May 27, 2021

The power of visual leadership with Todd Cherches | Partnering Leadership Global Thought Leader

The power of visual leadership with Todd Cherches | Partnering Leadership Global Thought Leader

In this episode of Partnering Leadership, Mahan Tavakoli speaks with Todd Cherches, CEO of BigBlueGumball and author of VisuaLeadership: Leveraging the Power of Visual Thinking in Leadership and in Life. Todd Cherches shared experiences that transformed him as a leader. He also talks about the power of visual leadership and how it can improve communication as well as inspire those you lead.

Some highlights:

  • Todd Cherches’ upbringing and how reading became a big part of his leadership and life
  • How Todd’s experience with horrible bosses taught him to become a more compassionate and empathetic leader
  • Todd’s transformational experience becoming a Dale Carnegie Trainer
  • Why Todd Cherches encourages others to ‘Always Be Curious’ 
  • The significant meaning and symbolism behind VisuaLeadership’s title and cover
  • The importance of speaking the language of your stakeholders and why stories matter more than numbers
  • How visual imagery and visual language help with attention, comprehension, and retention
  • What mental models and frameworks are and how they can help convey abstract concepts and ideas
  • Todd Cherches on the power of visual storytelling in bringing ideas to life
  • Stepping up to everyday leadership: how you can inspire, impact, and help other people realize their own visions

Also mentioned in this episode:

Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends and Influence People

Robert Shiller, author of Narrative Economics

Chester Elton and Adrian Gostick, authors of Leading with Gratitude

John Baldoni, author of Grace

Marcel Proust, French novelist

Connect with Todd Cherches:

Todd Cherches’ website

Todd Cherches on LinkedIn

Todd Cherches on Twitter

VisuaLeadership on Amazon

Connect with Mahan Tavakoli:

More information and resources available at the Partnering Leadership Podcast website:


Mahan Tavakoli:

Welcome to Partnering Leadership. I am really excited this week to be welcoming Todd Cherches. He is the CEO and co-founder of BigBlueGumball, which is a New York city based management and leadership consulting firm. Todd is an award-winning adjunct professor at NYU School of Professional Studies, he is also a lecturer on leadership at Columbia University, and a TEDx speaker. We spend most of our time in this conversation, talking about his book, VisuaLeadership. 

Love hearing from you, There's a microphone icon on, you can leave voice messages for me there. And please don't forget to follow and/or subscribe to the podcast, depending on your platform of choice, that will just ensure that you will be first to be notified of new releases.

And those of you that enjoy these episodes on Apple, when you get a chance, I would really appreciate you taking the time to leave a rating and review. That will make it easier for more people to find these conversations and benefit from them. Now here's my conversation with Todd Cherches.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

Todd Cherches, my friend, welcome to the Partnering Leadership podcast. 

Todd Cherches: 

Thank you, Mahan, great being with you. 

Mahan Tavakoli: 

I am really excited to talk about your wonderful book, VisuaLeadership: Leveraging the Power of Visual Thinking in Leadership and in Life. And actually, in addition to the great insights in the book, it's a fun book because you have a fun personality, Todd.

Todd Cherches: 

Thank you, thanks Mahan. I try to write a book that I would want to read. So I think that's one of the starting points when I was deciding what to leave in and leave out. And someone said to me, reading your book is like having coffee with you or speaking with you or sitting in on one of your classes or workshops. And that's how I, I didn't want it to be an academic book. And I wanted it to come in my own voice, so that's what it did. 

Mahan Tavakoli: 

And with the storytelling in the book, obviously storytelling is what we're going to touch on a little bit later on, too. With the storytelling, you convey the message a lot more effectively too.

Todd Cherches: 

Thank you. Yeah, there's actually an audio ver-, my book is on hardcover, it's on Kindle, and they just released an audio book. And I had no say into the, in terms of who recorded the audio book, I would have liked to have done it, but I'm not a voice actor. So they got someone and he was great, he's a professional voice actor, but he doesn't sound like me or speak in my voice.

So he's like: “When I was a kid growing up in Queens.” It's like knowing, growing up in Queens sounds like that, especially me. And when I listen to it, I need to put it on like two times speed because he talks like half the speed. You can tell, I talk a little fast, but he talks about half the speed that I do.

