318: Michele Bailey—The World Of Marketing Is Transformed. Are You Ready For A New Strategy?

Hear how gratitude can change your life and your business 

Michele Bailey and I had such a terrific interview discussing her own life’s journey and how to be a successful woman entrepreneur. She is the founder of The Blazing Group, a brand and culture agency born of her strategy-first approach to business, her flair for sharing stories, and her desire to enhance employee wellness while pursuing business goals. Now she has a new program to improve employee mentoring and wellness called My Big Idea® which accelerates business growth while addressing the challenges of balancing work and personal life. Listen in!

Watch and listen to our conversation here

Michele B video

The power of gratitude can be life-changing

Michele Bailey was a driving force in bringing the first Women Presidents’ Organization (WPO) chapter to Canada and currently sits on the WPO board as its international representative. She is committed to supporting entrepreneurs in the underrepresented diverse and inclusion markets, and is also a successful author. Her new book, The Currency of Gratitude, published in 2021 by ForbesBooks, focuses on the power of gratitude. On this we agree. Together we offer exceptional advice for women in business: focus on the power of the person, and gratitude is a gift that keeps giving. Want to connect with Michele? Reach out on Linkedin, Twitter, Facebook and either of her websites: My Big Idea or Blazing

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Read the transcript of our podcast here

Andi Simon: Welcome to On the Brink With Andi Simon. Thanks for joining us today. My job, as you know, is to be your host and your guide. What I want to do is get you off the brink. I want you to see, feel and think in new ways so that you can change. So I have with me today a wonderful woman, Michele Bailey from Canada. Michele and I met through the Women Business Collaborative, an organization we’re both extremely involved with and very fond of, all of which is there to help women become the best that they can be. What I’d like to do today, though, is let Michele tell you a little bit about herself after I introduce her to all of you because her bio is beautiful. And I don’t want her to shortchange you because it’s really exciting.

She’s the founder of The Blazing Crew which is a brand and culture agency born out of her strategy-first approach to business. She has a flair for sharing stories, and a desire to enhance employee wellness while pursuing business goals. This is sort of interesting because as you listen to her today, you’ll know that business isn’t about selling things or making things, it’s about people things. And the wellness and well-being of your people and their belonging is not to be underestimated. It is the differentiator that can take you and separate you from the rest. And she’s shaking her head for those who are listening. And she’s saying yes.

Her advertising agency, Blazing, is turning branding inside out. Her My Big Idea and Employee Mentoring and Wellness Program is designed to propel individuals forward in their quest for personal and professional success. My Big Idea is a really cool one so it’s delivered virtually or in person. And it’s really uniquely designed for business owners, leaders and employees to address the challenges of work and personal life. And we’ll talk today about that work-life balance, who is in the pursuit of what I’ve never understood.

I’m an anthropologist, and I look at our society, and I can’t quite figure out why life and work are different. So work life and life work. I mean, this is all kind of a blend of being a professional. Since the time my kids were three weeks old, I knew that there was a blend, it wasn’t either or, there was together. It was who we were. So the difference and the balancing is a challenge, even for the guys.

Michele is on a quest to get her clients to take one important step further, to make true gratitude integral to the way business is done. True gratitude, as you’re listening or watching, we’re going to talk a lot about it because gratitude is not inconsequential, it is essential to our well-being. So her passion for gratitude is contagious. And I think you’re going to capture that. She has a new book out, and I’m so delighted to share it with you. It’s called The Currency of Gratitude and was just published. And it offers a moving and straightforward guide to enabling business growth using gratitude as your currency, and you’re gonna say, But I think gratitude is not inconsequential.

Now Michele will tell you, she’s a biracial woman and has faced her share of challenges. Her boundless energy and vision have earned her international recognition as a champion of women in business. She’s a driving force bringing the first Women Presidents Organization chapter, the WPO, to Canada, and she sits on the WPO board as its international representative. I think you know enough about Michele to know that you want to listen carefully, and enjoy our time together. I shall thank you for joining me today.

