Megan Lundstrom, co-founder of The Avery Center




Megan Lundstrom is the co-founder and Director of Research at The Avery Center, an organization that leads local and international change-makers to end commercial sexual exploitation with research that is used to reduce demand, convict traffickers, and decrease barriers for marginalized populations through evidence-based services.

She started the organization in 2014 (originally known as Free Our Girls) as a one-woman operation and, between then and now, has worn many unofficial hats in addition to the more formal titles of Founder and Director. Leading an ever-growing team to achieve her big visions requires knowing her own strengths and weaknesses, as well as those of her team.

Megan's do-it-herself personality combined with thoughtful interview practices and big-picture thinking is how she creates a dynamic environment where individuals can play to their strengths while challenging themselves to grow personally and professionally.

Megan, we've had the opportunity to talk on several occasions about risk tolerance (what makes some people more comfortable taking risks than others?), as well as your role in your organization as a visionary "12." (12 is a shorthand for saying that a person thrives focusing on the big picture and is okay taking larger risks to get there—keep reading to learn about The Thinking Wavelength, where this "12" idea comes from).

When, if ever, do you get overwhelmed at work and what is the most effective way for you to move through that feeling and remain focused and productive? Is it more common for you to experience overwhelm from a big idea, small details, personnel issues, or something else entirely?

MEGAN LUNDSTROM: Oh wow, first question is a doozy, haha! I am writing this while currently on a quasi-leave of absence due to this exact issue: getting bogged down in the day-to-day and our team becoming to dependent on having immediate access to me to answer questions (as opposed to individual initiative, creativity and seeking out other resources). One thing that has always helped, but I feel like the pandemic expedited and made more of an option, is working from home where I have less distractions. I also hired an assistant to handle a majority of my scheduling and communications, it puts somewhat of a buffer between me and external requests for my time.

Overall, I know that once I have figured something out (done it, replicated it, and can teach it - that's my general rule of "getting it"), I am ready to hand it off to someone else and move on to the next project. When we don't have another team member who has capacity to take over that that point, that's when I tend to lose interest and even start feeling resentful that I am trapped doing the same tasks over and over. On the flip side - I LOVE big ideas! I love spending time with other visionaries and hearing their big ideas and tossing around creative strategies. Even when nothing materializes, its something that fills me up to spend time thinking big. I get energized hearing other people's dreams and just revel in thinking about how incredible the human experience truly is.

I LOVE big ideas! I love spending time with other visionaries and hearing their big ideas and tossing around creative strategies. I get energized hearing other people's dreams and just revel in thinking about how incredible the human experience truly is.

How about overwhelm with your team members—do they struggle to figure out how to make big visionary ideas into reality, and how do you help keep them from getting stalled out in that type of situation?

ML: I cannot sing the praises of the Wavelength personality test enough, however I think a common misconception about it is that people lower on the Wavelength are incapable of having big, bold ideas. That is simply not true! The Wavelength isn't about a person's ability to be creative or innovative, but it sometimes gets interpreted that way. In reality, when folks lower on the Wavelength have big ideas, they are more calculating (and probably more realistic!) about the risks, needs, and steps to successfully execute. It may take them longer to launch a new project because they want to work out all the details first, however this also means that when they do officially start something new, it is likely going to have a less bumpy start because they've taken the time to consider potential obstacles and how to address them BEFORE they jump in. This is a conversation we have at our office quite often, and we encourage a collaborative environment where brainstorming and big ideas are welcomed by everyone. No single person has all the answers, so allowing space to kick around ideas is really important and can be motivating to take calculated risk.

Megan Lundstrom's favorite resource: Thinking WavelengthMegan Lundstrom's Favorite Team-Building Resource: The Thinking Wavelength

Developed by The Patterson Center, this quick quiz is about how individuals are hard-wired in their thinking. It’s about how people relate to change, risk, and opportunity. Every person has a hard-wired “high-contribution zone”, and there’s no right or wrong answer here. It's all about finding out where each person can make their greatest contribution.

Are you a Grinder, Minder, Keeper, Finder, or Conceiver? Find out with the Thinking Wavelength »

Tell me how the Wavelength Scores help you build a successful team. Do you use that test in interviews?

