Tag Archives | authentic leaders

Increase Your Leadership Credibility with a Story

Leadership authenticityPeople don’t want more information. They are up to their eyeballs in information. They want faith—faith in you, your goals, your success, in the story you tell.” Annette Simmons, The Story Factor

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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?

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Real Leaders Know How to Say, “I’m Sorry”

Real leaders know how to say I'm sorryA sincere apology increases leadership authenticity, credibility, and opportunity.

We all have days when we’re tired or stressed, days when we’re critical and sharp with others, days when we’ve risked, reached, and made mistakes. These are the days when we just need to say, “I’m sorry.”

In their Forbes blog post, Creative Leadership: Humility and Being WrongDoug Guthrie and Sudhir Venkatest state that, “leaders must not only recognize their failures, but also acknowledge them publicly. In being wrong, they can find both authenticity and opportunity.”

A sincere apology goes a long way to building our credibility. And even more important, it allows others to risk and reach, knowing that they do not have to be perfect either. Let me tell you a story.

I suspected I was in trouble when I found Alan, our CEO, waiting for me behind his desk. We usually met in the adjoining conference room to discuss his speeches. He was reading the script I’d written for him to deliver the next day.

“Come in, come in.”  His tone was sharp, and he didn’t look up. “This isn’t right. If we don’t focus on the sales data from the past six months, they’re never going to get it.You didn’t include enough data, and I want to start out with what they’re doing wrong.”

I explained that instead of putting the data right up front, I’d woven it into his comments in a more participative way to ensure that he was communicating on all three levels: intellectual, emotional, and practical. I explained that instead of feeling threatened and as though they’d failed, the team would feel motivated instead.

“No, I want you to do it my way.”

“Okay, fine.”  I was less than smooth, and I knew my irritation was showing. But darn it, I’d done the research. I’d spoken to dozens of field representatives, and I knew they didn’t have all the information to understand Alan’s point of view.

So, I went home feeling like a failure myself, ate dinner, set the alarm clock, and went to bed. I got up at 3:00 a.m., made a pot of coffee, and sat down to revise the speech.

I left the revised speech on Alan’s desk at 6:00 a.m., feeling tired and discouraged.

At 6:30, my telephone rang. It was Alan. My blood pressure leapt as I waited to hear his assessment of the speech.

“Good morning, how are you?” His voice was quieter than usual.

“Uh, I’m fine, how are you.” I was surprised at his question. Alan didn’t usually spend much time with preliminary conversation.

“I’m fine,” he said. “Look, I’m sorry, Sher. You were right. Will you put the speech back to the way it was?”

I was astounded. I’d worked with many other CEOs and never had any of them apologized for anything. “You’ve got it!”

My respect for this CEO shot sky high, and my energy bounced back with a bang. I’ve never forgotten how that executive leader made me feel and that it took courage for him to apologize. And, I have always tried to remember to apologize to others when I slip because I’m tired or stressed and communicate in ways I never meant.

Sometimes, leaders tell me that they don’t know how to apologize. They worry they will sound weak or glib.

In her Forbes blog post, Courageous Leaders Don’t Make Excuses…They Apologize, Erika Anderson from Proteus International offers her 5-step Apology Primer. Really good stuff.

How have you felt when a leader has sincerely apologized to you?

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