Michele Bailey: Andi, I’m so delighted to be here.

Andi Simon: Well tell the listener who is Michele because you’ve had a journey. I can’t capture it reading your bio as much as I have enjoyed it. So give us a little bit about your background.

Michele Bailey: Thank you, Andi. First of all, I want to start by saying that I have lived in multiple states in different countries my whole life. It wasn’t until I turned 18 that I landed in Canada with going to school and I have stayed here. So I’m a dual citizen. I’m an American, as well as a Canadian. I have lived in New Hampshire, Vermont, New York City, Michigan, and the island of Haiti. So I have quite a varied background. And I’ve experienced many cultures which have allowed me to be the woman I am today.

And through this all, Andi, we’re talking about gratitude. I have to tell you, because I never stayed anywhere long, it was really hard to make friends because people knew that I’d be moving and they didn’t want to waste time on people that aren’t going to be hanging around. So at an early age, I made gratitude my core. I learned to embrace each and every relationship that was put in front of me, whether it be for a season or a lifetime, because people mean everything to me. This fast forwards us to being in Toronto today. So to take a step back, I have an agency called Blazing. You might not know who we are, but you will certainly have heard of the clients that we have done work for the last 27 years. And to be a woman in this industry for that long is really almost unheard of because it’s a dog-eat-dog world. It’s a burn-and-churn business. People usually don’t last longer than 18 or 24 months because you burn them out. However, Blazing has stood the test of time. And my average tenured employee is 11 years.

Andi Simon: Wow. In today’s world, that is amazing.

Michele Bailey: And Andi, that is actually why people kept saying to me, how do you hold on to people in an industry that is just soburn-and-churn for the length of time that you do. And I will tell you, it’s a few things. It’s about creating an awesome culture at work. So people feel connected. They want to love and they watch each other’s backs. That’s the first and most important thing.

It’s also about appreciating and recognizing the contributions they bring, both as team members and as individuals, also very important. So I didn’t know that Blazing was so special until people started saying to me, You don’t lose your people. And all the people you get are through word of mouth. You don’t have to use headhunters or you don’t have to use hiring people. I said, No, it’s all word of mouth. So that’s what I was doing at Blazing. When people were asking me what I do differently, I thought, I do something differently than most people I know. I do things like setting up my goals, both personally and professionally every year. I am very clear with what I need to do, as a business owner, as a leader, as a mother, and as a friend. So what I do is, I actually broke down my life into nine categories. And this is what led to the evolution and creation of My Big Idea.

My Big Idea helps people come up with their big idea. You can have work-life integration and blend. So Andi, I start every year by sitting down and answering 13 questions under reflection. What worked and what didn’t work this past year. And because it’s my homework for myself, I’m dead honest. Because if I’m not dead honest, I can’t change, improve, or discard things that haven’t been working for me. So I talk about things like, what was my biggest challenge? What was my biggest success? Who inspired me? And why? What do I need to let go of? Who do I need to let go of? Who do I need to allow in my life? Questions like that.

So I start with reflection, then I go into personal goals. And I again have 10 questions I’m asking myself, and then I have a section in my workbook where I have to list at least one, but not more than three, personal goals. And it has to be about me, not my kids, not my family, it’s got to be about me. I do the same for professional goals. I ask myself what I want to accomplish this year. Then I go into health and wellness goals. I go into finance and wealth goals. Then I go into relationship goals.

Andi, when I created relationship goals, I never knew how impactful this would be. I actually asked people to answer the questions on relationship goals but did not set a goal. I need you to do an exercise called creating your support network. And in this exercise, I have people with professional careers, name a mentor or mentee, friends, family, and emotional support. I have a whole little grid and I start putting people’s names in there. And then I look at that grid and I go through it. I have a little marker with two different colored markers, and I mark who gives me positive energy, who gives me negative energy and whose energy is neutral. So once I’ve identified and looked at my support network, then I go back and set my relationship goal for the year. And sometimes it gets rid of or creates strict boundaries around people who don’t always want or wish the best for me. It’s about keeping it real.

