was the flexibility afforded to the woman dancer. Our tango lead provided direction and a framework that allowed her to improvise. Steps, kicks, flourishes, twists and turns. She was the show. He gave her the space to explore her creativity and develop beauty. Too often, this element of leadership is missing. Sometimes, we as leaders create a framework that’s too tight. It confines creativity in the workplace. Instead, insightful leaders create space like the tango. There’s an openness to new ideas, new processes and procedures. Staff are encouraged to develop their creativity and show off their highest skills. The creativity of the staff can be the showpiece under a wise leader.

Because of the skill of the tango leader, the woman improvised, added her unique style and created a work of art while moving forward within the framework. How well is your organization dancing under your leadership? Maybe it’s time for a tango lesson!

Copyright: timurpix / 123RF Stock Photo

It was dark and I was in unfamiliar territory. I was aboard a friend’s boat on the Chesapeake Bay, at night, headed home, when he said, “You should drive. It will be good practice.”

“Good practice?” I thought. “Is he crazy? There are lights everywhere.” As I looked across the horizon and saw white lights, yellow lights, red lights, green lights, blinking lights, bright lights and faint lights.  “Which do I follow?” I asked him.

He said, “You’ll learn to sort out the important lights, that help you navigate to the dock, from the irrelevant ones that are a distraction.”  Wise words that also apply to you as an insightful leader.

You navigate your organization towards the future and along the way there are countless pieces of information and distractions that can take you off course – if you let them. How do you sort out the relevant from the irrelevant? Here are three tips I learned from executives I interviewed.

  • Have a clear objective. You can only navigate to your goal if you are clear on your goal. Yeah, I know…that seems obvious. And, I’m continually amazed at how often managers lack clarity on the goal. We breeze past the difficulty of finding clarity in the rush to act. Clarity immediately reduces distractions. Clarity allows you to ignore all inputs that don’t align. Without clarity, it would be like me aiming for any creek when I wanted Aberdeen Creek.To get clarity, ask yourself,
    • “What is the desired outcome?”
    • “What specifically needs to be accomplished?”
    • “What specific action do I want to occur?” Don’t settle for generalizations. Be specific

From a place of clarity, identify the key next steps. These steps help to retain clarity and focus along the way. Activities that aren’t in alignment with the steps to the objective, can be dealt with later.

  • Control the tangents. Be brutal about this. Everyone you talk to will try (maybe unintentionally and maybe intentionally) to take you off on a tangent. If you stay laser focused on the objective, you can tactfully redirect the conversation while staying aware that other issues will be dealt with later. When someone tries to divert your attention, say,
    • “That’s a good point, and we need to stay focused on the goal. We can come back to that point once we deal with this.”
    • “I appreciate you bringing this up. Let’s put this in the parking lot to address next.”
    • “I realize this is a concern of yours and we will address it, but for now, we need to stay focused on the goal for today.”

As I scanned the darkness, the horizon filled with lights. But I didn’t need the circling light of Thomas Point Lighthouse or the red and green lights of other boats. I began to train my eyes to discern the lights on the markers that indicated the way back. It went like this: Marker light…got it in my sights. Lighthouse light: it’s out of the way; I won’t run aground; no need to consider it further. Other boats: They are not in the way and not coming my way; no need to consider them further. They remain in my periphery but didn’t distract from the goal. How do you sift out the tangents, set them aside, and stay focused on the objective?

  • Check in along the way. As we motored back toward the dock, the navigational chart told me which marker should be in view next. Did it appear when and where it was supposed to? Check. We were still on course. As an insightful leader, it is wise to check your course along the way. Are you still focused on the objective? Are you still taking the steps you identified or have you succumbed to a tangent? Check in along the way and make course corrections as needed.

You, as an insightful leader, are the keeper of focus. In addition to reaching your goal efficiently, your staff will feel more secure and calm because of your clear-headed focus.

Photo Copyright : James Kirkikis

It was a beautiful fall day in Keystone, Colorado. The aspen were gold and the sun highlighted the crevasses in the mountains that guarded the lake. It was a perfect time to rent a kayak and paddle around under the blue sky. My friend is an experienced kayaker. I am not.  But…how hard can it be? It’s a kayak.

