It’s interesting to look back on your life at the experiences that have changed you or, in some cases, have made you more you. A better you. You unleashed.
I’ve never had a “normal” career trajectory. There was never a logical next step.
I couldn’t have forecasted or orchestrated the events of my life to lead me to where I am today. There was a lot less logic and more magic involved. The alchemy of curiosity, wonder, and utter abandon meeting happenstance and the layers of labor and life.
When I think of my life’s work, I always think of OnStage Leadership.
“Wait…,” you may be wondering, ”I thought you were the Brave Leadership chick? What’s with this on-stage-thing you’re talking about?”
Well, let me back up a bit.
I do leadership work, but I have a very different background from most people who work in the same industry. What I have found, is that because I bring a different history to the conversation, I also bring a unique perspective. It’s that perspective that has built my business and allowed me to make a difference.
That’s true for you as well, it’s your history and unique experiences, elevated by how you’ve leveraged them and what you’ve learned, that set the foundation for the impact that you can have in your life.
Long before I entered the world of business, I spent many, many years in the theatre. I know right?! Oh! Now it all makes sense! I received a full scholarship to study acting in college and of course, had envisioned myself becoming a Broadway star (which, obviously didn’t happen). But you know, it’s funny how sometimes life sends you down a path that’s better than you could have ever imagined possible for yourself.
After college, to support myself as a starving artist, I got a survival job (because that’s what actors do) and my survival job was working for a company called the International Advisory Services (IAS). We did academic placement for Japanese students who wanted to study in the US and Canada. Now, this was a long time ago. Those were the days before the internet! Students couldn’t just pull up a college catalog online because, at that time, there was no “online!” Working at IAS introduced me to an entirely different world. So, I did what actors do. I immersed myself in the world of the play. I studied everything I could, to understand the business, to understand Japanese culture, and international education. I so was hungry to learn, that I zipped up the ladder and became an academic advisor within the first six months.
Now, here’s what you need to know, I didn’t have the right education, I wasn’t smarter than anyone else, and goodness knows I didn’t have any special connections. All I did was take the initiative to learn everything there was to learn.
And that’s a theme I’ve noticed in what I would call “brave leaders” (which has nothing to do with title or position). Brave leaders are people who don’t wait for opportunities to come to them. They figure out how to maximize what they can learn and what they can give.
Because I had a theatre background, I was able to convince my boss that I would be a good fit to present cross-cultural workshops at the college fairs in Japan. What better way to market our services?! There I was, in my early 20’s, a girl from Montana who had never been overseas. I traveled all over Japan, worked with a simultaneous-translator, and loved every minute of it.
That was the first time I realized how transferable everything I had learned in the theatre was in a different context. I was using my training and I was able to make a difference in the lives of the students, which was, for me, life-changing. While I didn’t recognize it at the time, I was starting to realize my purpose.
Fast forward. I ended up leaving the theatre almost entirely, and, after a very circuitous path, found myself in the world of business. My then-boyfriend, now husband, was in business school at the time. I was working for an events company that had some integrity issues and when I started fretting about it, he suggested I start my own business. Me! In business?! I thought he was crazy! Nobody I knew did such a thing! But that’s exactly what I did.
I launched my first business, Impression Events (with the very-Kimberly byline of “Events that make a difference”), in Seattle, WA. I did a lot of different events for a lot of different organizations, but the bulk of my business was with one company in particular. I partnered with their corporate communications team to redesign their global company meetings. Historically, their meetings had been the typical information download in a hotel ballroom. Boring. Uninspiring. All the employees felt obligated to attend, (because, of course, they were). So, it was my aim to shift the meetings from being purely informational to being experiential.
I wanted to capture their attention, to draw them in, and remind them WHY the work they did mattered. I was aiming to ignite FEELINGS. I wanted them to feel proud of where they worked, to lift them up, and leave them feeling so excited about their company and the work they were doing that they couldn’t wait to get back to the office and to make a difference.
That phase of my career gave me a chance to work with their executives on their messaging, helped me learn how to craft powerful, sticky, memorable experiences, and gave me a birds-eye view of what’s needed, from a communications standpoint, to move others into action.
Most of those things were instinctual for me. But that opportunity helped shape my thinking and recognize the power of what I had learned in the theatre in a completely different context.