Then I go into my refueling section. What do I need to do for myself to be the best version of me for me and everyone around me? And then I always end with my gratitude goals. I have a list and I just write people’s names down. I write down the relationship to me, and what I want to thank them for. And in those relationships, aside from the gratitude goals, what I do is, I have six questions that if I answer them honestly, to the person I want to thank, I will change my relationship with them. The questions go something like this: You came into my life…, you bring me joy by…, you inspire me because…, I hope to add to our journey together…, and I want to thank you for….

I put those down, and then answer them in under five minutes. And that has impacted my relationships, both personally and professionally, like nothing else I’ve ever experienced. So Andi, this is why I now have The Currency of Gratitude, my book, by ForbesBooks. ForbesBooks came to me and they said, We hear you’ve got a different spin on gratitude. And I said, I do. And I said, please understand that I think gratitude journals are so important. And I think looking at each day, and seeing the three things you need to be most grateful for, is also very important. But I’m on a quest to teach people that if you push gratitude outside of yourself, you will have much bigger, better, stronger and sticky relationships with people in your life. So ForbesBooks said, Could you write a book about 50,000 words? I said, No, I could write in 30,000 words on how gratitude has changed my life and I hope to teach other people how gratitude can change your life.

Andi Simon: So this is a journey you’ve been on. I’m fascinated with each step along the way. And as you’re thinking about it, I’m just curious whether this has come from any kind of catalytic moment, aha moment. You know, when we were talking in advance, I said, The pressure to write a book comes from all kinds of places. Was there a particular thing that became other than ForbesBooks coming to you and saying, Would you write a book?

Michele Bailey: And I didn’t think it was time to tell the story. And I didn’t even understand that gratitude was my brand. It was my Managing Partner, Eric Marshall, who showed me that gratitude was my brand. And it started because someone came and said, We want you to open a women’s conference up in Toronto. There’ll be hundreds of women there. We want you on stage to kick it off by talking about spending five minutes talking about a passion project, something you’re passionate about. We want the audience to feel your passion.

So I went to the office and I said to Eric, I’m going to kick off this conference. And I’m going to talk about work-life blend and integration through My Big Idea and how if you focus on those nine areas of your life, you will get clearer, and you will have a blend that works for you. So he looked at me and said, You’re going to talk about My Big Idea. Yeah, that’s your five minute passion. I said, absolutely. He said, I don’t think so. I looked him and said, You don’t think so? He said, Passion is what makes you come alive. He said, Gratitude is your passion. And he walked out of the room. I’m like, Who’s he to tell me what my passion is?

So you know what? I got up there. And he and I talked about gratitude. And when you do it from a source of abundance, when you have gratitude as your guiding north star, the world presents opportunities to you that you aren’t even aware of.

Andi Simon: So, Michele, for those who sign a gratitude diary, it’s not the three things that you’re grateful for each day. It’s not sending a gratitude note. It’s something different. Talk to us before we talk about the book. What is it that you found in the word gratitude that can flush it out for us, give it a personality beyond them. The tactical practical that we hear because this sounds like a life strategy, something that gives you richness beyond anything in particular, but something bigger and richer. Am I hearing you correctly?

Michelle Bailey: Yes, and you are. For me, gratitude is about energy. Think of a ball of light. And when you give that ball of light to someone else, gratitude shows up in so many ways. You are giving energy to another person, and allowing them to receive something that you see in them. Too often, we are all so busy, we’re racing. We just need to get through the next thing. When you have gratitude as an anchor, it allows magic to appear. And I’ll give you a very short little story.

Over the last two years, as you know, a lot of people have lost their jobs or resigned from their jobs, etc. There’s a woman that I know in banking. I had lost touch with her for years, but I heard she had lost her job. And I didn’t think anything of it. We’d lost touch. I got a call from her husband. How he found my number, my name, I don’t know. And he called me up and he said, Michele, my wife is in a really bad way. Could you please reach out to her because she’s not getting off the couch. And it’s been weeks.