Truthfully, it wasn’t hard to paddle around. It was just difficult to get to a specific point on the lake – just as it can be difficult to reach the goal that you set in your organization. Here are three points gleaned from paddling on a Colorado lake that can help you reach your organizational goals.

  1. Set a clear goal. “Let’s paddle to that grove of trees on the point,” my friend said. I replied, “Which grove of trees on which point?” It took discussion and lots of pointing to clarify which grove of trees on which point of land.  It’s the same in your organization.  The goal may seem crystal clear to you. It’s unlikely to be that clear to others. Talk about the goal with your staff and team. Engage them in discussion. What behavior will you all see when the goal is achieved? What specific outcome will be realized and how will you know?  This is the only way to ensure that everyone is working toward the same end.
  2. Adjust constantly. Off we went toward our grove of trees. But it wasn’t that easy. We negotiated how we would paddle together without knocking each other’s paddle. Plus, the light breeze blew the kayak away from the point of land.  We were constantly compensating for the breeze and an occasional boat wake. Similarly, how will your team work together and not get in each other’s way? It’s not that easy. Personality conflicts, incomplete communication and busy schedules get in the way of coordinated work. I’ve seen it first hand in my organization and in those organizations with whom I work. Busy staff don’t talk to co-workers – even briefly – to discover that they are doing the same work or that they are working at cross-purposes. It takes constant communication to make course corrections. In my office, each project had a detailed road map to guide the work. Even with the road map, it was essential that we read the “breeze” in the organization and adjust. As your work progresses, what do you know today that you didn’t know when you started? What course corrections are called for? Become an observer of the staff and their communication styles.  Who is working well together and who continues to paddle at cross-purposes? An adjustment in staff roles can better align natural communication styles for more productive work.
  3. Anticipate. As we paddled, it looked like we were on track – heading straight for the point – but with one extra paddle stroke, we’d gone too far. I didn’t anticipate the momentum of the kayak and adjust my paddling in time. It took more time and effort to reach the point. Are you reading the situation and anticipating the next steps? Every office has momentum – work flows that are set in motion, processes that are half completed. You must anticipate where the momentum takes you and adjust in advance before the need is obvious. This is the work of the insightful leader. Are you a keen observer of the work flow, the patterns in the office and the external influences? It’s only then that you can anticipate the trajectory and course correct before others realize it’s needed.

We made it to the point – eventually. I learned that I have a lot to learn about kayaking. On the surface, it looks easy, but the art of kayaking takes skill and intentional thought. Providing wise leadership is the same. Data isn’t enough. You must be an astute observer of the people and work to stay on course.

 

Copyright: wavebreakmediamicro / 123RF Stock Photo

Some time ago, I spoke at and facilitated an Executive Leadership Program for a notable association.  The speakers were a who’s who in that industry–successful business people with a solid track record.  There were sessions on responding to RFPs, auditing and accounting, business operations, and profitability. At the end of the program, the participants met in groups and identified their top three take-aways from the day, which we recorded.  One item rose to the top of the list: Do the right thing and be nice. The group discussed that it was interesting that profitability wasn’t the first item on everyone’s list – indeed, it only came up once. But every group commented on being nice and just caring.

So, what does that look like at work?  It all comes down to behavior. If we are being nice and caring, what are we doing? Gleaning from the discussion and from my experience, there are three behaviors that communicate care.

Seek First to Understand. That’s from Stephen Covey’s classic, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. He teaches that listening is a key skill. To do that, seek first to truly understand the other person’s point of view. Listen…truly listen. What we now know from neuroscience, is that when we listen and validate the other person’s comment or emotional state, it calms them.  They feel heard, and that settles the nervous system. It’s not that hard. But, you do have to restrain your impulse to dive in with your point.  Listen first. State it back. Hear them.  It shows you care about their opinion.

