Telling the Story

I’ve been reading a book recently called, ‘Telling The Story: The Heart And Soul Of Successful Leadership’ by Geoff Mead.  It’s really got me thinking about how the stories we tell as leaders can have a significant impact on our staff / followers.

In his book, Mead writes of how stories can be used to tap into the hearts and minds of people.  They can be used to inspire, motivate, educate, reassure and build unity.

Let me ask you a question…

‘What stories are you telling your staff intentionally or unintentionally?’

To which the reply might be, “Well I don’t tell stories to my staff”.  I’d argue the case that all leaders do.  The official and unofficial messages that we send out to our staff through our communications verbally and non-verbally tell a story in their own right.  I wonder what story your staff are hearing from you?  What stories do your staff most need to hear right now?’  ‘What story are you telling yourself about what is possible for you and your team?

For those of you who are curious enough to give storytelling a go, here is a simple step by step guide

Step 1: When should I tell a story?

  • Honouring achievement – success stories – bring to life what they have done and why we should celebrate and be inspired by them
  • Focus on purpose – stories about those who we serve to remind us of why the organisation exists and why we do what we do
  • Remembering our roots – to give a sense of belonging to something bigger than just ourselves
  • Encouraging good practice – telling stories of good practice you’ve noticed or where else you’ve noticed it in other organisations and walks of life
  • Demonstrating values in action – catching people doing things right
  • Warning about bad practice stories – enables people to reflect on their own practice
  • Anticipating change and transition – e.g. tell a story of preparing a boat for storming waters
  • Imagining possible futures – tell your vision, what life will be like, what will they see, hear and feel
  • Morale is low – tell a story of tough of tough times and how they were overcome

Section 2: What’s the message?

What is the message that you want to convey?

e.g. – keep going, these might be tough times but things will get better

  • Working as a team
  • Innovate, take risks
  • Don’t forget the importance of customer service

Section 3: Where do I find stories to tell?

  • Own experiences
  • Other people’s experiences
  • fictional stories
  • borrowing well known stories – novels, traditional stories, films, TV shows e.g. I sometimes tell my learners the story of Karate Kid if they are confused as to why we are learning something….. The bit where Daniel gets fed up of doing ‘wax on, wax off’ cleaning of the car- it seems pointless at the time and he gets annoyed with Mr Miagi, his mentor However, later in the film when he really needs it, he understands why, as he is able to deflect the blows of his attacker by using ‘wax on, wax off’ motion.

Section 4: Tell the story

Frame correctly by saying why you are telling them the story then choose a format from below

  • At a team meeting formally
  • Informally at a social event
  • Send an email
  • In the work newsletter, facebook page etc etc

Example 1:

  1. Morale in your team is low.
  2. Message you want to send is that things won’t be like this forever
  3. You remember a time in your previous job when morale was low but it picked up. Be sure to tell what it was that got you through those times
  4. Share this story the next time you notice people are downhearted at the team meeting

Example 2:

  1. People are not thinking for themselves
  2. You want to let them know that you trust them to make their own decisions and that they don’t have to come to you all the time. Mistakes will be tolerated.
  3. You tell them the story of teaching your child how to ride a bike. How you had to eventually let go, which meant they came off a few times and got hurt. The temptation is to not allow the child to try again as you don’t want them to get hurt. However, you know that if they are going to ‘get it’ you have to let them keep trying. Don’t forget to tell of the momentous occasion that they first ride well unassisted – what opportunities and adventures they now have open to them and what confidence they now have.
  4. Email it to them with a picture of the proud moment asking them to remember that feeling themselves

This is all a great way of developing your right brain creative skills. In the world of work that you are in the rational left brain tends to dominate but the way to people’s emotions and motivations is through the right brain.

If you want to see some great storytelling in action check out this inspirational and heart warming TED talk from Ken Robinson.

Suggested further reading:

–           ‘Telling the Story – the heart and soul of successful leadership’ – Geoff Mead

–          ‘More Magic of Metaphor’ – Nick Owen

–          ‘The Storyteller’s Way’ – Ashley Ramsden and Sue Hollingsworth

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