A leadership exercise — seeing the whole picture.

Sean Finley's headshot on white background.
Sean Finley
Director of Content Development

Apr 16, 2020

Andrei M. presenting at IPREX Emerging Leaders Conference 2020.

When I say “leadership exercises,” do your eyes glaze over? Same. This one was different.

In early March I attended the Emerging Leaders Conference in Boston along with DH Partner Andrei Mylroie and Senior Account Executive Shireen Khinda. The conference was hosted by IPREX, a global global communications network of over 100 agencies, including DH. This was a chance to develop leadership skills alongside colleagues from all over the world. Among sessions filled with lively discussions and activities, one exercise stood out.

Here’s the exercise.

In a group of 40 people, each person was given an image on letter-size paper. We were not allowed to show the images to one another — we could only describe them. We were told to arrange the images in a sequence by placing the images face-down on the floor in a line. We had 15 minutes to complete the task. No one was put in charge, and no further instructions were given. Did I mention we’d only just met one another?

What followed was fascinating. First, we attempted to describe our images.

“Hi. What do you have?”

“I have a mostly black image with a white dot in the center. It’s maybe 2 inches across?”

“I have something similar, but the dot is more like 4 inches across.”

“I don’t know what either of you is talking about — I have a beach with a palm tree and an airplane.”

Next, groups of two or three people began to emerge who felt that their images had things in common.

“All of the people with a boat or a bus come over to this side of the room!”

“I have a taxi — does that count?”

“I have a letter with a stamp on it. Where does that go?”

From there, slightly larger groups were formed until someone shouted, “OK! We need to get a sense of the big picture!”

Within minutes, we had arranged all of our seemingly random images to form a storyline. Once the time limit had expired, all of the images were turned faceup. To our surprise, only one image was out of place.

Starting from outer space, the images zoomed closer and closer to Earth, then zoomed in to a city, which zoomed in to a street. Each successive image zoomed in further, from a beach-vacation ad on the side of a bus to a postcard in a beachgoer’s hand to the stamp on the postcard.

The patience and trust we placed in one another had become crucial to organizing and solving the problem — and to telling the story.

My takeaway? Working in an agency, corporate or any team environment, requires dealing with constant change — especially right now amid COVID-19 and the long lasting effects it will have across industries. Every day we’re being asked to tackle problems we’ve never seen before. We need to become comfortable with not ever really being comfortable. We have to do challenging work in a constantly changing landscape. It’s a bit of an onslaught amid a global crisis, but change is always an opportunity.

The conference gets real.

As if to punctuate the whole experience, the conference ended with an actual crisis. On the last day, we learned the hotel in which we were staying had been host to a previous conference — two weeks prior — at which several attendees contracted COVID-19. The reaction was a mix of shock and confusion. In true form, our conference organizers calmly began gathering as much information as possible and relaying that information to attendees.

Over the course of the conference, I witnessed the best of management and leadership. We worked together to educate, inform and inspire one another. I came away with a renewed confidence in our ability to solve problems together. We will pull through the coronavirus crisis and tackle more problems to come. We’ll do this through clear communication, by staying nimble to adapt to change, and by trusting one another. The IPREX community is stronger together than we are apart.

The IPREX team at IPREX Emerging Leaders Conference 2020.
Collage of a few presenters during IPREX Emerging Leaders Conference 2020.
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