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How creative leaders can empower teams to find their voice

How creative leaders can empower teams to find their voice

In this new space, we’ve been pushed into in business, amidst the challenges, we are seeing an opportunity to do things differently. A place where we can dare to lead differently and dare our teams to try new things, step forward, and scale new challenges. If you read my last post you’ll know that for me this is encompassed by the idea of Courageous Leadership (catch-up on why I think courage in leadership is more important now than ever before https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/why-its-important-become-courageous-leader-todays-world-joanna-howes/)

I truly believe the creative industry can lead the way on this. Here, I’ll be diving into why you need to empower yourself and your team to find an honest, compassionate, and courageous voice, and most importantly, how you can start doing it even when working virtually.

Courageous leaders have a voice that’s heard – whatever the volume.

Over the last few weeks, a big pain point I have been hearing from creative leaders is how to harness the opportunity for change and move their teams into a space of personal and professional growth. A space that is currently out of their comfort zone, where their teams can find their voice in virtual environments and innovate boldly. Speaking up is one thing, but being able to give a point of view and not just be an echo chamber for the loudest voice in the team, all whilst over Zoom – is tricky to say the least. Tricky, but vital for business success.

Empowered teams with the confidence to speak up will continue to innovate and adapt, no matter what the environment.

Creative companies have legacy behaviours that could make the much-needed change difficult.

There are still many creative agencies with a layered hierarchical team approach. I have consulted for some with 7 layers in one department from junior to senior. Yet, even with all these people, the trust is very low. The senior leaders are still insisting on seeing and signing off all the work before it can leave the agency. This approach has created teams of ‘doers’ and not teams of ‘thinkers’. Resulting in a slow, inefficient culture, which clients are tired of, but that is for another article.

Many agencies have tried a core team approach to empower cross-functional teams, and yet time and time again it falls down. The core teams are told they are now responsible and leading their account. Yet as soon as one core team member feels they are not being heard they jump ship and go straight to their line manager for solutions. Undermining the whole set-up!

This is not empowerment, this is control.
The result of this is each level of leader is learning to ‘tell’ vs ’empower’. So throughout the organisation trust is low and low trust = high cost and low speed – as Stephen Covey said in the Speed of Trust.

The first step to an empowered team

The first step to empowering your team is to encourage decision making. Allow your teams to follow through on their decisions, to be able to learn from the good ones and grow expeditiously from the bad ones. Setbacks are the golden keys to growth.

You need to be a courageous leader who allows people to make a mistake. Yes, fair judgment needs to be made from you as a leader, but it’s also important to be okay that you may not always be right and a new perspective could be a new opportunity.

What your team need from you to feel empowered

Here are the key skills I have been imparting to leadership teams navigating this time. This is relevant whether it’s for you or for your team.

  • Your team needs you to encourage them to find their voice: Ask your team what they think about the brief, creative piece of work or how to sell an idea. Really listen to them and ask what decision they would make, what idea would they choose to sell, and why. Then choose to back them, or if you’re taking it in a different direction, teach them why. Ensure they learn from decisions and you will start to see an empowered team confident to find their voice in decision making.
  • Your team needs to feel trusted: As a courageous leader you must learn to let go, focus on where you can add the most value to the business. Empower and trust your team to run certain projects, let them decide the best approach, and set targets they will meet. This is proven to increase motivation and success of hitting a target. If your team does not fulfill the task, don’t give up and stop trusting them. Review what went wrong and how you can teach and support their growth.
  • Be a team coach: A courageous leader coaches their team to success. They have the patience to ask effective questions that will help the team members find solutions themselves and expand and upgrade their thinking abilities. The precious gift you can give your team is your time. With your time they can reach performance goals they didn’t even realise they were capable of.

The exercise you need to do.

This week, check-in with yourself, review the list above and measure the level of empowerment you believe your team currently has today. And then ask them. Encourage feedback on your leadership. Ask them what they would like to be empowered to decide and think about (using my framework above to get the conversation going). 