Speak strongly and politely. Somewhere along the way we forgot that being strong and confident are not mutually exclusive with politeness.  We can be strong and nice.  In fact, some of the strongest people I worked with embodied quiet calmness.  Without defensiveness, they could listen, hear, evaluate and come to a reasoned conclusion. I’ve seen caustic situations diffused when a manager lets the negative energy from another slide by and comment with calm understanding.  Even performance problems can be addressed with strength, without giving in and while being polite. We forget sometimes that politeness goes a long way.

Be interested in more than just their work.  One of the leaders who spoke at the program told the group that every Friday in the middle of the day, he called his staff just to chat.  He intentionally did not talk about work but rather used that time to connect on a personal level. Connection was another key theme from the program. For those of us (like me, I confess) who derive pleasure from checking off accomplishments, we can forget the importance of connecting personally. And yet, we feel more committed and motivated when we feel that people at work care about more than work. All it takes is an honest inquiry – How are things with your kids?  Which college did your daughter select? What did you think about the game last night?

Yes, profitability is essential but what these future executives learned is that they can get to profitability when their staff understands that they just care. Let’s face it, it’s just not that hard to be nice.

Copyright: thanaphiphat / 123RF Stock Photo

It was a perfect, sunny day on Aberdeen Creek just off the Chesapeake Bay.  There, in front of me, floating placidly, was a stand-up paddleboard. This was my first experience with a stand-up paddleboard. It looked unassuming but I was suspicious.  How do I approach the paddleboard? Can I really stand, paddle and propel myself across the water on this…board? The answer was yes. While it generally went well, in hindsight, the approach to the paddleboard was the same approach as tackling a new project, new office or new staff.

  1. Find stability first.
  2. Test it out.
  3. Fall off, laugh, get back on, try again.

Find stability first. Hmmm. How do I step onto this floating board without tumping (that’s a Texas term) myself into the Creek? I looked across and saw kids on junior boards and thought if they can do it surely I can, cautiously, I put both feet onto the board, spread them wide for a stable base, pushed off from the boat and just stood there. How did it feel? What stability did I notice? How precarious was I? For a few moments, just stand and observe.

It’s the same at the start of a new project.  You need to find your base at the start.  Do you understand the lay of the land? Have you met the key players and staff? Have you surveyed your environment? Do you understand the basics of the task? It’s only after you have a solid appreciation of the people, the situation and the work that you are ready to move forward.  First, create stability through understanding.

Test it out. After finding stability, I cautiously experimented with paddling. How do I go forward; how do I turn; how do I account for the wind; how do I get more speed? I tried this and that while gauging my progress down and around the creek.

Once you are oriented with your new project, then you start testing.  What approaches result in the most motivated staff? How do you build support with stakeholders? When you encounter resistance like the wind, what is the most effective way to manage that resistance? Over time, build a repertoire of techniques to use in heavy wind, light wind, and waves that hit you broadside. Also develop techniques to speed you forward when the waters are calm.  It takes practice, experimenting, and observation of the dos and don’ts that work in each situation.

Fall off, laugh, get back on and try again. It was going well. I felt stable; was making good progress; and was gaining confidence. That’s when I needed to turn. I tried a new technique (back paddling) and back paddled my way off the back of the board into the Creek. That gave me the opportunity to learn the skill of climbing back on board, regaining stability, standing and paddling again.

It is inevitable that some techniques and approaches that you try will not work.  The staff won’t respond well; the stakeholders revolt; progress goes backwards instead of forwards. That’s when you have a choice. I could have concluded that stand-up paddleboarding isn’t for me or I could try again.  You have the same choice.  Instead of reaching for the towel, you can say, “Well, THAT didn’t go well!  What could I have done differently? What have I learned?” Then you regain your bearings and chart a new course for the work. And it’s even better if you laugh at your mistake. After all, we all fall in the creek sometime.

Photo credit: epicstockmedia / 123RF Stock Photo

EmotionsIn leadership positions it’s inevitable that situations arise that generate an emotional reaction. Some emotions are low grade but others are like five-alarm fires. We are taught to control our emotions in the workplace to be credible, strong and unshakable. “Don’t let them see you sweat.” “There’s no place for feelings at work.” The emotionless approach is a badge of honor but it may hinder your leadership effectiveness. Here’s why.

