Episode: 496 |
Todd Cherches:
Visual Leadership:


Todd Cherches

Visual Leadership

Show Notes

Todd Cherches is a visionary leader with experience as a consultant, trainer, executive coach, TEDx speaker, keynote speaker, panelist, professor, author, blogger, and thought leader in the field of leadership and visual thinking. In this episode he talks about his patented VisuaLeadership® approach. You can learn more about Todd and his work at www.toddcherches.com or www.bigbluegumball.com.

Key points include:

  • 06:18: How to host a creative meeting to drive growth
  • 11:43 Exercises in visual leadership
  • 24:07: The origins of visual leadership


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496.Todd Cherches


Todd Cherches, Will Bachman


Will Bachman  00:02

Hello, and welcome to Unleashed the show that explores how to thrive as an independent professional. I’m your host will Bachman. And I’m excited to be here today with Todd churches, who is the author of visual leadership. He’s also given a TED talk on the topic. Todd, welcome to the show. Well, thanks so much great being with you. So talk to me, how do you define the term visual leadership?


Todd Cherches  00:25

Visual leadership is the application of visual thinking to the practice of leadership. And visual thinking is basically about thinking in pictures. So so often in the business world, we think in terms of words and numbers by trying to get people to focus on the visual side of things and to see things through a different lens. Beautiful. Give me a couple of examples of that. And this is, people are gonna have to imagine this listeners across because we are on the audio, but so paint a picture for our minds. I love that. Yeah, definitely. Yes, sometimes we take visual information into our eyes, but we could also take it into our ears, as we’re doing right now with an audio podcast. So we could use visual thinking in terms of using imagery, but also using visual language. So when we tell stories, we’re painting a picture with words, we’re almost creating a mental movie, in the mind of someone else. And when we use metaphors, metaphors and analogies, we’re helping people to see things in a different perspective by comparing something they’re familiar with to something that they may be unfamiliar with. So if you say, if you’re a salesperson, and you say, this is kind of like that you’re using an analogy, or if you’re saying, if you can use a baseball analogy, you could use a nature analogy, which might be more universal to someone who maybe doesn’t know anything about baseball. So you could use words like, I’m gonna plant the seed for this idea, we’re gonna branch out in new directions, we’re gonna get to the root of the problem, we’re gonna see which ideas bear fruit, and the sky’s the limit. So I just use like five different visual metaphors all relating to, to nature, but the other person will know what we’re talking about, or very often creates a picture in the person’s mind. He talks about branching out in new directions, you can almost picture a mind map and writing it down and say, Alright, we’re in this side, we’re in this business, but what other areas can we branch out into? Right? So we use metaphors so often that we don’t even realize it. But with visual thinking of visual leadership, we can be more aware and more strategic and intentional in how we use visuals to support our communications. Okay, so, so you’re using your kind of metaphors would be one example of visual leadership? What are some other examples? I’m imagining that, you know, one might be when you’re problem solving with your team or on the whiteboard with your team trying to, you know, put something into some sort of schematic or drawing a picture, even if you’re, you know, if you even if your drawing skills aren’t, you know, Pablo Picasso quality just trying to, you know, use stick figures and so forth. But But talk to me about beyond just metaphors, what would some other applications be a visual leadership? Sure, well, you just use the word imagine if you think about the word imagine the root word is image, right? So it’s about we’re young, we’re using visual language even when we don’t realize it. So yeah, I break it down into four categories, like four categories are category one is the use of visual imagery. So that can be pictures that can be PowerPoint slides, that can be props. It can be any picture, or visual image, including drawing. So just as you were talking about, even if you suffer from ICD, which is I can draw syndrome. If you could draw a stick figure, if you could draw a line, a circle, a square or a triangle, if you could play Pictionary with your friends, you’re qualified to get up with a whiteboard or a flip chart and sketch something out. So I always say that you don’t need to be a graphic recorder, you don’t have to be an artist, in order to represent something visually. It’s just about getting out of your head and onto some medium like paper or a whiteboard, so that other people can see what you’re saying. So that’s category one, using visual imagery pictures. Category Two is using mental models and frameworks. And this could be a company’s organizational chart. It could be a map, it could be a process diagram, it could be posted notes that you rearrange on the wall. So we can do all of us all these different techniques, again, to represent ideas in a visual way. And then category three is using metaphor, the analogy we were just talking about, and then storytelling, with bonus points for humor, if and when appropriate. Now he’s talking about when people ask why visuals, I talked about this in my TED talk on the power of visual thinking. I break it down into three categories attention, and they brought attention comprehension and retention. When you use visual imagery or visual language, it captures people’s attention, it gets them to focus. It helps to create understanding because people say okay, now I get what you’re saying. And it helps people to remember because as humans, we’re just wired visually. So there’s more science behind it. But those are the key words to keep in mind. How am I going to get someone to focus get them to understand and get them to remember


