Six pieces of our own advice we're taking this year


Visibility Co

Happy New Year! We hope 2023 is feeling easeful for you so far.

When we listened to NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s emotional resignation speech recently, we rejoiced - even though, like many, we’re very sad to see her go.

Here was a woman at the top of her game, five years into by many measures a successful tenure as prime minister. Though the polls ahead of this year’s election look tricky, by all rights Ardern could have kept going. Except that she couldn’t - because, by her own admission, she didn’t have enough fuel in the tank to keep going.

How refreshing to hear a senior leader in a public role admit to the demands of leadership - though we wish such roles could be reimagined so as to ask less of the people in them. Of course, Ardern will have her pick of global roles when she’s ready to reemerge… but still. This role-modelling validates the experiences of leaders who balance deep potential and a desire to make a difference while struggling to do that sustainably.

Ardern’s timing was notable for the team at Visibility Co, as we, too, are making important changes this year. Six years in, with three years of leading the business through a pandemic while parenting small children and navigating major life changes - sudden bereavement and divorce, plus serious family illness - we (Jules and Sare), as co-founders, have hit a point where we have to lead differently: for ourselves, for our families, for those we advise, and for the systems we choose to maintain or disrupt in the process.

It was a poignant - and painfully ironic - realisation for us, given we spend our days helping individual clients and organisations to bring vision to life around leadership, visibility, influence and impact - always emphasising, and supporting, wellbeing as a non-negotiable for the leaders and teams we advise.

So when burnout signals came knocking on our own doors halfway through last year, we grimaced and knew we had to eat a big helping of our own cooking.

Over six months, we did what we teach others to do: took the time to be visible to ourselves, reflecting on what’s important to us as individuals and collectively, in order to know what’s best for the team and business.

Here are the six ways we’re taking our own advice this year:

1. Our co-founders and principals, Jules and Sare, will move to part-time.

When we started the business, a friend jokingly said, “the best thing about running your own business is that you can choose which 14 hours of the day you work.” Though we laughed then, there are times, often, when this has been the case. As women in our forties looking ahead to menopause and wanting to set our health up for the longer-term; as our children head into and beyond double-digits; and as our parents age, we knew this wasn’t sustainable or what we wanted.

This way of working goes against our belief that current work norms are a hangover of the industrial and patriarchal eras; that you should give your best to work and productivity and squeeze everything else in around it. No more overworking and overcommitting for us. It’s motivating to approach going part-time as role-modelling or experimenting with what else is possible (notwithstanding our privilege in making this choice), and being counter-cultural to question current expectations and systems. We want space, rest, wellbeing and presence for our families and friends to be normal, not radical. How will we do this? Read on…

2. Be more strategic about what we commit to.

We are passionate about strategy, and it’s one of our superpowers - co-creating strategies for individuals’ impact, visibility and leadership, or organisational communications or social impact strategies. And yet, like all excitable humans, we’ve said yes to projects because we wanted to help - not because they were strategically aligned, or sometimes sustainable, for us.

This year, instead of turning ourselves inside out to meet others’ timeframes, we’re overlaying the time we can commit to work with the work we want to do - across both purpose and profit - and establishing clearer boundaries, knowing this will enable more presence and even better outcomes for the work we do choose to focus on. That might mean some clients have to wait to work with us. It’s also meant that we’ve withdrawn from some projects we care about deeply - which was hard.

We know that while boundaries create shifts that can feel hard on both sides, they ultimately breed clarity, safety and respect - and importantly we’ll be more authentic and empathetic  when we guide other senior leaders through this.

3. Work in our ZOGs more of the time.

During our deliberations, we reflected on the work that’s truly in our zone of genius (or ZOG) as leaders: which bring joy, flow, unique contribution and greatest impact. We love being second brain to purposeful leaders; facilitating; conceptualising strategy and impact pathways; mentoring leaders who are navigating complex change; designing and delivering programs and speaking at events - not managing great amounts of operational detail or huge teams.

So we’re excited to say we’ve welcomed an extraordinary general manager, Ashlee Riordan, to our team, who believes in what we do, complements our skillsets and brings enormous, inspiring experience - and will help us work in our ZOG more of the time. You will hear more from Ash soon, but we can’t overestimate how incredible it feels to be supported in this way (and how much you are all going to love her!).

4. Only work with the ideal client.

In the past, we’ve been inclined to support everyone who wants to make a difference. Over time, we’ve become laser-focused on who our ideal client is - and are going to be even more scrupulous this year, knowing it leads to bigger impact.

We have the confidence to know that our methodology works, and that it works best for the ideal client: self-aware, open, kind and courageous leaders with huge potential who can run with new ideas and approaches that will impact the issues we are all most passionate about helping to solve. At the end of the day, we want to be useful. We know that by referring non-ideal clients to others in our network, we make more space to support those we will be most helpful to. It’s also more fun for everyone. And there are more than enough problems to solve and great people to match them with. ;-)

5. Cultivate our passions outside of work.

Part of what brought Visibility Co into being was our diverse backgrounds and skill-sets - from arts management and international journalism to leadership development and communications advisory for Jules. For Sare, from strategic communications and corporate and government advisory to digital transformation, leadership visibility and change management. We’re both curious and committed to our respective personal and professional development, but in giving so much of ourselves to Visibility Co, we’ve been less able to pursue other passions - some which might feed our work, and some which might feed our souls.

For Jules, this is completing a novel, deepening her spiritual and wellbeing practice and starting further study in social impact. For Sare, this is putting into practice her deep training in yoga, meditation, energetics and holistic health and activating her recent certification as a health coach, while continuing her study in Ayurveda. We’d both also like to travel with and support our families. By allowing space to pursue our individual passions we’ll be happier, healthier and bring new ideas, opportunities and energy for the business and to our relationship as partners - which, being much like a marriage, requires space as much as connected time together.  

6. Prioritising collaboration with our Collective.

One of our insights last year was that we didn’t want to build an empire: to end up with a huge team in a full-service practice. Instead, we plan to more fully bring into being the “Co” in Visibility Co - which has always stood for Collective, rather than company.

We’re already seeing the benefits of this approach, convening an extraordinary squad of best-in-class collaborators who run their own successful enterprises but love working with us and our clients. For example, on our large high-impact consulting projects we have an exceptional team of writers, strategists, design-thinking and communications experts, facilitators, coaches and leadership development specialists to draw on. To be able to bring them in on projects is exciting and rewarding as we all work in our ZOGs to common cause. We look forward to introducing you to our Collective this year.

We hope that by articulating the six most important bits of our own advice we need to take - and sharing them publicly - we can be accountable for even better work, with special clients, and have the impact we know we can have together. We also hope that it prompts you to think about what’s most important - and possible - for you this year.

So now, over to you. What are you seeking to do differently in 2023? What from our list lights you up?

About Visibility Co.

Working at the intersection of leadership, strategy and visibility, we seek to be strategic provocateurs and catalysts of systemic change, supporting you to unleash the potential within so you can create a better world from wherever you are.

While we’re not big on labels, we’re often referred to as social impact and communications strategists, or strategic leadership advisors, or visibility experts.

Fancy words for a business, led by Julia May and Sarah Anderson, that brings together purposeful leadership, strategy and communications in truly integrative and innovative ways.

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