Story has the power to remind me what matters most.
When my three-year-old turned to me and said “Daddy, I want to buy pens and paper for the children!” I did a double take to make sure that I heard her request correctly. Making sure to be respectful of her request, and being secretly uncertain she really knew what she was asking I politely asked her to tell me again. I leaned my ear towards her in a fatherly fashion and she innocently yet definitely repeated “Daddy, I want to buy pens and paper for the kids who don’t have Mummy’s and Daddy’s.” We were on a community development assignment in Asia and my three-year-old daughter had worked out there were children who had less than she did and this generous, empathetic young lady desired to do good with what she (we) had.
The next day, we arranged to go to an office supply shop and I held the hand of an angel as she proudly and determinedly spent fifty of my dollars so the “kids without mummy’s and daddy’s” could have something to draw on. We then went immediately to the children’s home, and I stood in awe as she held open plastic bag after plastic bag fully conscious of what she was doing and fully aligned with the conviction she shared with me, as child after child walked up to her and was given a small yet life-changing (for me) gift. What started as the overflow of a three-year old’s observation and conviction has shifted how I see a world of possibility and generosity.
I was reminded that you’re never too young to make another person’s life better, and the gift is never too small. The means, motivation and manifestation of this kind of generosity is world changing to me.
Story REALLY has the power to remind me what matters most. And sometimes it’s from the heart and hands of a three-year-old girl. Leaders who speak are powerfully positioned to craft and curate the story of their organisation, the values of their tribe and what the future could look like all through listening for, and retelling of, stories that remind and reinforce what matters most.
Assume the role of CSO – Chief Story Officer.
The leader who speaks literally banks stories. Stories that embody who we are as people. Stories that share and show what is important to our tribe. The leader who speaks is always on the hunt for the narrative that captures the heart of your organisation and the spirit of its people. Then tell these stories over and over and over again. LinkedIn has a list of the Top Fifteen profiles for the CSO – It’s a title and function that is in real time use today!
The main priority is taking responsibility for discovering and disseminating the narrative of your tribe. Tell the stories of the heroes, the trials, the challenges, and the victories. Use this to remind people of WHY we do what we do as well as HOW. Use them to make points about vision, culture and strategy. Use them to make sure people can stand tall in the shade of your leadership. You hope at this point people tell people these stories.
For the story to be live and current, relive it, don’t retell it.
A story can become timeless when you share it “live” rather than retell it or even worse read it. For the leader who speaks, dragging and dropping an illustration is all well and good as long as you learn the story to RELIVE, not just tell it. To lift an illustration from the plethora of narratives online is part of the research. To not learn it, so you make it your own, is not an option for leaders who speak. We chose to learn the story, learn the imagery, the points, the flow. We relive the time, place, emotions and energetic flow of the narrative.
I regularly use historical stories, fables, anecdotes and humour that I uncover via research. The critical skill is what is done with that information. Learning it to relive the narrative, not to read or retell is the key for the leader who speaks. The priority is making the story, no matter how recent, as live as possible. Learning it, reliving it. Making it fresh, alive, real, present. This is the art of storytelling.
Remember stories have structure, but they don’t need to be linear.
At the beginning of this post, the story of my daughter began at our conversation of her observation of the children in the orphanage and her desire to do something about it. The story didn’t go through the timeline of where we were (Indonesia) or what we were doing (Conference) or the pathway that got us to that particular point (a site visit) – the story launched at the place that would gain the most traction with the listeners.
The story can be launched at the point that invites the listeners in most deeply and quickly. Joseph Campbell in his work on mythology and archetypes calls this the “call to adventure” and the “refusal of the call”. This is the beginning of what Campbell calls the Hero’s Journey. The story starts off with a quest, a challenge or bad in some way, and the hero not only makes their way through the quest but they do so by becoming a new person before our eyes (More on Joseph Campbell later).
Leaders who speak don’t need their story to be line by line, they need it to be scene by scene. What matters is the journey is shared with realistic connections, not exact timelines.
Know the way you want to conclude and the statement you want to make.
When I speak in front of the Church I lead and in Corporate Keynotes, a significant amount of time goes into crafting the final line of all the stories and anecdotes that get told. To be able to distil the narrative down to a compelling, authentic and robust conclusion that invites people to make their own meaning from the story. And yet, it’s guided meaning, giving some boundaries and direction to the people you are speaking to. Less telling and more inviting. Less prescriptive and more imaginative. Less rule orientated and more culture orientated. That last line powerfully concludes the story and graciously invites people to move.
The conclusion of the story needs to land with an insight into what you want the story to do for the listeners. In telling the “pens and paper for the children story.” I finish with a line that says “And what is staying with me forever is that generosity can come from the purest and most surprising places as long as we’re willing to listen for the opportunity!”
When crafting this last line it’s essential you filter in the key message and answer the question ‘what do I want people to feel, know and do?’ When you say it, make it truly the last thing you say. Let that final statement fill and serve the room in the context of the story you have told and what you want to accomplish.
Make your stable of stories largely about others accomplishments, not yours.
This is why your role is CSO (Chief Story Officer), and your job is to look for and retell the narrative of your organisation. Matt Church calls them the “glory story” and believes you should avoid them at all costs. You break the rules on personal stories where you can be used as a humorous example or a lesson learned (or your kids come up with cross-cultural generosity ideas). Allan Parker taught me a number of years ago to develop a record of narrative captured and recorded as “100 Stories” – these can be in your notebook or perhaps even better, in Evernote, with tags. The benefit being you can easily access and leverage the story after capturing it once. In the midst of the quest for 100 stories, you will find several signature stories that become the lead actors in your quest to be a leader that speaks.
Be on the look out for the stories of your tribe. Stories that you can use to inspire and affirm who you are and what you stand for. Stories that deflect your role and focus on the contribution of others. Stories that you tell for and on behalf of others.
A leader who speaks and learns the art of story-telling so people are informed, inspired and moved even more closely towards the vision we share. Be that kind of leader.
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