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Co-Creative Leadership Lessons with Lori Byrd

Public speaking is hard, but does it have to be?

For a long time the answer was ‘yes’ for Lori Byrd, President and Co-Founder of 1909 Digital. Quiet classrooms and museums were her comfort zone and then she found herself standing on stages talking to international audiences.

In this episode, Lori shares her insights and experiences as a leader in the digital marketing industry, offering valuable lessons on public speaking, co-creation, and building a strong team culture. Listen in to learn some of Lori’s quick tricks for showing up more confidently when all eyes are on you and to hear why your mindset around the audience’s point of view needs to change.

After You Listen:

Key Takeaways:

  • Embrace co-creation and equality in your leadership approach; flatten hierarchies and value the knowledge and input of every individual
  • Let go of the need to control everything; trust your team and focus on building processes that ensure consistency and success
  • Develop your confidence through positive affirmations and self-talk, and ground yourself before challenging conversations with calming techniques

Things to listen for:

  • [02:15] Lightning round with Lori
  • [06:04] Encouraging your team to be human to reduce stress
  • [12:55] Battling anxiety around overwhelm
  • [13:56] Reaching out to others for help
  • [21:18] The importance of building community
  • [23:05] Lori’s advice for his younger self
  • [24:41] Craig’s takeaways

Lori’s Transcript:

[00:00:00] Craig: There was a gentle knock on the door And she came in, looked at me and said, oh, I guess you were serious. Welcome to Executive Evolution. I’m Craig Anderson. After spending 25 plus years in corporate America, I learned a lot of leadership lessons the hard way. I created this podcast so you don’t have to.

One of the leadership challenges many of my clients face is getting up in front of groups of people for public speaking. And there are a variety of ways that you can get ready for that. And what I do is I have a pump up playlist that I listen to that gets my mood elevated, that gets me powered up, that gets me ready to go.

And on this day, I had to get in front of a group that was. Not happy with the decision that I made, and I told a fairly new team of direct reports to me that I had to go in and get myself ready for it. So there I was in the office listening to my 15 minute playlist that got me ready for public speaking, and when she walked in the door, She saw me EarPods in. Dancing around the office, getting myself ready for a tough presentation, and she was surprised because she didn’t think I was really going to do it. Today we are interviewing Lori Byrd. She’s the president and co-founder of 1909 Digital, and we are going to learn the story of her executive evolution, which includes how she gets herself ready when she has to speak. So let’s jump right in our discussion.

[00:01:30] Craig: Lori, welcome to the Executive Evolution podcast.

[00:01:33] Lori Byrd: Thanks for having me.

Oh, I’m excited to have you here and to hear the story of your executive evolution. But before we dive in, maybe you can give us a quick overview of the work that you are doing with your team at 1909.

Yeah, so I’m the president and co-founder of 1909 Digital, and it’s an all remote digital marketing agency. It’s based here in Indy. currently a team of six. We have an average client roster at any given time of about 12. And we focus on museums and nonprofits. we’ve had clients across all industries.

[00:02:07] Craig: you guys are doing great work there. You just had a four year anniversary just before we recorded this, so congratulations on that. Are you ready, Lori, to dive into the lightning round?

[00:02:17] Lori Byrd: I think so.

[00:02:18] Craig: All. So question number one, what is the best book on leadership you have ever read?

[00:02:25] Lori Byrd: you know, I’m not gonna be your traditional book person, but I would say that Paolo Free’s pedagogy of the oppressed is, that’s really impacted me. So it’s a reading from graduate coursework in museums and education. And looking back, I think it’s really influenced my leadership.

So Freer writes that learning should be co-creative between a teacher and a student. Because both have equally important knowledge to share. this is completely different, of course, from didactic learning where the teacher leader has all the power in the relationship, right? And so this concept directly influenced my own academic research and publications and projects I worked on.

And honestly, even my parenting.

[00:03:06] Craig: Okay, cool. And within that, how does that, in today’s environment where we have a much different leader, worker dynamic, how has this lent itself to how you lead today?

[00:03:18] Lori Byrd: it makes me think about, everyone on a team really being equals, like there doesn’t really need to be that hierarchy. It can be flat. so I think that’s probably the biggest impact it’s had. Really almost in every role I’ve had, but especially lately being a, a leader. 1909 digital

[00:03:35] Craig: Great. Okay, next question. Who is your leadership crush?

[00:03:40] Lori Byrd: So interestingly the Indianapolis Museum of Art just was in the news a lot lately, this weekend for another reason. I have to say max Anderson, who was the former CEO of the Indianapolis Museum of Art, and this was back in its free era,

[00:03:57] Lori Byrd: to 2011. So he the museum while I was earning my graduate degree in museum studies.