Will Bachman  05:02

my message. So let’s make it a practical example. Let’s say you have a head of a business unit. And they can you decide what the business unit sells, they can sell software to, you know, fast food restaurants or they can sell, you know, used tires, or they can sell, you know, what you pick what they what they sell, and this general manager has read your book, and they’re trying to problem solve with their team of how do we drive growth in 2023? So what would some ways that they could incorporate and they’re at the whiteboard, right? So they got the team together, whoever you want at the table, had a product ahead of sales, head of operations, they’re trying to problem solve, okay, how do we, how do we drive growth? What would they let me give you this example, I was just teaching in my NYU leadership class, I teach leadership in the HR master’s program at NYU, and I teach leadership for Broadway stage managers in the MFA theater program at Columbia. So in my NYU class, the other night, I use the example let’s say you are selling consulting services, and you’re meeting with someone who runs a medical office or a


Todd Cherches  06:18

health care company, right, you may use their language, and you can say something like, we are going to help you diagnose the problems and help you to prescribe solutions that will cure some of the ELLs that owl your business, right, just using that example, you’re using medical terminology that they will understand. And when you’re speaking this way, the other person’s thinking, oh, this person gets us the speaking our language, you know. So that’s just one extreme example. But if you’re using the terminology and language of your audience, or your listener, you’re going to meet them not where you live, but where they live. So it’s kind of a, it’s not manipulative, it’s needs to be done, done in a very genuine, sincere way. But like, if I’m talking to someone who’s here in New York, I and I use a baseball analogy, and I talked about the Yankees, it’s gonna resonate with them. But if I’m meeting with a client in Boston, I’m not going to give a Yankees analogy. I may use the Boston Red Sox example. Or I may talk to someone in Europe, and I’ll use a soccer football analogy, right? So you again want to speak the language of your stakeholders being aware of their all the variables, right? In the spirit of diversity, inclusion, equity and belonging, you want to consider all of the, you know, who is this person I’m talking to? And what’s gonna resonate with them. And one real life example, I wrote an article for Ink Magazine called Can you draw what your company does? And I do this exercise with my clients, where they have to get up to the whiteboard and visually illustrate even if they can’t draw that, well, they have to draw a picture of how would you explain to someone what your company does, and how it’s different from the competent competition. And this guy, this was a pharmaceutical sales team. And this guy drew a picture of a whale eating up these goldfish, and he said, We’re going to eat up our competition, and the VP of the department. So I love the analogy in a way, but it’s not 100% accurate, because it’s not like we’re whales and our competition, they’re goldfish, because some of them are even bigger than us. And he thought about it for a second, he said, it’s more like we’re a dolphin. And they’re sharks, because they just want to bite off the business and swim away leaving leaving their clients believing, we’re more like dolphins because we are warm and friendly and cuddly. And we communicate well, and we’re empathetic. So that whale versus goldfish analogy turned into a dolphin versus shark analogy. And the dolphin became their mascot, that’s often became a metaphor that represents who we are and how we’re going to live our core values to take care of our customers. So that’s one example of how by changing the picture, we can change the reality and our behaviors, how are we going to interact with our customers? Does that makes sense?