Let’s say you are working with an employee to change the way their approach to management of a project. You’ve discussed it again and again. You think they understand then, out of the blue, they use the old approach. It isn’t a deal breaker for the project but it annoys you. How many times do you have to discuss this?

At that moment, the amygdala in your brain (your alarm bell) has gone off. They amygdala calls on long-term memory that confirms the many times you counseled the employee on this topic. The amygdala sends the alert that something has gone awry and it triggers an emotional reaction.

As the leader, you know that you don’t want to yell, stomp your feet or behave inappropriately. So what are your options?

Suppress your reaction. You fight the emotional reaction by reasoning with yourself. “I’m not going to let this get to me. It isn’t worth getting upset about. Don’t think about it. Let it go.” Have you noticed that the more you say, “I’m not going to think about this” the more you think about it? Exactly. Research validates that the harder you think about suppressing the emotion the more engaged the amygdala is. Suppression does not reduce the brain’s reactivity. Further, the energy you expend to suppress the reaction takes away the energy you need for memory. You are less effective due to the lack of resources for cognitive functioning of your brain.
Clearly, this doesn’t work so what does?

Consider the emotion. Thinking about emotional suppression doesn’t work but consciously examining your feelings does. Research shows that people who probe their feelings actually deactivate the amygdala. I know – it seems counterintuitive. But when you hold your emotion up to the light, roll it around, and give it a name, it validates the emotion and calms the amygdala. An added bonus is that the cognitive part of your brain remains online. Your memory is not impaired and you can more objectively view the situation and your options.

Reframe the situation. You can also reframe or reappraise the situation. In my experience, this works best after you name the emotion and calm the amygdala somewhat. Then you ask, “Is there another way of looking at this?” Your brain brings up the stored memory and context. However, just because you remember it doesn’t mean it’s accurate or exclusive. In this instance, perhaps the employee believed the situation was different and, therefore, warranted an altered approach. Or perhaps the employee is going through a difficult personal situation and their cognitive ability (and memory) is impaired. What are the other possibilities? Reframing the situation calms the amygdala and brings cognitive consideration to the situation.

When those emotional situations hit – stop trying to suppress the emotion. It only makes it worse. Instead, acknowledge the emotion, name it and ask if there are other ways to look at the situation. You will find yourself with a calmer frame of mind which enables you to choose the best response…the response worthy of a leader.

24551456 - wheelchair on a white background

I’m not a caretaker. I seem to have missed that gene even as a woman. But then came the diagnosis – lung cancer – again. It was my husband. Now, I would push his wheelchair into radiation; fetch whatever he needed, and run errands in the weeks until he passed away. As I dashed to and fro, it caused me to reflect on what I could learn from this since every experience holds a lesson, if we have the mind and heart to see it.

I am not a student of “servant leadership” but perhaps this is the lesson here. I haven’t always been a good servant leader because I focus so strongly on achieving a goal. Certainly, my ability to set goals and achieve them has been an element of my success. And yet, I think I missed something. Maybe my realization will resonate for you, too.

While my husband valiantly fought his disease, I fetched jackets, socks, water and pills because they were what he needed to reach his daily goals. As a leader, part of our job is to provide staff with those things they need to achieve their goals–training, support, resources, praise, coaching. It’s not that hard, really. You just have to pay attention with an attitude of a caretaker to their needs.

As I pushed my husband up and down ramps into the hospital, that too was like leadership. I held back the wheelchair on the down ramp so he didn’t roll headlong into the hydrangeas. And so we too hold back over-eager staff so that they are measured in their approach and don’t fall on their face. We may coach them so that they don’t over-extend their time and commitments.

On the up ramp I strained to roll him uphill to reach the top. Sometimes it took all my energy to push the chair over the uneven pathway like the threshold of a door or the bump in the sidewalk. It’s the same for our staff. It is sometimes hard to sustain the energy to push an employee to reach the top. There are always humps and bumps along the way that have to be overcome. To push, strain and encourage others on their way to the top are the roles of the leader.

