If the research is correct, we learn as much as 70% of what we know from what we see. That’s why one of the most powerful skills a leader can develop is the ability to make your ideas visible. Countless times, it’s been a picture, not the words I spoke that enabled me to effectively communicate an idea or concept.

I’m not suggesting that you and I become artists. For some of you, that may be possible, but I’m suggesting something far more achievable – learn to represent your ideas visually. Literally, draw a picture of what you’re thinking. This can often be done in a very crude and elementary way.

The picture above is one I first drew while attending the Advanced Management Program at Harvard. I was surprised when they asked me, a guy who sells chicken for a living, to make a presentation about our business strategy. I decided the best way to explain it was to draw it…

As the picture attempts to illustrate, our organization revolves around the men and women who operate the local restaurants. Our job corporately is to help them be successful – indicated by the arrows labeled with many of the activities/functions represented at the home office. And finally, the way we make money corporately, shown at the bottom of the picture is to help the local Operator make money.

I share this only to show the simplicity of what I’m suggesting. Well, you may say, “My world is far more complicated.” It probably is – all the more reason to communicate clearly. A picture may help.

If you’re willing to give this crazy idea a try, here are a few suggestions to help you get started.

1. Use paper without lines.

2. Don’t try to make it perfect.

3. In the beginning, a pencil and eraser may come in handy, but don’t overuse it (see suggestion #2)

4. Use key words only – phrases if you must, but no sentences. This is a picture, not a graphic novel.

5. Don’t compare your drawings with others. It’s about clarity of the idea represented, not the artistic value.

6. Practice. The more you draw, the better and more comfortable, you’ll become.

Here’s an exercise to help you get started…

Draw a picture of your vision for your team or your organization.

Draw a picture of the biggest problem you are currently facing. Include the cause or causes if you know them.

Draw a picture of your brand.

Draw a picture of your job.

Here’s my prediction – if you learn to make your ideas visible, you will enjoy at least three tangible benefits:

You’ll become a better thinker because clear thinking always precedes clear visualization.

You’ll become a better communicator because more people will “Get it”  – whatever “it” is in your context.

You’ll have a shot at being a better leader, because part of what great leaders do is communicate ideas well – we’re selling a future that doesn’t exist. That requires masterful communication skills. Pictures almost always help![GLS_Shield]

Author: Mark Miller

Mark is a business leader, author, communicator, photographer, husband, and father. He spends his time helping leaders grow.