I’ll be honest, I hung up that phone, I thought, I have no time for this. And I thought to myself, a man looked for my number. He doesn’t know me, himself, by calling me and saying that his wife needs help. I know she hasn’t been in touch, please help her. So I reached out to her. And I didn’t tell her her husband called me. I reached out and I suggested we go for a walk. She came up; I live in the country. She came out and we walked and I let silence do the lifting and I just listened. That was my act of gratitude. I just listened to her hurt, her overwhelmingness of being let go. Not knowing, I just listened. And I invited her back two weeks later. And what I did when we went on the walk is I told her all the wonderful things I saw in her, both personally and professionally in the 10 years I had known her, even though we had lost contact, and I reminded her that she is special. And there’s someone out there, a corporation that’s going to see that. Silence, listening, observing, and just being present with to get this woman back in a good space. And she’s got a great job now. Something as simple as that, that’s an act of gratitude.

Andi Simon: I love it. I love it. Because anyone listening can do that. It’s not like you need to go take it. But you do need to pause for a moment and think about how you can help somebody. Now I’m going to pause for a moment.

So Michele has told us an amazing story that sort of has been captured now in her book. And what I’d like her to do is talk about the different chapters in the book so that this gratitude currency can come alive, even more than just the gift that she gave this lovely lady who needed a hand, but also so you can begin to hear about what gratitude can become for you, as you’re dealing with all of the transformation coming out of the pandemic. And who knows whether we’ll be coming back into another one. Michele, share with us the contents inside your book, please.

Michele Bailey: Absolutely Andi. I am pleased to share that. So I’m showing people how, Chapter One, placing gratitude at the center of your personal brand changes relationships. And again, I talk about those questions I teach people to answer. Also about creating brand ambassadors. That’s Chapter Two. Blazing has created brand ambassadors. That’s why I never have to advertise for jobs. People come to me through word of mouth because of brand ambassadors. I talk about gratitude in winning business. I do not take winning business for granted. And I’m not one to win business and start going to the next piece of business. I want to win business to make sure it stays and when I lose business, and I do, I continue keeping in touch and I go back and win more business then I’ve lost.

Chapter Four, gratitude as a means of retaining clients and customers. Almost all of Blazing business is grown through referrals. That’s about retaining clients and customers. Chapter Five is about gratitude and self care. If we can’t be grateful to ourselves..first big act of gratitude: be grateful and kind to yourself. Then I wrote about gratitude during times of crisis. I held back on the publishing of this book. Forbes was not too happy, because I saw gratitude unfolding during the pandemic. I needed to talk about how people show up in cooperation for other people in times of crisis.

And then my last chapter is about making gratitude a habit. I have a daily planner, it’s called The My Big Idea planner. And every week at a glance, I have to write about things to do personally, things to do professionally, what I need to reflect on or who I need to reflect on, and who I need to think about. As I look at my planner, right now, I see that there’s five gratitude cards that I need to put out. As far as reflection, there’s two people that I need to reach out to, because they need a little extra something from someone. And I’ve chosen that this is the week I’m going to reach out to them. So that’s how I make it a habit. And it becomes a habit. Andi, it’s every Sunday night, five minutes for me to set up my week so I know what I need to do.

Andi Simon: Now, as you’re thinking about this, think about it as if you’re the audience listening in. You greatly created a personal strategy for your life. And you created the action steps to make that come alive. And you’re telling us a story about how it’s transformed. We’d love to know a little more about the transformation, because you didn’t start doing this. This has come along in your life journey where you began to see how to build those relationships in particular ways. You know, do you have an insight in terms of who Michele is now versus where you might have been, as you were starting through all of this. Was Blazing a different kind of company before it began to have that epiphany that this was what matters?