And I'm like, come on, come on, pick up the pace. So it's great. There's a certain irony about having an audio book on VisualLeadership, right? It's like the audio visual thing. A big part of the book is the imagery, and the models, and the pictures. So he does a good job with that, but yeah, not everything's meant to be listened to, some things are meant to be seen with the physical eye and we'll talk more about that. 

Mahan Tavakoli: 

Yeah, yeah. So, Todd, I believe that our upbringing has a huge impact on who we become and the kind of leaders we become. Whereabouts did you grow up and how did your upbringing impact who you became? 

Todd Cherches: 

That's a great question. And I grew up in Queens, New York, which is a suburb of Queens. Most people know it. That's where our governor, Mario – not Mario, Andrew Cuomo, and his brother, Chris Cuomo grew up. And also the hip hop fans out there, The Fat Boys and Run-D.M.C. also grew up in Hollis, Queens. Not far from where I grew up as the Ramones and Simon & Garfunkel. So Queens has created a lot of, put out a lot of talent.

I grew up in Queens. My father was from Brooklyn. My mother was from the Bronx. So I had like a mix of the Yankees and Mets in my household, so, little inner battle there. Yeah, normal upbringing. Great parents. My father was an accountant and later became an IRS agent for 35 years. So he always got boos and hisses whenever he said what he did for a living. And my mother was a secretary for like 25 years. So yeah, great parents. 

And my mother read to me from a very early age, because few people have asked me, like, how did you become such a book addict? Because I am obsessed with reading. And one of the things I’m known for is I read an average of one business book a week, and I've done that since 1998. Not to give away my age, but that's 22 years of reading one book a week. And I was an English major, not a math major, but if you do the math, that works out to about 1100 business books, I've read over the last 22 years.

So a big part of that came from my mother teaching me to read at a very young age. I used to read the sports section of the newspaper at age like six or seven. So reading has always been a big part of who I am and how I learn. And I still love books to this day. 

Mahan Tavakoli: 

I think the reading comes across in your writing. In addition to that, you seem to have had a lot of very interesting bosses, Todd. 

Todd Cherches: 

Yes, I have. I have, unfortunately. Interesting’s a nice way to put it. I've had some of the worst bosses who've ever set foot on this planet. But my book, if you look at the dedication page, it's dedicated first, to my wife, secondly, to my parents, and third, to all the horrible bosses, without whom none of this would have been possible.

So as horrible as it was to go through, at the time, I learned a lot of lessons in terms of how not to manage and how to lead people, and they gave me a lot of material for my leadership at NYU in Columbia, they gave me a lot of material for my book, and for my workshops, and for my lectures.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

You even tell a story about a boss that threw a box of pens at you.

Todd Cherches: 

Yes. As I describe it in the book, it sounds like a scene from a movie, but it was really a scene from my life early in my career. I was working at a major TV network out in Los Angeles. I'm from New York, but I moved out to LA to work in the TV industry after I graduated from college. So I'm at one of the major TV networks. I won't mention which one, but it has a C, a B, and an S in its name. So maybe you could figure it out. 

So I'm typing up a memo and I hear my boss's door fling open and I feel something whipped by my head and my boss had thrown a box of pens at me and started screaming at me at the top of her lungs. And, you know, what did I do that was so egregious? She wanted the fine point and these were the medium point of the paper mate pens that she liked. 

So it's not like she didn't have any others in her office, but she just started screaming about me, about my lack of attention for detail. And as someone who has OCD and is obsessed with detail, that's like one of the worst things you could say to someone like me. But it turned out, and I did the research, that the supply room sent up the wrong ones. I ordered the right ones, but she didn't really care. And she basically said to me: “If you can't even order a box of pens, then maybe you should start looking for another job.” 

So this is the kind of psycho boss that I had to deal with every day during the year that I worked for her. And I actually kept an abuse log. I would write down every time she did something like that. And that was just one of many of the things that she did to me. 

Mahan Tavakoli: 

Yeah, but all those stories made for even a better book. 

