Our strategy offsite began when the CEO stood up to formally introduce himself to his new leadership team. No doubt about it, his background and credentials were impressive, but as he spoke I found my attention wandering.
The next executive stood up and started to speak.
“I grew up in Alabama, and I wanted to go to college more than anything. I remember the day I asked my dad if he would help me, and he said ‘sure.’ Then, he got up from his chair in front of the television set, walked into the kitchen, and came back to where I stood in the living room. ‘Here,’ he said, and he threw the telephone book at me.”
My attention was no longer wandering. This leader went on to describe how he went to school to get his nursing certificate so that he would have a solid, well-paying job as a foundation to continue his education. He talked about how he listened and learned from everyone he spoke to about how to invest, how to save, how to risk and grow. Then, he told us about one of his last nights as a nurse in the Level 2 nursery where he cared for the tiniest, most at risk babies.
“Eight babies died that night,” he said. “And, I knew that I didn’t have what it took to stay in the nursing profession. But I also knew, that I wanted to make a difference, and so I went back to school, determined to learn as much as I could.” He went on to tell us more about his journey. When he spoke of his vision for how our company could serve others, I could feel my own passion soar along with my commitment to this new organization I’d just joined.
I heard this leader’s story more than 15 years ago. I’ve never forgotten the passion in his voice, the humility, and his resolution to learn what he needed to learn so that he could be the best leader possible.
When we share our stories, we connect in ways that break down barriers and allow others to listen, understand, and remember what we want to communicate. That understanding allows us to connect on all three leadership communication levels: intellectual, emotional, and practical.
In her book, The Story Factor, Annette Simmons describes six basic leadership stories:
- Who I Am Stories demonstrate who you are. If you are courageous enough to tell a story that shares a challenge or failure, and what you learned as a result, you will deepen your relationship with others. What you are sharing means that you know no one is perfect, and that means anyone listening doesn’t have to be perfect either. That knowledge allows others to stretch and grow and accomplish things they might not otherwise accomplish.
- Why I Am Here Stories tell people right up front why you are speaking with them at a given point in time, what you want from them, and why they should care.
- Vision Stories take courage to tell, and may seem sentimental, but if they are well done, they are extremely powerful in helping people make it through challenging times.
- Teaching Stories not only help people understand what you want them to do, they provide a joint experience that allows you to transform information into understanding.
- Values-in-Action Stories allow you to reinforce abstract concepts like quality and integrity in ways that keep people thinking for themselves about how they can personally demonstrate these values in the work they do.
- I Know What You Are Thinking Stories allow you to name potential objections an audience may have right up front to eliminate fears and disarm potential objections
The Story Factor is one of the most profound books on communication that I have ever read. Annette Simmons sums it all up so well, “Telling a meaningful story means inspiring your listeners . . . to reach the same conclusions you have reached and decide for themselves to believe what you say and do what you want them to do.”
How will you tell your leadership stories?