While it is true that I’m not a natural caretaker, I came to feel the gratification of helping my husband be as comfortable as possible in his last days. It’s a good feeling and was worthy of the effort. As leaders, we have to keep in mind that the real work is being done by the other. The striving, trying, focus on the goal is the hard work of the employee. We simply provide a push, a steadying hand and we fetch the resources they need. It’s not about us; it’s about them. And we get to enjoy the gratification of being the servant leader.

 

EyesLook around. Take in everything that you see. There’s the stack of sticky notes with calls to be returned; a report that needs to be reviewed; the partially finished cost proposal for your big client; and a half-eaten sandwich sitting next to the book club book that you are half-way through (and the club meets tomorrow!). In less than a minute, you have observed this and so much more. Your eyes brought in reams of information into your brain. And that information continually flows in unless you interrupt it.

Now consider the amount of effort your brain makes to sort out all this information. The voice in your head is mentally sifting through papers, struggling with the to-do list, and admonishing you for leaving the dirty dish on your desk. (And, everyone else will have finished the book club book. You really should make an effort.) The brain processes and comments on all of these items because it sees them. While your brain makes all this effort, imagine what it’s not doing. It’s not finishing the cost proposal; it’s not reviewing the report; it’s not thinking about the calls that need to be returned. There is only so much vigor the brain has for high-energy, high-focused work.

I recently discovered an easy and powerful technique that increased my ability to focus and bring creative attention to my work: closing my eyes. Shutting down the massive input from your eyes frees the brain to focus, process and integrate information without the distraction of the dirty coffee cup that you really should go wash out right now.

Here are the steps to put this technique to work for you.
1. Define. Identify one top priority project that needs your focused attention and creative thinking.
2. Prime. Review the information you already have about this project: where you are in the process, what are the next steps, and where are you stuck. Basically, you are pre-loading or priming your brain with information that you want it to hold in working memory. This is the information that is immediately accessible to your brain.
3. Focus. Identify what you need next, or the question you need answered. Maybe it’s how to approach a problem or person; the structure of the next chapter of the report you have to write; or how to address a client’s unique needs. You tell your brain where you want it to focus.
4. Sit. Find a quiet spot where you can sit comfortably. Use the timer on your phone and set it for 5 to 8 minutes. Now, close your eyes. Go on…close them. You’re peaking! Okay – you can keep them open until you finish this article. When you sit with your eyes closed for even a few minutes, you will find that your brain works more efficiently. It integrates the primed information, your focused topic and other knowledge stored deep within your brain to bring you new ideas or new ways of thinking.

Without the plethora of distractions flying in from your eyes, the brain has more juice to apply to solving your problem. The brain more easily and creatively assembles information and brings insights to you. And it only takes five minutes.

I use this technique when I need clarity on a troubling problem or when switching from one intensive task to another. It has not failed me yet. I walk away from this short interlude with new ideas, new approaches and with refreshed energy. Try it. You, too, will find that this is a leadership tool worth five minutes.

 

8.2_-_Labyrinth_-_Chartres_layoutA leader sets the course for the organization. And while that can be challenging, even more of a challenge is retaining focus on that course. Each day brings new twists and turns that can distract, dissuade, and undermine the pathway to a goal. It takes discipline to hold the course and it takes courage to believe that eventually the goal can be reached.

To my surprise, these are the lessons that I learned walking a labyrinth. There was a small group of us who met on a hot afternoon behind St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Bethesda, Maryland. St. Luke’s hosts a labyrinth that is available to the public. Before I say more, let’s make sure we have a common understanding. You see, a labyrinth is not a maze. A maze has many paths some of which are dead ends. Labyrinths have a single winding path in and a single path out. Originating as early as the Bronze Age, they are intended as a meditative experience. You mindlessly follow the path looking a few steps in front of your feet. Along the way your thinking brain attends to the path which allows other parts of the brain to process worries, hurt, fears, or whatever it needs. The St. Luke’s labyrinth is grass with pavers outlining the pathway.
Why is a labyrinth walk relevant to leadership?