Todd Cherches: 

Yes. Yeah, the stories gave me a lot of material and again, it made me more empathetic as a manager, more compassionate. I mean, you realize when you know what it's like to be on the receiving end of something like that, you either become that way yourself or you say I would never do that to another person.

In fact, as I mentioned in that chapter, I actually sat down, I was literally having like a nervous breakdown. I would get so depressed on Sunday nights knowing I had to go back and see her the next day. And I finally got up the courage to speak to her one day, and I said: “If we could communicate better, if we could, you know, just get along better, we’d both be more effective.”

And she just basically said to me: “Stop whining. Go back to your desk. And if you don't like working for me, I can replace you tomorrow.” So it's like, all right. So I tried, but that's what I was dealing with working for this boss. 

Mahan Tavakoli: 

Now, eventually, I know you also had a Dale Carnegie experience that had a significant impact on you, Todd.

Todd Cherches: 

Yeah, back in 2001, not long after 9/11, I was not working. You know, the city, New York city was in a state of depression and it was just hard times. And I needed something to just boost my morale and I got a little boomerang shape mailer in the mail, inviting me to a free sampler of a Dale Carnegie workshop.

And I had heard of Dale Carnegie, I had read How to Win Friends and Influence People. My mother had it on her bookshelf and I read it when I was in high school. So I was familiar with the book and what it was all about. And I, one of the things I want to say is even though I talk loud and fast, cause I'm a New Yorker, I'm an extreme introvert.

I always say I'm a three B’s kind of guy: a back of the room, behind the scenes, bookworm. So for me to force myself to go to a Dale Carnegie course, even a free one, even though only for a few hours, was really a push for me out of my comfort zone. So I went, and I actually got hooked on it and I spoke to the head of the guy who's running the session and he said: “Try it, come to a sample workshop.” He invited me. 

I ended up taking the Dale Carnegie course and I loved it. Although one thing I have to say, I think I said this to you when we spoke. I went to the very first session, at the break, I said to myself: “I'm not sure if this is really for me. I didn't like the instructor. She was little kindergarten-y for me.” And I almost didn't go back in. I almost, when the door closed at the break, I almost left. I almost went home. 

And you know how we have crucible moments in our life or turning points that, like Robert Frost, the poem, The Road Not Taken, you come to a fork in the road and you choose one or the other. I often wonder what would have happened, how my life would've been so much different if I had turned around and gone home that day, instead of going back in the room. 

Because then I went and I forced myself to go the next week. And then I became, I graduated from the Dale Carnegie course. I became a coach, a class coach. I got certified as a Dale Carnegie trainer and the leadership training for managers’ curriculum. And the rest of my training career, everything I've done since then was launched by that experience, I never would have spoken in public and I had never done it before.

So that was really, talking about the transformational experience that definitely was. And you know, it's almost like It's a Wonderful Life, the movie. It's like, you wonder what your life would have been like if things were different. And I'm glad I made that choice because it was a good one. 

Mahan Tavakoli: 

We have that in common there, Todd, and we worked at the same organization, Dale Carnegie, even though back then, we didn't know each other, but I found that experience to be very much the same for me also.

Now I can see that that's a big part of also your value system that led to you writing this book. Even when you quote Bill Nye the Science Guy, and I had not heard this quote before, but my girls love it: “Everyone you will ever meet, knows something you don't.” 

Todd Cherches: 

Yeah, love it. It's such a simple quote, but it really inspires people to reveal themselves, to be vulnerable within the context of psychological safety.

Like in my NYU class, I always use that quote with my students because a lot of them are, yeah, if you're, they’re graduate students, but if you're in your twenties, you may feel like ‘oh, I haven't worked that much, I've never been a manager before, I don't have much to contribute’ but if you start by saying, you know what, if you're a 25-year-old female from Beijing and you're now on this program, I've never been a 25-year-old female from Beijing, right?

So it's like, tell me your life story. Tell me what's happened. What led you here? Everyone has a story to tell. And if you just lay it out as a foundation, it just empowers people to share their life experiences. Just like you asked me about my upbringing and childhood, it's fascinating to hear what led people to a certain point.