I recognise that it could feel like putting yourself in a vulnerable position, especially if you discover the level you believe your team is at is way off what they actually think – but also what a golden discovery to make. Vulnerability with yourself and your team immediately moves you into a place of growth as well as them. This is the path creative leaders need to be on right now to pave the way for success, not only amidst the chaos of now but to lead through the next 10 years. The question is, do you have the courage to start the journey?


Why it’s important to become a courageous leader for today’s world.

Why it’s important to become a courageous leader for today’s world.

Before we hit the crisis I was witnessing how ‘leadership’ was sitting in a comfort zone, one that it had occupied for too long. Too many people seemed to be striving for the job title and pay-check versus truly understanding what leadership really meant. I wasn’t the only coach feeling this, at the end of last year, Simon Sinek discussed the crisis in leadership (I totally agreed).

Then, of course, the pandemic changed everything. The uncertainty that is now a daily experience in life and business is hugely challenging, and that’s unlikely to shift anytime soon. But, this new reality does have the potential to disrupt the way we lead for the better. Right now, leaders are waking up to the critical need for Courageous Leadership.

Over the next month I will be diving into the steps I believe leaders need to take to embody this, and how doing it will be transformative. Not only to their team’s success and, more importantly, to their and their team’s happiness. If you’re ready to take the first step, here it is. Jump right in.

What courage really means (spoiler alert: it’s not all bravery)
Ok, so let’s get back to basics. What does ‘courage’ mean to you?
If you are anything like me, the reality may be far from the notions you’ve fostered over the years. Growing up I believed courage wasn’t a word for me. I wasn’t She-ra or Catwomen, I was shy and quiet. In the media, courage was only ever portrayed as people who took risks, who were bold: this was soooo far from my introverted personality. But turns out that’s not courage, that’s just selling superhero films.

The Latin word for courage is ‘heart’. If only I had known this as a child! It turns out I had always had courage. This isn’t to say bravery and taking risks aren’t bound up in courage, but it is so much more than that. A truly courageous leader leads from within and achieves success with their team: they lead with heart.

What courage is and what it isn’t
The first big step you can take towards courageous leadership is building an awareness of what your current blockers to accessing your inner courage are. Take a few minutes to review this table, thinking particularly about your leadership style with your team in the last month.

How often did you find yourself nodding to the right-hand column? Whatever your response, don’t panic! Even though we can see the merits of the left-hand side, most of our default behaviour (especially under the pressured situations that a pandemic dictates) can push us into the other side.

Instead, I invite you to use this new awareness as an opportunity to grow. Pick one of the ideas from the ‘What courage isn’t’ that most resonated with you. Set an intention this week to choose the courageous alternative and to act upon it within your team. Be accountable to yourself and write it down. Hey, why not take it one step further and write it down in the comments – I’d love to hear from you.

Over the coming weeks, I’ll be tackling ‘how to handle anything that comes your way’, ‘finding your voice’ and ‘what it means to show up 100% and courageously lead’.

‘We desperately need more leaders who are committed to courageous, wholehearted leadership and who are self-aware enough to lead from their hearts, rather than unevolved leaders who lead from hurt and fear’.


How to transform anxiety into a powerful tool

How to transform anxiety into a powerful tool

Anxiety is a conversation that is regularly coming up more and more when I’m coaching leadership teams. As we navigate the uncertainty of this pandemic, it’s more present in my conversations and online than ever before. Of course, anxiety is personal and manifests itself differently in each individual case, but through my experience of living with it, together with my understanding of human behaviour, I have discovered how anxiety can be transformed into a gift for positive progress and change. How rather than crippling you, with time and increasing your self-awareness it can become your companion to keep you focused and in charge of your mind. To ensure you can move forward and create your own impact and success in life and business.

My experience writing my personal story in The Law of Brand Attraction book initially did raise some anxiety. Feelings of vulnerability hit me with the thought of everyone reading my personal and (until now) private experience. However, I have now realised the potential power of stories and how sharing your experience can help so many others transform their lives. So sharing my journey with anxiety felt like the natural next step.  