At that time I was researching open knowledge. And how to make museum content freely accessible through platforms like Wikipedia. This was really cutting edge at the time, and Max was already writing on the topic and even acting on it in the museum. So he was prioritizing community access, like with free admission also to collections within the museum and online.

But he also impacted the museum and count Liz ways beyond this. So he was at the helm, if you think back during the 2008 recession, he was able to maintain that free admission in spite of the endowment getting hit really hard. And yeah, I consider um, a mentor of mine, which I feel like I’m really lucky to say.

[00:04:43] Craig: Yeah. In what ways did he really influence your leadership? What was your big takeaway from him?

[00:04:48] Lori Byrd: I feel like . I learned that he was very charismatic. He’s like one of those people, you walk in a room and you just like are, smacked in the face with his charisma. I learned that you don’t necessarily have to have that to make an impact. there’s that. also really sticking by your guns and, not being afraid to say the opposite thing.

That’s what is happening at the time. So the unpopular opinion,

[00:05:11] Craig: When we say leader, I think people immediately have this thing that jumps to mind of that charismatic leader who jumps out and, you know, commands the room and the, born leader kind of a thing. But he, it sounds like he made room to say you can lead without that. That you can also lead through influence. You can lead through, how you treat other people and where you set the vision.

[00:05:29] Lori Byrd: Right. Surrounding yourself with smart people. Right.

[00:05:32] Craig: Yeah,

Great. All right. And then the last lightning round, what is your definition of leadership in 10 words or less? being yourself while guiding others towards success. So that being yourself part, really being key to that. Yeah. And, when you think about leadership or leaders you’ve seen, or even your own style, that’s kind of authenticity, how does that present itself from a day to day for you?

[00:05:57] Lori Byrd: Especially with 1909 digital, it’s really important for me to just be myself. I really feel like. When it comes to how, you know, it’s important to be authentic, that it really goes into the general vibe of my team on 1909. So, I to tell myself to take it down a notch if I’m around a lot of, big projects or people or if I’m not in control and being the leader.

But it’s nice when you are the leader in your own agency, like with me, that I can encourage the team to just be human. To exhale and relax. And we can get awesome work done without creating unnecessary anxiety. So that’s really important to me even with choosing our clients not having, the stressors be all the way up here.

Um, cliche of we’re not saving babies here, people until you are sometimes, which we are with some of our clients . bUt yeah, it’s just like you can take it down a notch.

[00:06:50] Craig: Yeah. Yeah. And that authenticity is so important, and I know when I’m coaching people trying to balance that authenticity without being the leader that you think you’re supposed to be.

[00:07:00] Lori Byrd: right.

[00:07:00] Craig: Also the knife’s edge of being authentically who you are, but but also realizing not everybody is who you are, so you also have to meet people at a place. So it’s, a constant balancing act.

[00:07:10] Lori Byrd: Yeah, my background is actually in education initially, and so kind learning styles aspect of that has been important in applying that to teams, which so many tests and things to do and that’s helpful. it’s been nice for me to speak in that language of you’re a visual learner or, you’re an auditory learner.

All the different things like that. So that really helps, I think, that empathy among team members too.

[00:07:33] Craig: Sure. All right. We always like to move from the lightning round into the story of your leadership journey, so go back, you can pick, you know, what do you consider to have been your first leadership role?

[00:07:44] Lori Byrd: Again, I feel like this is gonna seem really untraditional, but hang in there with me with the context around this. So, 2012, I spent a year on contract with the Wikimedia Foundation. So that’s of course the foundation behind Wikipedia. And my role was the US Cultural Partnerships Coordinator.

doesn’t sound like a leadership role, but was so, leading up to this, I had become, I always say accidentally nerd famous as one of these initial wikipedians who developed a model for museums to freely share their collections and expertise on this global scale through Wikipedia. So this is hearkening back to my time with the IMA, right?

So back then, if you think about it, the general from the public still was that Wikipedia is never accurate. Right

I feel like it people have come around to a lot more lately, but academics absolutely had no respect for it. So it was a big deal for us to facilitate curators and wikipedians understanding each other and working together to share this knowledge and articles on Wikipedia.

And then also collections images comments. So, the context there. So we got a lot of international press attention. all of this. And we made a huge impact on just the state of open culture um, which I’m really proud of. So what my role then getting back around to what I actually did for Wikimedia , when I worked with the foundation I had to scale the, that we’ve begun as volunteers.