One of my mantras is ABC, Always Be Curious. Always ask why, always dig, as long as it’s appropriate questions. But I'm always fascinated in terms of career paths and very few people I know, unless you're like a doctor or a lawyer and you went down a linear career path, very few people are doing what they envisioned 20 years ago, 30 years ago.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

And then you write this outstanding book, VisuaLeadership. We could spend the rest of the podcast talking about just the cover, which I think is fantastic and well thought out. On the cover, you have an eye, rainbow colored eye. What does that represent? 

Todd Cherches: 

Yeah, my company is called BigBlueGumball. So originally the eye was blue. So I figured for branding purposes, it would be a nice symmetry there, but then I realized, and I got the feedback that the blue eye, even though I don't have blue eyes, it wasn't very inclusive. So then as I was looking around through other images, I saw this rainbow eye and it just struck me like, that's it.

So the rainbow represents diversity and inclusion in all its forms, right? It represents the fact that no, just like no one in the world has a rainbow colored eye, no one in the world views the world through the same lens that you do, right? Your paradigms, your upbringing, your experiences, your education, your culture, all of those things, factor into who you are and how you are as a leader and the lens through which you see the world.

So that's what the rainbow eye represents, is diversity and inclusion. Secondly, it represents, and it's multicolors, innovation and creativity. And to be an effective leader, we need to be innovative. We need to be creative. We need to look at things through, from different perspectives. So the title of the book VisuaLeadership, it's one word with one single shared “L” and the title itself represents the fact that who you are and how you lead is inseparable from the lens through which you see the world. 

So as we talk about a leadership vision or someone being a leadership visionary, it's all about seeing, right? So seeing, looking, watching, noticing - those are all metaphors I use in my work around VisuaLeadership, which is basically around applying visual thinking and visual communication to the world of management and leadership.

So it's kind of a different kind of twist on, because there's a million leadership books out there, but my twist is that it's all about seeing and making your vision a reality. 

Mahan Tavakoli: 

And that's why I love the cover and the symbolic nature of the eye in that it embodies certain values and certain principles that the leader needs to bring to leadership.

Todd Cherches: 

Yeah, and the subtitle is ‘Leveraging the power of visual thinking in leadership and in life.’ And just that I added the words ‘and in life’ to emphasize the fact that this, while it is a leadership book, per se, we are all leaders. Even if you're leading your own life and that's something that's really important to think about.

I once went to NYU symposium of different professors across the different NYU schools, where we were discussing and debating leadership. There was ‘capital L leadership’, which was, you're only a leader if you have a leadership title, if you're senior executive, a VP or CEO, whatever. And then there was the other camp that I was in, the ‘small l leadership’, which is about anyone, anywhere can lead any time, right? 

So it's literally about stepping up to leadership. It's about having a vision, it's about inspiring people, influence, it's like all of those things. So I'm very much in that camp in terms of encouraging my students and really anyone from childhood on what does it mean to be a leader? It's about exhibiting leadership. It's not about the title. 

Mahan Tavakoli: 

And I know you also work with a lot of organizations and a lot of leaders, Todd, and most would agree with you, that communicating visually is important and leading using visuals is important. Why is it that we are so ineffective at doing it? 

Todd Cherches: 

Well, I think some people are better than others. Some people, it's definitely a skill that can be learned. And once people are more aware of it, once, you know, you quote “open your eyes to the possibilities of communicating more visually”, you just become more effective and more impactful. So, so often in the business world, we're communicating through words and numbers, right?

It's spreadsheets, it's Excel spreadsheets, it's word documents. And then there's the occasional PowerPoint slide which tends to be filled up with text and bullet points and numbers, right? So you're just basically taking documents or texts and numbers and putting them on a slide. But it's the power of using visual imagery, whether it's metaphorical or literal. 

Data visualization is a huge growing field right now, right? Data analytics and representing numbers. One of the things I say, and it's kind of controversial when I first say it, especially to numbers people is that numbers are meaningless and people say “what do you mean numbers are meaningless?” Well, so let me finish my sentence: numbers are meaningless outside of the context, outside of the story they tell, right? 

So an example, if I said to you “I have a 250 average”, is that good or bad or I have no idea? If it's my baseball/softball batting average, it's not too great. If it's my bowling average, it's very good, right? So the number 250 means nothing outside of the context in which that number exists.