How Anxiety and I met

I was 19 years old and waking up from a very heavy night out. I was rebelling after suddenly losing my dad to a heart attack 8 months before. He had died the night after we had all been to see “Jesus Christ Superstar” at the theatre. I had sat next to him that night. The next day he was gone and my life had been transformed. So when I woke up feeling like I had a rock in my chest, lips tingling, and couldn’t breathe. I put it down to drinking too much. I then told myself this was a sign that I needed to start taking better care of my body.
That was until it started to become a regular occurrence. I began to need time off work to cope with it, and started to fear going out in case it came upon me suddenly. It was only when I went to see a Homeopath that I finally had the label for the intense experiences taking over my body: anxiety. Through talking and taking natural tablets I was able to gain more control, however, these only ever kept it at bay for the short-term, this new “friend” of mine was here to stay.???????

“How can you be a leader with anxiety?”

For the next 15 years, I became accustomed to anxiety being a feature of my life. Some days were good, some were terrible. I became a professional at noticing all the clues for when an anxiety attack was coming: how to slow down, breathe and find someone I trusted to sit with me (not to speak) while I rode it out.
The anxiety attacks were all the proof my mind needed to tell me that I wasn’t good enough and that I couldn’t cope. It would say to me, “How can you be a leader with anxiety?”. Unsurprisingly during these years, my confidence took a bashing. I was driven by my mission to make my dad proud, however, the crippling feelings I was regularly processing seemed like obstacles to achieving success. ???????

Taking charge of anxiety

After a bad experience in a new job in Melbourne, I unlocked a new path in my life by discovering leadership coaching. Through this, I found a way I could reach out and create a positive impact in people’s lives. I became obsessed with expanding my learning about human behaviour. It was then that I had my lightbulb moment. I learned that anxiety is the worry of a perceived threat of something in the future. By knowing that I could control my thoughts and feelings about the future, I realised I could be in charge of my anxiety.   

I also discovered that having some anxiety and stress was good as it is all part of your personal growth. The metaphor I frequently revisit with leaders I am coaching is of a temperature dial. Our comfort zone is set at a certain temperature. When we want to expand our comfort zone and grow, we need to turn the dial up higher. This can activate stress and anxiety as we are needing to change in an area that brings uncertainty, but this is just a part of the process. Suddenly anxiety for me became closely aligned with growth, one of my strongest values. Not only did I know that I could work through the feelings I was having, but that it was a sign that I was reaching out beyond my comfort zone.

A checking in method for coping with anxiety

From what I now understand about human behaviour, together with my own experience of anxiety, I created a method for the leaders that I work with. It won’t take your anxiety away, but it will shift your thinking and give you the ability to start taking control of any overwhelming feelings. So when you next feel anxiety creeping in, try following this technique:

When the first feeling of anxiety hits, take a moment and be grateful that your body is giving you a nudge to check in with yourself
Ask yourself the following questions to help shift your perspective: 
“What am I thinking?”
“What am I making these thoughts mean?”
“How is this making me feel?” 
Notice if the feelings of anxiety have appeared because you’re learning something new or are about to try a new experience. If so, recognise this as good anxiety as it means you’re turning the dial-up and allowing space for you to grow. Or notice if this is a nudge to put some self-care in place, to ask for support, and give yourself some time out.

Being able to use anxiety as a way to check-in and ensure you’re looking after yourself can be truly transformative. For me it has meant I no longer increase the panic with my thoughts, nor do I feel the need to hideaway. It might not be the silver bullet we’re all looking for at the moment, but it is a way to bring an element of control into your life at a time when, arguably, we need it the most. 
To discover more methods and strategies, you can purchase your copy of The Law of Attraction Book at www.thelawofbrandattraction.com You’ll also receive bonus content and get to hang out with me and the other amazing authors. 


How I discovered the power of telling my story and why you should do it too.

How I discovered the power of telling my story and why you should do it too.