I helped gather distribute volunteers themselves, Resources and then some trainings to make it just easier for everyone to, navigate this tricky curator. And Wikipedia in relationship, both sides can be very prickly so that it could really thrive in the US and then around the world.

[00:09:25] Craig: So that’s interesting. So you are leading a team of volunteers

[00:09:28] Craig: Which has, you know, a very different leadership interaction because you really don’t have the traditional leader tools of accountability and different things like that. So what did you have to adapt to, to create vision for and lead this team of volunteers?

[00:09:44] Lori Byrd: Yeah, it is a different in that, everyone’s volunteering and is there with Wikipedia altruistically. So it’s a lot of understanding the community norms and working within them rather than creating them yourself. and building up respect among the community.

So it really got me in a space of, and valuing online community and that even extended into future work of mine. But yeah, it’s really about to going into Facebook groups and being engaged in a Facebook group where you come in and you don’t just try to take over. You come in and you engage with it in its authentic way that the community has built it.

Same with Wikipedia.

[00:10:23] Craig: Okay. So So how did you create the vision for this team? How did go through and it’s kind of an interesting balance maybe to get in later of a remote workforce

[00:10:33] Track 1: that you had and you still believe in remote workforce. So early on, how did you create alignment and vision for this team at such a new role?

[00:10:41] Lori Byrd: Yeah. Back when we were first kicking things off it was not just me. There were. Wikipedians, as you can imagine can be very extreme personalities. The cliche that you think of, guys being in their dark basement just plugging away on, writing articles. That’s totally true. And it’s rare to have the outreach side.

So the, the people doing stuff in person at events. We did do a lot of events right, to gather up volunteers and get people excited about it. among kind of the four or five of us that really were getting things rolling in those early days, there was like kind of the charismatic leader, my, friend Liam, who really rallied people together.

And my role was more on the organizing side the language around it. I always talk about making a a thing, , name it a thing and it’s a thing. So I was really around that kind of the branding of it. But also I started networking a lot. I wouldn’t have thought of myself as that, but I was really growing into my role as a leader through that.

So yeah, I think that’s my role was. It was kind of all of us gathering up volunteers through just their interest in museums and getting that information Wikipedia. And they were all just very passionate about it. So we just found them

[00:11:52] Craig: Wow. so when you think about that experience, what were some of your big lessons learned about leadership from that experience?

[00:12:00] Lori Byrd: So , I did a lot of having to talk to people over video calls, I did all over the world. I did a lot of presentations again, all over the world. I was having to stand up and give talks. And I was much more comfortable being a teacher in a cozy classroom or potentially being a collections manager in the basement of a museum, right?

And here I am, standing at, on a big stage in Barcelona talking talking about Wikipedia which is like, blows my mind at the time. So to get comfortable with that, I put hours of time into prepping notes and presentations. And so I still accomplished those things. It really took a mental toll on me.

So really a lesson I learned is I can’t control it all or stay on top of it all, and that’s okay. When it came to just the amount of people I was having to organize with, so I was this empathetic control freak that found it very hard to feel like I couldn’t stay on top of it. This was the first time I got behind on emails from people and I wasn’t able to just address people right away, and I’d have to prioritize who could get my attention. I hated that I couldn’t help everyone every day, and that’s, I know that’s a very much a leadership right? I, I know you talk a lot about waking up in a cold sweat, right?

absolutely the same with me. I’d wake up panicked that I didn’t respond to some random email from weeks ago, and my anxiety would, paint this whole picture of a person who you know, really needed my help and had asked for guidance, but I didn’t get back to them fast enough. So they gave up on this great museum relationship because of me.

You know, so that wasn’t a thing that really happened, but I can still viscerally recall that feeling.

[00:13:41] Craig: sure and, and what kind of support did you have as a fairly young leader thrown into this fairly large role?

[00:13:49] Lori Byrd: was really me reaching out to other and maybe truly like, you know, well-known people in the Wikipedia community. It sounds so crazy, but that’s just how it’s and asking them for help and how to navigate . Online with the community. And then also when it came to the presenting side I was in grad school, so I sort of gathered all my mentors around me and had some good advice from them.

things like a penny your hand to just like ground yourself, which I had another mentor that told me he used to call into the sports radio in New York City. Just to like have the butterflies in his stomach and get nervous about it and then have to do it and just like own the nervousness.

So things like that really helped me. I always would say if I can just get on stage for five minutes, then I get to go to Barcelona, , so . So things like that me. but also what learned myself from that lesson is that when you’re presenting or you’re writing a paper or you’re at a conference, there’s no need to be nervous The people that are in the room are there to hear you and your expertise and your experience.