MEGAN LUNDSTROM: YES! I can talk about the Wavelength all day! We do ask all volunteers and interns to take the Wavelength before starting, and job position candidates are asked to come prepared with their score the day of their interview. It is an integral part of our work culture but also in understanding how we can support each team member in ways that are meaningful to them as an individual. As an example, we are launching a brand new program that has about three pages of a Wavelength 10 description from the grant proposal of what we want to do. It would be ludicrous, for example, to hire a Wavelength 3 to come in and launch that program. It would burn them out almost immediately to deal with that level of ambiguity, which hurts them and us, and our clients. It's better to bring in team members who are very high on the wavelength to launch this program - they are going to wade through the ambiguity and flesh out the program design, and then bring in team members that are mid-Wavelength once they have the program fully sketched out and ready to launch. We then will keep in mind that those high Wavelength team members might need to move somewhere else in the organization as the program formalizes and they find it less and less stimulating - it doesn't mean anyone is doing anything wrong that they need this transition to something new, rather it shows that we prioritize people and relationships, and making sure our team members feel empowered and energized to do the work they do.

I really admire your ability to delegate work successfully to a diverse team. Do you ever worry about your team messing up your vision or not implementing it the way you see it? How do you make sure everyone is moving in the right direction without micromanaging?

ML: All. The. Time. Founder's Syndrome is real. It's messy and painful. It's scary. I like to think of growing a business in an analogy of raising a child. In the first several years, the company depends on you, the creator, for every single thing. As it grows older, it develops operating protocols that allow it to run increasingly independent. At some point, the company is able to run entirely on its own, maybe just checking in from time to time for encouragement and wisdom/vision. The Avery Center is (only) seven years old this year. It can carry on basic functions pretty consistently, and there is an established level of hand-eye coordination that its able to meet daily objectives without my nonstop supervision. However, it still needs a lot of training up, with attention being paid to specific departments as they continue to grow.

I think trust in your team is critical. I have SUCH an amazing group of humans carrying out TAC's vision and mission. I understand who they are as individuals and what they are capable of doing because we actively work to know each other as whole people, not just space-holders executing a specific series of tasks. When I trust the individual, I am confident in their abilities to make decisions in their role, and combined with that "12" worldview, I am more than happy to hand things off to team members who can guide those programs and projects beyond initial concept.

My true role in my organization, at the end of the day, is the visioncaster. I need to be able to see the big picture and point us at the horizon. The team carries out the tasks to steer us there. A helpful framework I use when it comes to providing this (our team knows to ask me to "come in and 12 for us") comes from a sweet friend and mentor, Beth Bruno. Where have we come from? Where are we now? Where are we headed? When I "12", I keep my storytelling about the new project to this format. It becomes predictable over time for team members to know that they are going to get the historical context and current reality before I send them off into the big picture of the future.

Learn how founder Megan Lundstrom fosters her vision for her organization to keep her team moving in the right direction.

Is delegation a skill you have naturally, or something you've consciously developed?

ML: Oh man, no. I have to work really hard on this one. I've spent a lot of my personal life figuring things out on my own, which has created some fierce independence that can sometimes tip too far and communicate to others that I don't trust them and don't want or need help. Over the past probably three years, I have worked to become more self aware of these moments where I take on too much, and in doing so end up pulling back from relationships.

I also suffer from a horrible chronic case of FOMO {fear of missing out} and so tend to say "yes" to everything, whether I want to do it, or I have time to do it, or not. This often leads me to a place where I HAVE to delegate something out as I reach a breaking point in my sanity and capacity. A big piece of learning to delegate effectively has come from healing my own interpersonal wounds that have come from instances of my trust being violated, and learning how to assess who can be trusted, and then extend that trust when appropriate. From there, delegation to a specific individual becomes much easier, and as that person consistently shows up in that role, I feel increasingly confident I can hand things to them and know they will be completed.

What is a skill you have that you don't consider a typical "résumé skill," but which contributes to your success daily?

ML: I consider myself a synthesizer and theologian. My brain can take in massive amounts of information quickly, sort out key pieces, and then pick up patterns that need to be followed up on. I'd say it's not a typical "résumé skill" because it's not just something I do in a specific role, such as research, which it is incredibly valuable, but it's just how my brain operates. Whether sitting in on meetings, conversations, reading emails, or attending conferences, I'm always sorting from a 10,000 foot view and identifying common themes to help move a project forward or figuring out how to apply it. I am constantly searching for theories and frameworks to explain why things happen the way they do, and if no framework exists, I work on building one.