Will Bachman  08:55

Yeah, it does. That’s kind of a very metaphorical illustration of kind of the business situation. I can imagine, you know, business professionals and leaders also being a little bit more literal minded as well, if asked to do that, like okay, you know, we have drawing the manufacturing plant, we have this manufacturing plant, and then driving some like cars, and these are our salespeople going to visit the clients, you know, and these are our three segments. We have small mom and pop businesses, we have big fortune 500. And then we have, you know, ecommerce or something and like little icons for those, those different things to make, you know, to make it present.


Todd Cherches  09:39

Yeah, I was working with a group of CEOs who had known each other for years, and one guy mapped out his entire supply chain from from beginning to end where he gets his materials from where they’re constructive to, you know, end user. And the guy sitting next to me says, you know, I’ve known you for 15 years. I kind of knew what you did, but until you drew it out for me I didn’t really understand the steps in the process. And, you know, to me it went from a to b, but you drew it from A to Z you mapped out like every step. So now I can see when you’re talking about these are some of the roadblocks I was talking about the r&r resources are roadblocks. And he used that language to say, now I could see why certain resources you’re lacking or causing a problem. And now I can see some of the roadblocks was standing in your way. And roadblock is a metaphor, by the way. But again, he mapped out with post its and connecting dots connecting lines, the process from start to finish. So that’s a great example of how you can by drawing and illustrating the pieces of the puzzle. And you could do a process map, you could do a mind map, you could do a storyboard. There’s all kinds of ways of doing it, you can draw out four box matrix, right? And say, like a SWOT analysis is a good example of using visual imagery. It could be a pyramid, it could be a ladder, but you’re basically trying to come up with some way, we always talk about thinking outside the box, but you can’t think outside the box until you think inside the box and think about how are we going to frame or structure, what we do, how we do it, and all the pieces of the puzzle to use another metaphor. And then we can say, what pieces are we missing? Or maybe what we will change the puzzle box all together. So those are just some real practical ways. So right, it could be metaphorical, it could be fun and creative. Or it could be something as linear, as let’s just map out the steps of our process and see if we’re missing something. Or if we could do something better, faster or cheaper.


Will Bachman  11:29

I love the example or sort of the exercise of draw what your business does. What are some other exercises that you incorporate in your teaching when you’re attempting to teach visual leadership?


Todd Cherches  11:43

Yeah, this with, with my class, a couple of weeks ago, actually did a workshop on visual leadership as a webinar, I said, draw a leader, take you have two minutes draw a picture of a leader, what does a leader look like to you? And what ended up happening is most people do a middle aged white male in a business suit, that kind of look, that was their interpretation of like Don Draper from Mad Men, right? They would draw a leader who had big ears, not literally but representative listening or a big watch that represented time management or the leader would be taller than his his followers. And I’m saying his for a reason. If 80% of the people draw a middle aged white male, when they think of leadership, what’s the impact of that, in terms of diversity, inclusion, belonging and equity, when you’re hiring, when you’re promoting in terms of who you get, who gets listened to, right, I was talking about three V’s visibility, voice and value, you want to be seen, you want to be heard, and you want to be making a contribution. But if you’re an image of a leader, as a middle aged white male, then who are you passing over for promotion, who you not listening to, who you not giving a chance to? And what’s interesting is when female executives do this, they kick themselves afterwards, because there’s so few of them have said, you know, here I am talking about women’s empowerment and developing, you know, females and leadership. And yet, I have two minutes to draw leader and look what I do a middle aged white male. So in order to change the reality, we need to change the picture in our mind of what leadership looks like. So that’s another example of how I use drawing to hammer home a point of how the picture in our head influences not only what we see, but what we don’t see.


Will Bachman  13:20

What would some other exercises be if someone at home here wants to wants to try some of these things? So one might be okay, now, we’re going to given away the secret and this one a little bit, but drawing a leader, but drawing what your own business does, what are what are some other exercises that you that you encourage people to try?