So they’re there to root you on. They’re there to learn. And so if you go in thinking that there’s, know, and looking back, it seems silly that I was stressed out about it all the time. I will say I still

[00:15:10] Craig: Yeah.

[00:15:11] Lori Byrd: I over prepare and I write lots of notes. bUt knowing that people are there to learn helps a lot.

[00:15:18] Craig: Great. So now

[00:15:19] Track 1: here you are today, a growing agency, very defined market of people that you work with, that you probably have to do a lot of leadership for clients as well as for the team. how have you grown in your leadership style today?

[00:15:32] Lori Byrd: Mm-Hmm. well, What’s interesting is you said, we’re going into our fifth year. So when my co-owner and I started back in 2019, pre covid. the focus was on securing clients and we thought that we would do it all on our own, make lots of money, right? . But our work quickly became too much for just us to handle, and we realized we had to use revenue to build a team.

as I said, we’ve consistently had about six team members, but we’ve even flexed up to about 13 when we’ve had certain projects that needed it. So what ended up happening in about six months was that I . Started as a marketer and then I shifted quickly to being a manager, which was not the plan at all,

[00:16:13] Craig: Mm-Hmm.

[00:16:14] Lori Byrd: I now focus on building process for the team sure there’s consistency in client deliverables and business development. I still get to do some fun marketing things. Like I really love audience work messaging and applying that to strategy but yeah, I’ve gotten a passion now for building up that culture.

[00:16:35] Craig: and how have you. Grown into the role? ’cause it sounds like you didn’t really plan to be in the role back in 2019, which is either 25 years ago or just four depending on how we look at Covid.

[00:16:46] Track 1: How have you grown into that? Because it was kind of accidentally, I’m in charge.

[00:16:51] Lori Byrd: Yeah, for sure. When I was first starting with 1909 and really just like took that leap I had to shift from being that kind of nervous person that thought I was, faking it till I made it to really, no, I’m gonna start a thing. um, co-owners that are surrounding me that we all have our areas of expertise and we’re gonna go in and we have something to contribute to this space.

And I really got into the kind of . Mantra, sort of talk of you’re a badass. Get in there and you can do it just hype yourself up. if anyone watches, The Marvelous Mrs.

Maisel, one of the phrases that she says all the time is Tits Up . that became a funny mantra. foR myself and, you know, just taking that approach of being confident in what I was doing that helped with business development and getting out there and build, building a network, and starting to apply my, realizing that I could control the, perception of 1909 by saying like, Hey, we’re just, people.

We’re coming here and our, our vertical is to work with people that aren’t, jerks We don’t want to work with assholes. That’s really it. That’s our vertical.

So yeah, that helped a lot. I started to fine tune that idea of, I’m me and I’m going to come with you, maybe another agency and say, work together.

There is no such thing as competition. Let’s meet each other and if we have things we can provide you, we’ll do that. And if you have things, you know, like clients you wanna send our way. yeah, just being human really just started to build up over time is more of an official strategy, I’d say.

[00:18:26] Craig: And how does that philosophy that you’ve developed around how you build your clients, how does that work with how you’re leading

[00:18:33] Track 1: six to 13 people?

How are you select, how does that influence selection and how you set guidance and how you grow and develop the team?

[00:18:41] Lori Byrd: Yep. . It’s been fun. Again, just as I was saying to name a thing, to make it a thing so you can go in and say, this is the vibe of our 1909 team, and you need to just vaguely fit in. You know, That’s, hard thing with, to have someone come onto a team that. So we came up with other phrases and things to, to ground people.

So, . our team motto is Family first, health. First. Mental health first. And so that really frames that look. not about, that deadline and, you know, we’re all not sleeping ’cause of it. It’s being agile with our project management making things have more of a balance to it.

So that was a really important part making sure people knew that was our priority. And we also choose clients that understand that as well, so there shouldn’t be that stress. If people potentially are team members come in and they’re like, no, let’s grind 60 hour weeks. let’s get that sale.

They’re just not gonna be right for us.

[00:19:44] Craig: Got it. Okay. So that’s really built out the team and, and you’ve got that vision and instilled in them. How have you pulled through all those different influences that you talked about from the president of the IMA who had all that charisma to lead the teams and then the, pedagogy of the oppressor and the lessons you learn from that, and just the real life lessons at Wikipedia. How has that all come together into your leadership philosophy?

[00:20:11] Lori Byrd: Well, I’d say that a lot of the early work how it compounded on top of each other coming at it from approach of co-creation, right, of being equals. That was really important in my early research and philosophy. So coming at a team as in, we’re all in this together and, you know, having that hierarchy be flattened.