And one of the classic examples is when Steve Jobs announced the iPod. He could have said “this little device holds 5 gigs of data” and people would have been “I have no idea what that means”, right? But if you say it holds a thousand songs, at the time, that was unbelievable. It's like, are you kidding? I could fit my entire CD collection on that little tiny thing, that's unbelievable, right? “Gigs” mean nothing, “a thousand songs” anyone could relate to, right? 

So it's really about speaking the language of your audience, speaking the language of your stakeholders. And that's done most effectively through both visual imagery and visual language. 

Mahan Tavakoli: 

And part of what you say is that it helps with attention, comprehension, and retention.

Todd Cherches: 

Yeah, when you use visual imagery or visual language, first of all, it captures people's attention because it gets them to focus. So if I'm just talking, you may be checking your phone or looking elsewhere, but if I'm showing you something, I have your attention. Now you're focusing, right? 

Comprehension, it increases understanding. If I explained to you how to get to my apartment in Manhattan from JFK airport and I just explained it to you, it would probably go in one ear and out the other. But if I sent you a map, you'd say “Oh, I see it. Now I know how to get there”, right? 

So understanding, it's like “Oh, now I understand where you live relative to the airport.” And retention, when you see visuals, and this is just the way our brains are wired without getting into all the brain science behind it, but visuals just stick in our brains in a way, we’re just wired visually. So visual imagery or visual language will stick with us. 

So in terms of focus, understanding, and memory, visual far out rule. It's called the “PSE” – Picture Superiority Effect. Research has shown that pictures are superior to text alone when you're trying to convey information and especially when you're trying to get people to remember information.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

And then you go onto the four ways to communicate visually. One of them being visual imagery and drawing or thinking in pictures. Now, I am not that good at drawing, Todd. 

Todd Cherches: 

So you suffer from what I call “ICD” - I Can't Draw syndrome. Now, one of the things I say is that if you ask a group of five-year-olds: “how many of you can draw?”, how many raise their hands? all of them, right? You go ask a group of business professionals and very few do. So have we lost our ability or our confidence over the last 20-30 years? 

Most likely we don’t think, a lot of people don't think of drawing as a business skill or a tool that you could use. But if you can, if you're in a meeting and again, I know a lot of us are working from home right now, but you can still illustrate something. You can pick up a piece of paper or on a flip chart, or if you're in an office, get up to a whiteboard or a flip chart. If you can map something out, if you could draw a straight line or a square or a triangle, a circle, you could draw well enough to get an idea out of your head.

And one of my mantras is “How do you get people to see what you're saying?” And if you could map something out, draw it out into picture, even if your skills are stick figures and just you know, wiggly lines, it's still more effective than words alone. 

Mahan Tavakoli: 

Absolutely. And I love how you put that in context of how we view it as kids and then how we view it as adults as we grow up. And that imagery and that drawing, thinking in pictures, is really important. You also mentioned mental models and frameworks.

Todd Cherches: 

Yeah. It's become a cliché, “thinking outside the box”, right? But you can't think outside the box until you have a box and something in it. So one of the things I say is that life is messy and complex. If we could put things into compartments, so think about a company's organizational chart, right? That's a framework that represents who has which roles and who reports to whom, right? There's some hierarchal structure there. 

If you put together a storyboard, use a drawing of a mind map, a map itself, any framework or model can help you visualize complexity and simplify complexity so that you could see it. And if you could see the problem more clearly, you're more likely to discover solutions than if you're just looking at a complicated mess. 

And one of the analogies I use, which we'll be talking about in a second, metaphors and analogies. Let's say you have to set a table for seating for eight, and you open up the silverware drawer and from last time, you had just dumped all the silverware in there. How long would it take you to put together eight place settings? You go to the next drawer, opened it up, and everything's in compartments: knives, forks, spoons. How much quicker are you going to be able to see the eight settings, and pluck them out, and be able to set that table?

That's a metaphorical example of why by putting things into boxes, it'll help us to see solutions clearly and more simply than when we're dealing with the messy complexity of life. We talked about VUCA a little bit earlier, right? The world is Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous. If we can create models and frameworks, we can help to simplify some of that VUCA world that we're living in.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

So as you're working with leaders, Todd, to help them communicate using models and frameworks, what do you see is working for them and how do you guide them in using these in their own leadership of their teams? 