Todd Cherches  13:39

Well, you know, among money, you know, what is yeah, there’s all kinds of models out there, like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, or so sometimes, or, you know, Simon cynics golden circle, right, start with why. And that goes, what, why, what and how. So what I sometimes what people do is take a model that exists that you’re familiar with, and if you either fix it, change it or improve it, what would you add? You know, what’s missing? What’s your interpretation? So I have people take an existing model, like, you know, it’s Maslow’s still, current and is it’s so relevant, or my you add something to write or create your own models. So that’s something I do too, is the same regarding models that George Box, ironically, his name is box, a British statistician said that all models are wrong, but some are useful. So that reminds us that models are not reality, they are a visual representation of reality. And it may help us solve a problem or see something more clearly. But they’re always there’s always flaws in it. So that’s an exercise I would do with people is have them can you map out your business? What would be you know, here’s an example I always every story has who, what, when, where, why, and how. So have people say Alright, who’s involved in your business? What business are you in? What do you produce? What products or services are you selling? Where and when will you know? Where’s your market? When do you do this? Is it seasonal time of day? etc? What do you do your best business? The why is think about the why behind all your answers to all of these questions like, What are the reasons? And then how is like how can we do something differently or better based on this analysis. So these are just a few frameworks or how people make a list. My ABC decision making tool is, let’s say you have three options to choose from three vendors, or three bottles of wine or three pieces of technology, lift them out, describe them, list the pros and cons of each one, pick which one is your best solution, explain your rationale, and then show it to someone else and see what they come up with. So based on what you know, don’t reveal your answer or your choice yet, but let someone do their own ABC analysis. And then you can say, I agree with this, or I don’t, but here’s why. But if you take that to your boss, or if you take that to a client, you can help them walk through a problem solving process in a visual way in a structured linear kind of way. But you’ve quote, done your homework, if you you know, in math class, you might have gotten the right answer, but the teacher won’t do the show your work, you want to see how you got to that solution, because maybe there’s a better solution that maybe there’s something that you missed. So again, when you get it out of your head and onto a piece of paper into any format, then you’re able to see it and step back from it and see the big picture. And then see, yeah, sometimes we need a microscope, sometimes we need a telescope. And sometimes we need a kaleidoscope. So that’s a visual metaphor, right. So sometimes we want to get down into the details. Sometimes we want to look long and out into the future, and sometimes want to look through that Kaleidoscope and and you know, the spirit of innovation and creativity and see what else is possible.


Will Bachman  16:47

Now, we haven’t talked so far about visual management, in terms of which can have a few different meanings. One could be looking at metrics and making them visible in the workplace. So you might have a call center with some real time numbers flashing on the screen of what’s the current wait time how many people on hold some kind of numbers like that, like a dashboard, like a dashboard, but you know, could be real time, you know, for everyone to see on a big monitor, or in a factory where you might walk around and have green lights indicating if a given production line is running smoothly or red lights if it’s stopped or yellow lights, if it’s running slow, or, or some sort of Kanban management system for this needs to be refilled etc. So some visual cues in the workplace. And I’ve seen some of that as well in more white collar environments, where you might have in a sales floor, a kind of a thermometer of how we’re doing on sales for the month. Talk to me a bit about kind of visual cues in the workplace, your thinking around that. So this is not the problem solving piece up front. But this is managing the business on a day to day basis and giving people a sense of, you know, how are we doing right now?