The story that led me to take a huge career change and leap of faith when launching a brand-new business in 2018, is what drives me on during the testing times that all entrepreneurs inevitably face. But up until a few weeks ago, I had held this story close. Mainly because, its intensely personal, but also, to be completely honest I couldn’t see the value that would be gleaned from sharing it. A quick succession of events turned this on its head and since then I have learned a vast amount about the power of storytelling and how this is vital for any small business – now more than ever before.

A leap of faith

It all started 15 days ago after seeing a post on Facebook in The Brand Builders Club. It invited me to be part of an extraordinary project by writing a chapter in a book that would help entrepreneurs and small business owners who are in pain right now and need hope. Whether they are just starting a business and are trying to survive or are trying to keep their existing business alive.

If I’ve learned anything from the last few years it has been to say yes and work out how. The concept behind the book also hugely resonated. I know first-hand how difficult it is to get a business off the ground, let alone in the environment we are currently in. I put myself forward and replied yes. Then the enormity of writing my chapter in seven days suddenly became a reality.

Get out of your head

So there I was, on day one, staring in front of my computer looking at this beautiful blank piece of paper. The logical side of my brain (my comfort zone) went into action and started typing all the amazing learning I’ve grasped that have helped me to run a successful business. Words filled the page faster than I could have expected, and the pressure of the word count was diminishing.

To be honest, I was feeling pretty proud. Not only had I completed the majority of my chapter on the first day, but the possibility of getting the task completed and out in such a short timeframe seemed achievable. Yet, the voice in my head (the one I take time to listen to) was telling me that something wasn’t right. I spoke to my husband, who is my continual and much appreciated sounding board, and he agreed. We returned to why I wanted to be involved in the book in the first place, and why I believed I had something worth saying. Suddenly it was glaringly obvious what was missing. The dots were there, but without the story that wove them all together, they lacked meaning, they lacked power. I knew that I needed to write from my heart. I knew it was time to tell my story, no matter how painful it would be to revisit the day that changed my life.

Vulnerability is your greatest weapon

I took a deep breath, I hit CTRL ALT DEL and on day five I began again.

As I saw my life events begin to fill the page the pain started to rise. My words gave colour to the day that had changed my life. Seeing my story written down for the first time ever brought a world of emotions and feelings. I was used to being vulnerable with my clients I work with, but never by delving into my own personal anecdotes.

Its hardly a new idea that storytelling has the power to truly connect us together, to inspire and nudge us to move into the limitless possibilities of our imaginations. No matter how great the tips and ideas I was sharing were, without my story they seemed detached and unrelatable. Not only did the story suddenly connect the dots on the page, it also shifted something in me. Despite it being the reason that underpinned why I became an entrepreneur in the first place, I had hoarded it away up until now. But the sudden realisation that it could help so many people gave me a feeling of profound completeness.???????

One drop creates a ripple effect

Knowing that it is now going to be read by thousands of people does, of course, feel strange. Yet I know, deep in my heart, that it was the time to tell it. My mentor Sammy Blindell, who started the project, says One drop creates a ripple effect, and shes right. If my story changes one persons life, I know they will go on to help so many others. Incredibly, its looking like the impact will go much further than that as the book is already Number one international best-seller.

Sharing your life stories and experiences can be an exposing and sometimes painful process. Yet the ‘Why’ that drives entrepreneurs and small businesses is almost always shouting louder than any other part of the business. It is this that powers you through the long hours, or the times when you feel like you’re hitting your head against the wall. It is this that keeps you moving towards success. If anything, while we navigate these uncertain times, people want to lean into their tribe and feel a connection. There was never a better time to harness the power of storytelling to make people stop and listen.

I’m a huge fan of John Maxwell and it’s true what he says: there’s a gift in everything. You can stare at problems or hard experiences. Or you can look inside them and see the seed of a gift that’s there. I can now see the gift in my story, what it has given to me, and what it can do now to help others.

The Law of Brand Attraction book was launched on May 10th and has already positively impacted many who have read the book and all the proceeds are going to support Clear Sky Children’s Charity.