Todd Cherches: 

Well, one of the things I sometimes do with my coaching clients is as they're describing something, I will start to sketch it out. I will actually draw it. And then I'll say, almost like a sketch artist, right? Or a, you know, a police sketch artist, right? Trying to draw the face of the criminal, right? 

So someone's talking and I sketch it out and I'll say: “Is this what you mean?” I'll hold it up to them, it's like: “Is this how it works?” And they'll say: “Well, not really. This goes here. This goes here. This goes here.” And before they realize it, they're creating their own mental model. They're basically taking, so they communicate it verbally, I translate it in my head, what I heard, and they say: “No, that's not right. Well, let's move that here.” But by the end of that conversation, they have a map or a framework or some kind of thing that they could share with their people. Then their people will say: “No, let's move this here. Let's move this here.” 

But it's almost like mapping out a football play or a basketball play right on a chalkboard. By getting it out of your head and onto paper, people could see what you're saying more clearly. And then from there, you can move the pieces around. Almost like a chess board, if you saw the Queen's Gambit recently, which is a great little plug for that Netflix show. 

But just, I’m thinking about chess and just, one of the things, one of the expressions we use, one of the metaphors is that managing is like playing checkers while leadership is more like playing chess because just like in chess, each piece has its own skills and things that it's good at, as opposed to checkers where the pieces are interchangeable. 

So if you think as a leader, you always try to think a few steps ahead, you're thinking strategically, you try to match the piece to what it's able to do and what its skills are. So I love that. That's just one of the top of my head metaphor or analogy about how chess can be a metaphor or a visual image that we could use to make business decisions.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

And one of the examples, I love exercises that you give some clients and people to go through, is to have different people in the organization draw out what the organization does or the purpose of the organization. 

Todd Cherches: 

Yeah, I just had my first anchor article published two months ago and it's called ‘Can you draw what your company does?’ And long story short, I basically was working with a pharma company and I had the sales reps each get up with the flip chart and draw out, without speaking, how they would explain to a new client what the company does and how they did it and then they had five minutes each to present back. 

In the course of doing it, the VP of the department was aghast by realizing that people are using bad or poor metaphors, not explaining things clearly, and in some cases, were even completely inaccurate. But it wasn't until they forced them, drawing forces you to use another part of your brain, right? So if you're just talking about facts and figures, that's one part of your brain. That's like considered a left brain, metaphorically, a left brain activity. 

When you're drawing, and creating, and trying to come up with metaphors, that's a right brain activity and it forces you to think differently, explain things differently. And then just to sum up that one example, one guy wrote: “It's like, we're a big whale and our competitors are goldfish.” And the VP said: “No, it's more like we're a dolphin and our competitors are sharks because they're really cutthroat and we’re soft and cuddly and service oriented.”

 So as soon as they said: “We're not a whale, we're not a shark, we're a dolphin.” All of a sudden, the dolphin became the metaphor for how they're going to behave and treat their customers because they want to be known for friendly service. So just that one exercise got them to say: “Let's start to think more and act more like dolphins.” 

Mahan Tavakoli: 

Fantastic. So visual imagery, mental models, metaphors, and you also touch on the importance of storytelling. 

Todd Cherches: 

Which I think I just did. So accidentally, I think I just told you a story, right? So stories are human, stories are emotional, stories have a beginning, middle, and end. There are villains, victims, and heroes. There are obstacles to be overcome. There's a hero's journey, right? So stories are ingrained in who we are as humans, right? 

So just as I told you the story about that client with the dolphin versus the whale, I used the story to visually ill-, because I’m sure as I was talking, you are almost picturing in your mind as if you were watching a movie of that unfolding, right? That's the power of visual storytelling, is painting a picture with words so that other people can see what you're saying, and it brings your ideas to life. 

And some people say: “Oh, I don't like storytelling, I'm not good at storytelling.” And one time I was doing a workshop for CEOs and this CEO actually said: “I'm terrible at storytelling.” And I said: “Well, why do you say that?” And he went on to tell this great story about how bad he is at storytelling, right? And then everyone else looked at each other saying: “That was an amazing story.”