Michele Bailey: Actually, Blazing was a different company. I was focused on culture, gratitude. That was always my focus. It was all about creating an awesome culture, and to be a company where I wanted to work, because I had two previous employers, and I dreaded Mondays. So it showed me what I wanted to create. So that’s creating a winning culture. I think it was about 10 years ago, when my dad died, who was my mentor. My dad was everything to me. He also lived with us, and he worked at Blazing. So when he died, I was so busy taking care of my immediate family, and then my brothers and their families all throughout the US, and then I went back to the office to take care of my team.

We’ve been working with Dr. Fritz for years and years. Nobody was coping well with his death. For me, for three weeks I tried to get everything and everyone settled. And then I realized that I hadn’t grieved, breathed this immense loss in my life. So I took a backpack and I went down to Costa Rica by myself for two weeks and off the grid, no electronics. I brought a pen and paper. I brought paints. I brought poems to read and I hiked in the rainforests of Costa Rica every day. It was only my last day there, when I sat down and I wrote a letter to my father that I began to heal. So on that plane ride home, I sat on the plane, and I made a list of all the people in my life that I needed to thank. And that’s what transformed to understanding that gratitude expressed to people will really show them the impact they have on your life and tell them when they’re alive. So you don’t have to write a letter like I did to my dad.

Andi Simon: But as you known, the gift of giving is as much a gift to ourselves as it is to somebody else, and that bond, just then, you need it. Unfortunately, that catalyst was to realize it. But what a blessing that it came to you at the right time to begin to grow to the next woman who you were becoming.

Michele Bailey: It was. My father gave me a great gift. And I didn’t realize how big it was. But now that I know that gift was given to me, I’m trying to teach it. others.

Andi Simon: Well, it’s so exciting. But we are just about ready to wrap up this beautiful podcast together. And I’ve so enjoyed talking with you. A couple of things you don’t want the listener to forget?

Michele Bailey: I want all the listeners to know that your personal and professional life are never going to be balanced. So make it integrated and blended together first. The second thing is, it takes five minutes, no more than five minutes, to answer those questions I put at the beginning, and change a relationship with someone who means the world to you. Know they can’t read your mind. And the third thing is, you are always teaching people how to treat you. Peggy Gras, my mentor, has always told me that you are teaching people how to treat you. So get treated the way you want.

Andi Simon: This is such an interesting, important, wonderful, I don’t know the right adjective. My words are always empty when they don’t really capture the beauty of your story and the mission that you’re on to help the world become a much better place. I think it’s a global mission at a time when we need it a lot. It’s a very, very difficult time. And one was like gratitude, the relationships, the personal presence that Michele was talking about. Carefully listen to this podcast a second time and begin to think about it and even buy her book. It’s a great book to begin to understand how giving gratitude is not about one way, it’s about two ways and as you give, you receive, but also about how you build that life that’s worth living. And you might wonder about how to blend it, or how to balance it. But at the end of the day, life and work are together. We need to live and we need to have work, so somehow we have to pull it all into place so that our families and friends and those around us all thrive. So this is a great time. Do you want to put up that book one more time? What is the name of it? And how can they buy it.

Michele Bailey: The Currency of Gratitude by Michele Bailey. You can buy it on Amazon or wherever business books are sold. ForbesBooks is the publisher.

Andi Simon: And ForbesBooks is very happy to promote that. So this is a great time. Let me say goodbye to all of you who come with such attention and send me great emails, info@andisimon.com. Send them along and I love your ideas. And I love the people you want me to interview. It’s sharing at its best. Now my book, Rethink: Smashing The Myths of Women in Business, won the bronze Best Business Book for 2022 in the Women in Business category by Axiom. And so I’m honored. And my first book, On the Brink: A Fresh Lens to Take Your Business to New Heights, won the same award but in a different category in 2017. So writing books is a challenge. And then when it works, it’s so exciting. So Michele, thank you for coming today. And for all our listeners, thank you for coming. I’ll see you soon. Take care now. Bye bye.