Todd Cherches  18:06

Yeah, I love that, you know, the example you just gave using red light, yellow light, green light, because culturally it’s familiar, right? That’s a traffic signal. We all have seen it. We know what that means. So one of the exercises I do with my coaching clients is what I call a stop, start continue. And it’s basically one of the behaviors that either you or the team or the organization needs, what yellow light, what’s working, what should we continue doing? So yellow is keep going red light? Is there anything that we’re doing that is unproductive or counterproductive that we need to stop doing in green light? Is there anything that we need to either start doing in place of that, or just start doing in general, something that’s been on our list that we haven’t gotten to yet. So just using stop, start continue. And I usually add the magic one to that if we can wave a magic wand and magically change one thing about our business overnight? What would it be? You know, unfortunately, there is no magic wand. But in lieu of that, what can we do instead? What are some steps that we could take in that direction, but just framing something and using that red light yellow green light, you’re taking a cultural color coded construct that we’re familiar with, but you’re applying it again to an assembly line or to a white collar type of job, where you can think through problems in that way. And when you use visuals, and when you use color coding, it’s kind of a shorthand, right? You just see it and then you can use you know, red, yellow, green markers to mark things off and say let’s group things together. So that’s just that’s, that’s one of the chapters of my book is, is called stop, start continue in the magic one. So again, there’s a lot of examples in my book of models, metaphors and stories that we could use to solve these business problems that like, for example, head, heart, hands and feet, right? We have is like logically, what’s my brain telling me heart? What is my heart telling me in terms of passion, you can even have gut what’s my gut gut telling me hands is about joining hands and cooperation and teamwork and feet is about taking the first Step and get getting moving, right. So just if you get the picture, a stick figure with a big head, and then the body, you know, head, heart, hands and feet is to make sure that you’re taking a holistic view of the situation, not just focusing on, you know, the numbers may say one thing, but your heart and your gut may be telling you something else. So you need to pay attention to that, but you just going based on the numbers, you know, one of the things that I talked about in the book is, numbers are meaningless outside of their context, and outside of the story they’re telling, right? So so often we may bore people to death with statistics and data, as opposed to using a graph or a visual or a chart or, you know, that will explain what the numbers mean. And then what’s the story? It’s telling us? And then the so what is what do we do with this information? Right, so that’s a big thing. A lot of times presenters and or, you know, salespeople, you know, bore people to death with numbers instead of talking about whether these numbers actually mean, and how can they help us?


Will Bachman  20:58

Todd, tell us a bit about your portfolio of activities. So you already mentioned that you’re teaching at a couple universities, and you are doing some coaching, like just give us an overview of your range of activities?


Todd Cherches  21:13

Sure. Well, my company is called Big blue gumball, and it’s a metaphor that represents the world, the Earth or the globe, or like, it’s like a big blue gumball, however you want to take it. And we do management, training, leadership, development, team building and executive coaching. So we only do anything related to people skills and people, the human side of business, so we don’t get into finance or strategy or sales and negotiation. We focus solely on the human element of how do you communicate better? How do you motivate people? How do you manage and lead more effectively, so that’s my company. And I work with clients, from startups to large companies, as long as I’m working with their people to help them improve. That’s what my focus is on my teaching side of things, I teach leadership at NYU and Columbia in two different graduate programs. So I teach people how to use my visual leadership processes to manage a lead more effectively. I’m a member of Marshall Goldsmith, mg 100 coaches, which is a community of some of the top coaches in the world. And for those who don’t know, Marshall Goldsmith, he is the number one executive coach in the world. And he’s the author of my favorite leadership book, or I should say, my second favorite, since I wrote mine, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, it’s one of the workplace habits you need to break. So if you haven’t read, that is definitely a must read for any business person. Because a lot of times, as Marshall says, we’re successful, not always because of how we are, but in spite of how we are. So we may be doing these 20 fatal flaws that if we got rid of some of them, we did the more effective and more successful. So that’s what I do. So it’s management, leadership, training, and executive coaching. It’s teaching it to universities and guest lecturing and others. I speak on a lot of panels do a lot of podcast interviews. And I just wrote my first article for The New York Times that got published a couple of weeks ago on how I use the New York Times in my class. And I’ve also written a few articles for a magazine.


Will Bachman  22:58

That’s amazing. And for the management training that your firm delivers to everything from startups to big corporations, do you have sort of employees or set of subcontractors or other coaches that you’ll pull in and work with you on those? Are those primarily led by yourself? Or


Todd Cherches  23:18

Yes, primarily myself, I do have a business partner for projects that require more than one person. And then I have associates who are bringing in if you need more than that, but usually what people are buying is me and my methodologies and my visual leadership type of approach. So it’s traditional management, training and leadership development, only, you know, that you would get from Harvard Business School or elsewhere. But with this visual approach as the lens through which I, you know, we see everything. So it’s a new fresh way of incorporating visuals into what we do. But yeah, my company works with large and small off sites, remote training, etc.


Will Bachman  23:57

So how did you get on to this idea of focusing on the visual aspects of leadership? What was the origin of that?