So a lot of the times we elevate storytelling to this, it is an art, right? And it's a skill, and it could be developed. But if you said to someone: “How was your day? Mahan, how was your day today?” “Oh, you wouldn't believe what happened to me.” You just launched into a story, right? There were characters, there were scenarios, there’s the who, what, when, where, why, and how. 

So eliminate, just, let's eliminate ICD “I Can’t Draw” from your vocabulary and eliminate the “I'm not a good storyteller” from your vocabulary because it's just human to do both of those things. 

Mahan Tavakoli: 

And it adds a lot more power to the message. I love Robert Shiller in his book Narrative Economics, he talks about laughter curve and the story behind the napkin that he supposedly drew on. And the fact that it became popularized four years later when a journalist wrote about it so it made the entire economic concept more popular. 

Based on his story, people could relate to, even though the economic part of it, none of them understood. So you also make the point about how information is presented, makes all the difference in the world, and how your cardiologists almost gave you a heart attack?

Todd Cherches: 

Yes, it wasn't so funny at the time. So, as those of us over 50 have to do, we undergo all these tests just to make sure we're in good shape with our annual physical. So I went to my cardiologist. It wasn't my regular cardiologist. It was a different one that day. And I wish I had my regular one. 

So it was a younger guy. He walked in, he pulled up my numbers on the screen and he said: “Well, looking at your numbers, based on the data, there's a 5% chance that you'll have a heart attack within the next 10 years.” 

And I started, my heart started pounding. I got weak in the knees. I almost passed out. And then I said: “Wait a minute, doesn’t that mean there's a 95% chance that I won't have a heart attack for the next 10 years?” And he said: “Yeah, that's another way of looking at it.” And I was like: “Ah, yeah, thank you.” 

So was he wrong in the data that he was communicating? No. But was he right? Was that the message he meant to communicate? Not at all, right? So a lot of times we're so looking at the numbers, we forget who's our audience and what's our purpose. And every communication should start with “who's my audience?” and “what's my purpose?” 

In that case, he didn't. So in terms of empathy and bedside manner, he got a zero. In terms of accuracy of his numbers, he got a hundred, right? So, but somewhere in between is the truth. So same thing for managers when you're doing a company town hall or whatever, don't bore people to death with the numbers, tell them the story behind the numbers, what do the numbers represent? What should we take from it? What's the, we’re meaning makers, right? We're trying to create meaning and get our messaging out there. So it's not about the numbers. It's about the story that the numbers are intended to tell. 

Mahan Tavakoli: 

And that's one of the many reasons I love your book so much, Todd, because it's with these stories that you communicate your messages. Knowing the kind of leader and author that you are, I know you will want people that read this book to act on it. So how will you know that your book has made a difference in the lives of the leaders that have read it? 

Todd Cherches: 

That's a great question. One way is at the end of each chapter, I have a, my main point and my main question and I leave, I always talk in terms of insights, actions, and outcomes. Insight, what did you learn from something? Action, what are you going to do with what you just learned? And outcome, what's the result going to be if you actually do what you just committed to? Right? So that's a big way is if you read something and say, you know what, from now on going forward, based on this story, I'm going to start doing X, then you've done something different.

And a lot of times I've gotten feedback from people, emails, saying: “I love this chapter. I use this model with my team.” So that's the kind of feedback that shows that people are actually using this stuff and not just reading it. It's not hypothetical, academic, or theoretical. These are all, everything in there is actionable and everything that's in the book.

And I had enough content for probably 10 books, so a lot ended up on the cutting room floor. I always use the iceberg as a metaphor, as we all do. The tip of the iceberg is what made it into the book. There's a whole 90% of what's out there that didn't make it into the book, but I think that's the true test.

And one of my sayings is that the true value of knowledge is not in its accumulation, but in its application. So the true test is, am I applying this stuff to change the way I am? To impact other people? To help them make their visions come true? And that's a big part when talking about my concept, we didn't mention as far as the ‘eye’. It’s what I call ‘Flipping the eye.’  Take that eye, turn it on yourself and look internally. 