What is the most fulfilling or energizing part of your work? What part is the most draining or tiring?

ML: I love the variability of my work. I get to do everything from reading and writing in solitude, to traveling to undercover operations, to teaching others. No two days are the same, and when they are, that's when my energy levels dip. Bigger picture, beyond just me in the day-to-day, the thing that makes me tear up every time is seeing people like me experience financial stability for the first time in their life as a result of a program or training my team or I has provided. The other thing that drains me is running into systemic barriers that marginalize people—nothing is more frustrating to me than explaining over and over that we have to change existing systems if we want to end the exploitation of people, we can't just replicate existing systems because those systems played some part in the initial marginalization.

Variety in the day-to-day keeps Megan energized and focused.

What is one of your most important go-to interview questions to learn if someone will be a good fit for your team?

MEGAN LUNDSTROM: We use an evidence-based method of interviewing. It is a behavioral interview style, and we meet as a team before even posting the job opening to discuss priority characteristics of the ideal position candidate. In college I was told that if you get called in for an interview, you already meet all the qualifications on paper for the job, and so to be mindful of interviews that ask you to recite your resume to them, and to come prepared to answer off-script questions. I keep this in mind now in our hiring process as well. We have a series of six questions we ask each job candidate. Three of those questions are asked of all candidates, regardless of position, and they help define how the person sees themselves as an expert in their potential role (exposure, education, and experience). The other three questions assess character, one of which is asked of all candidates, and two are selected for each position based on the job description and role in the organization. The one character question we ask of everyone is designed to identify initiative and drive in the individual, it's called "Hunger" because TAC values grit and determination. The question is, "What is the hardest you've ever worked for something in your life?"

How do you decide what ideas simply aren’t worth pursuing, or aren’t a fit for your organization at a given time?

ML: Data! I would say when it was just me and my org was in infancy, I really was just throwing ideas on the wall and seeing what stuck. Now that we've had some incredible "sticks," I am working on dialing back my "fire starting" and channeling it into areas where its needed rather than just flame-throwing everywhere. For the programs that work, we've been collecting pre- and post-survey data and feedback on each program since their inception, and currently we are going one-by-one through each one and doing a longitudinal program evaluation to determine what's next.

I wouldn't say that we've had any total flops, although we've done massive revisions and pivots over the years, and there have also been things that worked but we just didn't have capacity to maintain long-term. Because I thrive most on the idea of ideas, I am at peace with walking away from things that no longer suit us, and I am re-energized when challenges come up.

The pandemic was arecent example of this - it was incredibly stressful for so many reasons, but it gave me huge opportunities to look at existing program models and adapt them for COVID-restriction accessibility, and also to spend time searching for gaps in existing program offerings that became painfully obvious during the pandemic, and figuring out solutions to meet needs in those gaps. Some of those solutions and adaptations were short-lived and we've moved on. Others prompted larger conversations and more lasting changes as we seized opportunities for growth. But, at the end of the day, it all comes back to the data, and being willing to listen to the evidence.

lightning round


How often do you get new ideas?

coming up with new ideas is a challenge

Scale of 1 to 10 - 10

my brain is always overflowing with new ideas

How hard is it for you to follow through on your ideas and make them happen?

I have to force myself to follow through on things

Scale of 1 to 10 - 7

I love carrying out tasks and completing things

How would you rank your work-life balance right now?

I live at work!

Scale of 1 to 10 - 6

I struggle to sit down and get work done.

What’s the #1 thing you recommend outsourcing so that you can focus on the parts of your business that really light you up?

If you are just beginning to grow a business and hire on staff, hire people to take on the stuff you loathe first. Continue doing that until you have positioned yourself in your company doing exclusively (or overwhelming majority) what you love.

What’s your favorite non-work thing right now?

Working on my brand new house and landscaping my yard! I never thought I'd enjoy heavy machinery, dirt, sweat and tan lines so much. Physical labor is hardly at all a part of my work life, so its an incredible feeling to use my body and to be able to tangibly engage in a project and see its progress.

CLOSING: Any other thoughts or tips you’d like to share with fellow leaders & entrepreneurs?

I can't wait to read the wisdom of other leaders!

Thank you, Megan, for being generous with your time and sharing your perspective and resources!


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