Todd Cherches  24:07

Yeah, so my origin story, I touched on a little bit of my TED talk on the power of visual thinking. Basically, I was an English literature major as an undergrad. So I was big on my concentration was in Shakespeare and poetry. So I was already oriented towards storytelling, and the use of character, and metaphor and the fact that stories have beginnings, middles and ends, and we are all the hero of our own life story. So that was ingrained in me from a very young age. And I grew up watching Superman and Batman. So I always loved the superheroes thing. So in a way, becoming an executive coach was being in some ways, instead of like Superman, instead of having x ray vision, I have visual thinking as my superpower. And like Batman, I don’t have a bat utility belt, but I do have my coaching utility belt of tools, tips and techniques. So in a way, I am making the world better and saving people through through visual leadership. So but my background My name is imaginably in English literature, and then I worked in the entertainment industry. For the first 10 years of my career, I worked in advertising here in New York. And I moved out to LA and I worked for a number of entertainment companies, including Disney and CBS, developing TV shows, then I became a project manager in the theme park business, they managed a number of projects, including one in China. And when I was in China, I got there and no one spoke any English. And we were installing these robotic animal figures for a cultural theme park. And I realized that I couldn’t communicate with words maybe excuse me Nikkei with pictures. So I started sketching out like, we need a hammer, or we need 10 nails, or we need whatever. And I do, I’ve started to point pictures and pointing, I was able to communicate non verbally to people who didn’t speak English. And we were able to get this done. And that was my kind of my origin story, my life all moments of, hey, if you can use visual imagery to communicate, it’s more effective than just words alone. I later found out that the scientific principle called the picture superiority effect, and dual coding theory that when you use words and pictures in combination, it’s more effective than either on their own. So I didn’t, even though I did this intuitively, I didn’t realize it was a thing until many years later. But that’s the origin of how I got into using visuals coming out of the entertainment and media industry and applying what I did there, to the practice of executive coaching and leadership development and management training. So that’s the the orange origin story of how my worlds worlds collided. And now it’s the focus and center of everything that I do.


Will Bachman  26:33

Talk to me a bit about your work with in the stage with Broadway and stage man stage. Professionals, how does your training apply there and tell me about some of your work in that space?


Todd Cherches  26:46

Sure. That’d be masterful fine arts theater program at Columbia, there are people who are getting their degrees and master’s degrees in stage management, which is basically the people who control the show, they control the lights, and all the electronics and all that kind of stuff. And being here in New York, many of the students who go through this program also work on Broadway shows. So they will do an internship at a play during the day or during the night during the evening. And then they’re getting their degree in this. So as a stage manager, you need to get things done through and with other people. So it’s not just the technology side of things, and the mechanical and the equipment side of things, you need the people skills, you need to work with directors and other crew and staff and administrators and directors and producers and all kinds of egos. And it’s not enough to just have the functional and technical skills, you need the people skills. So that’s what people learning. For me. It’s how to communicate more effectively how to influence how to manage and lead, even without authority. Even if you don’t have people reporting to you, you still need to get things done through with other people. And when they train them, these visual techniques, they’re able to use visual language and visual imagery to communicate more effectively to get people on their side and to influence. So that’s that’s the connection that


Will Bachman  28:06

antastic Well, Todd, I want to thank you for being on the show. I want to provide listeners with ways to find out more about you. So we will include in the show notes, a link to your TED talk and to your book. And what other links should we provide or ways for people to follow up and find out what you have going on?


Todd Cherches  28:27

Sure. The best way I have two websites one is my name, Todd churches.com. That’s focuses on my public speaking in my book, my company, big blue gumball app, that website, blue gumball.com. Also, feel free to link in with me, I spent a lot of time on LinkedIn. So just say you heard me on wills show and you want to connect with me. I’m happy to LinkedIn because I always post things on what I’m doing on lead additional leadership, etc. And yeah, my book visual leadership is available on Amazon.


Will Bachman  28:51

Fantastic, Todd, thank you for joining today. My pleasure.


Todd Cherches  28:55

Well, thank you for having me.

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