I always talk about reflection, introspection, and connection. Reflection, just like looking in the rear view mirror of a car, look back on how you got to where you are. Introspection is look inward and connection is how am I going to connect what I learned and what I know to the outside world?

So flipping the eye is looking internally at yourself, but also it's can you see the world through the lens of other people who are different from you? That's a big part of this book. It's not, as a leader, it's you getting your vision out there into the world, but it's also how are you helping other people realize their visions? I think that's a huge part of leadership. 

Mahan Tavakoli: 

That is a magnificent lesson. And you said, only the tip of the iceberg made it to the book and only the tip of the iceberg of the book made it to this conversation, Todd. Now, I know you are also like me. Obsessive about reading books and read over a thousand books, as you said, in about 20 years. You also have a great resource on your website, 52 book recommendations that you have on there.

So, off the top of your head, what would be a couple of other leadership books that you would recommend as resources when people come to you and ask you they want to improve their leadership, where would you send them typically to? 

Todd Cherches: 

That's one of the hardest questions anyone's ever asked me because, again, there's so many. You can't go wrong with starting with Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People, right? So that's going back to the very beginnings, one of the first self-help and leadership books. 

More currently, I just read Chester Elton and Adrian Gostick wrote a book called Leading with Gratitude. Gratitude is one of the hot topics right now. It's about being grateful for what we have instead of regretting what we don't have. And I always talk about four G’s: be genuine, be generous, be grateful, and demonstrate grace. 

And John Baldoni, my friend, John Baldoni’s his book called Grace just came out last year and it's also a recommended book. What does it mean to exhibit grace? It's to be selfless, it's to be compassionate, it’s to act in the interest of others. So those are two books that come to mind is, John Baldoni’s Grace and Chester Elton and Adrian Gostick’s Leading with Gratitude

Mahan Tavakoli: 

Fantastic recommendations. And how would you recommend for the audience to connect with you? Obviously we put links in the show notes, and how else? 

Todd Cherches: 

Sure. Mainly, my company is called BigBlueGumball so you can go to, but the main way to reach me and learn more about my book and my speaking is through my website, So it's, and if you go to, you can download my list of top 52 leadership books and get the full list as opposed to just a couple of them. 

Also, feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn. I live on LinkedIn and I'm there all the time and happy to engage with anyone. And my book's available on Amazon or wherever books are sold.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

Fantastic. It's a wonderful book from a great person, that's also important, Todd. And one of the quotes that you introduced me to, I absolutely love, is by Marcel Proust: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” 

Todd Cherches: 

It's a classic. I mean, that's, if we could just start to see the world through a new lens and look at things from other people's perspectives, I think we would be better leaders and better people.

Mahan Tavakoli:

 Thank you very much, Todd, for joining me on this conversation.

Todd Cherches: 

Thank you, Mahan. This was great. Always great talking to you.

Todd Cherches

CEO of BigBlueGumball and author of VisuaLeadership

CEO & Co-founder of BigBlueGumball LLC, an innovative, NYC-based, management, leadership, and executive coaching firm, as well as a three-time award-winning Adjunct Professor of leadership at the NYU School of Professional Studies/Division of Programs in Business, and a Lecturer on leadership at Columbia University.

I am also a TEDx speaker (“The Power of Visual Thinking”), and the author of "VisuaLeadership: Leveraging the Power of Visual Thinking in Leadership and in Life” (Post Hill Press/Simon & Schuster;2020).

Over the course of my career, I have trained and coached thousands of business professionals in a wide and varied range of industries, companies, and functions worldwide.

Prior to founding BBG, I was the head of the Liquidnet Leadership Institute (of Liquidnet University) for the industry-leading fintech firm, Liquidnet.

My background also includes associations with such top-tier professional development firms as the American Management Association, Dale Carnegie Training, and the London-based Centre for High Performance Development.

Previous career positions include the following industries/companies (in chronological order):

Newspapers (Newsday); television news (NBC News); media and advertising (Ogilvy & Mather); tv production (Aaron Spelling Productions); casting (Columbia Pictures Television); comedy program development (Disney); drama program development (CBS); theme park project management (Sequoia Creative, Showscan Entertainment); and business development at an interactive agency (SpireMedia).

Proud member of the National Speakers Association, as well as a certified Vistage speaker.