Why we rebranded: the drive to tell the truth about who we are
This all started with the simplest, and yet most complex of questions: “What do you do?”
Sarah and I would simultaneously fill with dread, take a deep breath and hope the other one would speak first, as we started out in building Visibility Co. What do we do? Strategy development. Leadership advisory. Communications strategy and advisory. Coaching. Facilitation. Movement-making. Learning design. Program delivery. All of this with wider social impact as the greater goal.
That’s a pretty list, but what was the sum of it all? “What do you do?” seems like a simple question, but it’s not. What it really means to us is “Who are you?” For a long time, we ducked away from visibility in the world, preferring to hide behind the people we were helping because we, the supposed visibility experts, lacked the words and imagery to fully express who we were.
One of our favourite quotes is from the Persian poet, Hafiz: “The words you speak become the house you live in.” The science shows that language plays a powerful role in shaping identity because it puts form to your thoughts, which form the basis of your feelings, which inform your actions, and therefore your impact. We teach this stuff to other leaders who want to have a positive impact. We know it’s true. We’ve seen the evidence.
But who are we?
We knew the answer, but saw others struggle to understand as we evolved our offering and experimented with our own visibility. And we also knew that if we couldn’t express who we were properly, our identities as co-founders of Visibility Co, as leaders in the world, weren’t fully formed. This would limit our ability to have the impact we desire to.
Although we have consistently extended our visibility since we began this adventure and kept it DIY so we were testing our own methodology on ourselves as we went, we knew we needed to use our voices more courageously and take bigger leaps into being visible, to really lead and contribute to the shifts we wanted to see. We knew that required courage and vulnerability. But to do all of that we, just like so many people we support, needed to work on expressing who we were.
We also knew that to become authentically visible to the world, we had to turn inward first. Yuck.
Why yuck? Because true, authentic, visible leadership starts with yourself, and that takes time, energy, brutal honesty and work. It can be uncomfortable. We are usually the ones holding other people’s hands as they walk the path, so have seen all its faces. This time, we needed others to hold our hands and help us to put words around our felt-sense of who we were, in order to take it out into the world with greater authenticity and electricity.
This wasn’t about creating a pretty new logo, some shiny pictures and embarking on a PR campaign. This was about taking what was inside us, bringing it together and only taking that out into the world when it was fully formed; we have seen many times that if the story you’re telling in the world doesn’t match the story you’re telling yourself, that story simply doesn’t land. People don’t believe it and nor should they, because it’s inauthentic. We wanted to make sure what we told the world reflected the internal reality: the purpose, values, strengths and ambitions that sit behind us as individuals and as a team. And the vulnerabilities - which is why we’re telling this story from the inside out.
So here’s what we did.
We cranked open our toolbox and did what we would advise a client to do: we began with the first pillar of visibility: visibility to self.
We created a new strategy which articulated the shift in our business model to run alongside the shift in our identity, with help from an awesome guide in our collective, Alex Tullio. Alex challenged us, called out our limiting beliefs and helped us keep it simple and strategic.
We undertook some bold experiments to see if the strategy was sound: launching new programs that connect with governments, impact-led leaders and aligned organisations.
We invested time and money on the internal work needed on ourselves as individuals, as a duo and as a broader team at Visibility Co.
We grew our collective (the “Co” in Visibility Co stands for collective, not company) and invested in other people who could help: Clare Harding and Marylou Verberne, to help us articulate a theory of change. Justine Smith, to help us put evidence behind what we say we do. Kelly Irving, to help us put form around the books we’re writing – a valuable process that fed everything else. Colette Werden and her inventive team worked so hard to create the new branding and platform that all this would stand upon, and shepherd us into new territory.
It all took much longer than we thought, and it needed to: 11 months (plus the four preceding years we’d been in business). Sometimes it busted our brains. Sometimes we felt like frauds, as we practised our new narrative. Sometimes we drank a lot of champagne because the felt-sense was becoming beautifully tangible. Sometimes we wanted to run for the hills. Sometimes we had to coach each other out of misery and imposter syndrome, perfectionism, self-criticism and worry.
And finally, we find ourselves here, ready to step into the second pillar of visibility: the shiny exciting bit which looks like it’s been oh so easy, with lovely new photos, a beautiful website, new socials, fun bells and whistles, and the words to explain who we are. A content strategy. New programs, new products and some media work. All the things, but importantly a cohesive, meaningful whole.
Be in no doubt:, it feels very uncomfortable for us, just as it does for anyone, stepping out into the next level of visibility. We feel vulnerable as we offer up this new version of ourselves to the world; as we step into international collaborations and programs; as we get behind some incredible change-makers and find our own voices as communicators, women and, now, more visible leaders. It’s painful, but not as painful as feeling inauthentic.
So now, to you. What might be possible for you to rise into authentic leadership in the world? What is required for you to find your voice, live your values and step out of the shadows into the truth of your identity? What might be possible if you answered “what do you do?” with “who are you?”
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.
If there’s one thing we’ve seen get in the way of senior leaders managing change this year, it’s underestimating the relationship between core or organisational strategy and communications strategy - with huge impacts to time, resourcing and outcomes. Here’s how to make both strategies thrive so that the sum of the two becomes greater than the parts.
We acknowledge the Traditional Owners — the Kulin Nations, particularly the Wurundjeri, Boonwurrung, and Wadawurrung people — upon whose ancestral lands we live and work. We pay respect to their Elders, past, present and emerging, and acknowledge the pivotal role that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people continue to play within the Australian community. Sovereignty was never ceded.