The company meetings turned out to be an overwhelming success. So much so that after I dialed in the process and essentially taught them how to replicate it for themselves, my client said, “You know, Kimberly, we’ve got another project we think would be perfect for you.” Which was how I ended up designing and facilitating their global customer experience program.
The customer experience program was the CEO’s baby. He saw a gaping hole, company-wide, in their understanding of what was truly important to their customers. He had this grand vision of building out a program that would require every employee (and at that time they had about 1,000 employees in 11 offices worldwide) to essentially walk in their customer’s shoes for a day. He wanted everyone, from the front-desk to the C-suite, to go through this program. It was an incredibly ambitious undertaking, and that program became my charge.
After designing the program and dealing with the overwhelming logistics, I traveled for a solid year facilitating it. Every month I was in a different city, in a different country. I worked to ignite and draw out insight from their experience. I wanted the employees to understand, on a visceral level, what mattered to their customers, so they wanted to do something about it. I believed that once they knew what it felt like to be a customer, they couldn’t help but want to solve their customer’s problems. What I was doing in that program, without even realizing it, is that I was essentially driving action by igniting empathy.
Fast forward again, many years, and I found myself in the world of training and development, doing leadership and engagement work with leaders and emerging leaders from Fortune 500 companies all over the United States. One day, I was teaching for a large pharma company in the Northeastern part of the country, and their Director of Learning walked into my classroom and changed my life.
He had heard me mention my colorful theatre days, loved my work, and asked whether I had ever thought about developing a leadership program based on theatre tools. I told him I had been noodling something over for years but had never had the opportunity to develop it. We negotiated an agreement where I’d develop a full-day experiential workshop for his high potential leaders and in exchange for screamin’ deal, I’d retain ownership of the content.
That was late 2008 and the birth of OnStage Leadership.
OnStage Leadership is different from your normal training program. I knew that, before I rolled it out to this big multi-national company, I better darn well know if it worked! Thus, I held an open-enrollment pilot program in Dallas, TX to see if it was any good. Turns out it was.
After the first year, OnStage Leadership was in business, we decided to mark the occasion by throwing a grand “graduate reunion.” We had 100 graduates. 80 of them showed up with guests. (see below).
We were on to something.
From that year forward, I ran open enrollment programs of OnStage Leadership in Dallas and eventually added NYC. I’ve worked with thousands of men and women from different backgrounds, histories, industries, and experience levels. They have inspired me, challenged me, and shaped me.
I have been given the incredible gift to be a part of people’s journeys. So many incredible people! People who like you and me who just want to be the best they can be. People who have trusted me with their stories, their insights. People who have the courage to do something different, to step into their power, and take full responsibility for their actions and the impact that they have on the people around them. They are the people who are taking the reins in their own lives.
They are the difference makers.
When I started writing my book, I realized early on that nobody would buy a book called, “OnStage Leadership.” What the heck does that mean? Out of context, it doesn’t make sense. But when I started thinking about the one unifying characteristic of everyone who risks showing up as their, best, most authentic, and powerful self… It’s their bravery.
As you can tell, from what I’ve shared with you about my journey, this path that has led me here to you has been anything but a straight line, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It has made me who I am, and it has ignited this work that has, in turn, helped thousands of others who are making a difference in their organizations, communities, and families.
Mine your life. There you will find your gifts. Every experience has made you who you are. Every obstacle has taught you what you know. You are the sum of your history. Your future, the sum of your choices.
After a long break from public programs, and having moved to Costa Rica, I’m about to wrap up the open-enrollment phase of OnStage Leadership. Like everything in life, change opens-up new possibilities. But I can’t help but be sad. The public programs have brought people into my life I would have never met otherwise. People from corporate and non-profit; from government and healthcare and education. Small business owners and solopreneurs. Leaders and aspiring leaders. People who have brought the courage to unleash their best selves. Many, many, many people who have since become dear, dear, dear friends.
You are cast in the role of a lifetime! You are the only person who gets to play YOU! Take the stage in your life.
Note: Starting November 1st, OnStage Leadership will only be offered to organizations or groups. If you wish to be a part of the last public open-enrollment program in Dallas, TX on October 28, 2022, click here to reach out!