And then from that co-creation Wikipedia, which is co-creative online and it being fully online. And so that really me. As I said, our team is fully remote we don’t really have an interest in finding a brick and mortar building. It’s not as important to us.

So, being passionate around online communities and I did actually do research and presentations specifically about that. online community work on this massive scale and scaling it down a six person team became really fun for me. . And so really became about creating that workplace culture, not just about take it down a notch ,

[00:21:11] Craig: Yeah.

[00:21:11] Lori Byrd: around how to build community amongst ourselves.

So really important to us to and respect our one-on-one time, one-on-One is, so cl again, I keep saying cliche, but we really save that space. It’s not coming up with reasons why you’re just not gonna have your weekly or whatever, one-on-one time. It’s really saving that space to make sure that people can come to you you’re the leader and share, issues or concerns or fun things or happy things in a space where it’s not, I have to set a meeting and that’s going to look scary and stressful.

So one-on-ones really important. We have retrospectives like reflective time Every other week, if not once a week, where our team can all share together. And yeah make sure that everyone can contribute their thoughts in a constructive and, formal way within the informality

So we also have chill time. You know, We’re all online and on video calls, but we make time for us to just talk about our day, what we did over the weekend. You would do that in between meetings. That’s normal for if in person in an office. We have a thing, again, we named First five, so that means that the first five minutes of any meetings you can just be bullshitting.

Like it’s fine. Just need to worry about um, started right away. You can be a couple minutes late, you can go to the bathroom, you can talk about your weekend. And that also really helps team culture.

[00:22:35] Craig: I like it. Okay, so a lot of growth, a lot of development. If you could go back in time, pick your machine, Delore in Time Cube, whatever you need, whatever you like, and go back to you in 2012,

[00:22:49] Track 1: You talked about some of the challenges, the sleepless nights, all the, things you created to help you deal with that stress. What, what’s the one piece of advice you would go back and give yourself?

[00:22:58] Lori Byrd: I actually give this advice. frequently to people, which is, don’t apologize, bold, all caps don’t apologize. in that first leadership role, I apologized for all the ways I felt I did something wrong. But that doesn’t even mean that they thought anything was wrong. it’s okay to have boundaries, and to protect your time.

there’s really almost never a time to actually say sorry, unless there is a reason, but it’s often not when you think it is. So my trick is often to say thank you for your patience that acknowledges if you didn’t get to someone right away or whatever. But I also modeled behavior with colleagues myself by being understanding if, if they need, you know, that space or, even will proactively remind them that they can do that too.

If they need something from me, I can be flexible. So. It’s a give and take there. Don’t apologize.

[00:23:48] Craig: Don’t apologize. I love it. Okay, so Lori, if people listen to this and they wanna find you to learn more about your journey or learn more about 1909 what is the best way for them to

[00:23:57] Track 1: connect with you?

[00:23:58] Lori Byrd: Pretty easy, As my eight year old would say, mom, it’s not an o it’s a zero.

And if you wanna read more about my work, I’m pretty easy. It’s my other married name, but if you google Lori Byrd McDevitt you can find me talking about all this stuff all over Google.

[00:24:21] Craig: Perfect. Well, We will drop those links into the show notes. Lori, thank you for coming on and sharing the story of your executive evolution.

[00:24:29] Lori Byrd: Thank you so much for having me.

[00:24:30] Craig: I really appreciated today’s interview with Lori Byrd. I. She brought a lot of lessons to the table, and I would like to pull out the three key lessons that I took from our time together and put them into the areas of competence, confidence, and calm in the area of confidence. Lori talked about when she has to get up and speak in front of people, she realizes that they are there to hear from her.

And that’s such an important area for leadership competence. And I talk about this with my clients, helping them to understand that you are there for a reason. If you were promoted, if you started your own business, there is something that you bring to the table that’s unique to you, and that is the first area of competence that you can lean into.

Where are you contributing at your highest personal level in the area of confidence? I loved how she talked about constantly pulling out positive affirmations and the self-talk that helps her to build her inner strength so that she can present. At her highest level when she’s speaking in front of groups, whether they be small or just to a one-on-one, that positive affirmation, that positive self-talk helps you to build up your confidence, to help you grow as a leader.

And then finally, we talked about how she stays calm, how she prepares herself for difficult things that she has to do by grounding herself. She talked about that exercise of holding that penny to ground herself so she could bring . The emotions down center herself so she could go out and have those challenging conversations.

So thanks again for listening to Executive Evolution. Remember, you can go from being an accidental leader to the greatest leader of all time. All it takes is developing your confidence, confidence and calm. See you next week.