1. There’s no direct path. It seemed straightforward: start at the beginning and walk to the center. The first few steps were directly toward the center. Ahhh…it felt good to be headed for the goal – just as it feels good when we start an initiative in our organization. But then…a hard right turn and I was headed away from the center. Has that ever happened to your big initiative? You have just started and something pops up that distracts you from the plan. In the labyrinth, the discipline was to stay focused and not stop, look around nervously and question. “Does this path really lead to the center?” That creates doubt and wastes time and energy. It’s the same at work, when distractions show up, focus and keep moving.

2. The goal seems close and then far. As I twisted and turned through the labyrinth, I got close to the center. Immediately, my brain thought, “Oh, we’re almost there!” Then a U-turn and a few steps and I was at the far side of the labyrinth. “How did that happen?” my brain complained. The same happens when working toward a big goal. You are almost “there” when a situation changes and the goal suddenly seems distance…again. The discipline is to keep going. One foot in front of the other and trust that in time, the goal will be attained. This is the discipline of perseverance that every leader needs.

3. The pathway is uneven. Scanning across the grassy labyrinth before starting, it looked lush and soft. I decided to walk bare-footed to better connect with the ground. Soon I realize that looks can be deceiving. Under my feet the path was sometimes soft and cool, hard and dusty, or prickly and sharp. How many times have you started on a new project thinking, “This will be a piece of cake!” It turns out to be harder than it looks. Parts of the project are uncomfortable and sticky; other parts feel like a slog through a desert with no sustenance. And yet, like in the labyrinth, we keep going no matter the terrain. That’s the discipline of a leader – to move forward through all environments.

The discipline of the labyrinth is powerful for leaders: continuing on when the path seems convoluted or leading away rather than toward the goal; and continuing when the path gets rough. But that’s the job.

 

infotuition-opening-1000px

He worked fast and it was mesmerizing to watch.

I was speaking at Asbury Communities on leadership decision-making using infotuition. As I spoke, Bruce drew.  Bruce is an illustrator who graphically records programs as they unfold.  It is remarkable to watch him work. His approach is an artistic metaphor for leaders.  Here’s what Bruce taught me.

Plan Ahead.  Working with huge 4’x8’white boards, Bruce thoughtfully planned ahead before starting to draw.  He studied the content before arriving and had an understanding of the key points and the milestones in my program. He knew what to listen for as he drew. This gave him a feel for how much content would fit on a board and how to space out the work. It’s the same for those who lead.  You don’t have complete clarity about exactly how the future will unfold. Still, you must study enough to have a sense for the major indicators and milestones to watch for.  It’s a plan of what to watch for as you go. That’s how it was for Bruce.  He had a general feel for how the program would unfold and he adapted as he went.  Leaders, too, must adapt as they go. They must make their best guess in the moment, plan ahead and be ready to adapt in the moment.

Listening.  Bruce’s ability to illustrate matched his listening skills.  He wasn’t attending to his own thoughts and judgments; he was listening to me and to the dialog from the audience.  He didn’t impose his interpretation; rather, he reflected what he heard from us. Leaders must also be good listeners.  You have to intently listen to others in order to create a well-balanced picture of a situation or decision. Leaders truly hear what others have to say, and allow diverse perspectives to color their opinion and final decision. Like Bruce’s drawing, the result emerges as a combination of input from the group.

Clear Message. When each segment of the program was complete, Bruce spent a few minutes to refine what he’d captured and enhanced it visually.  This final step aided the viewer to more easily view and appreciate his work. In the many interviews I conducted with leaders, they have a note-worthy ability to simplify a message so that the receiver grasps and relates to the concept.  That’s not so different from Bruce. He had to represent what he heard in a way that others saw themselves in the illustration and they related to it.  A complicated, jumbled message will not resonate, connect or be received well by the observer.  The art of clarity and simplification is a key attribute for a successful leader.  An executive friend once told me, “If I can’t explain it, I can’t sell it.” And so it is for leaders.

On the surface, Bruce’s work looks like art but dig under the surface and you find that he planned, listened and represented a conversation so it would be memorable and relevant to others.  That’s what an artful leader does. Plan ahead, listen to others and skillfully interpret the message. When it’s done well, it’s mesmerizing.

Illustration by  Bruce Van Patter/Crowley & Co.