I have had the privilege over the last 24 years to have worked with many great and gifted leaders. What I have noticed is that the truly gifted leaders have the ability to tell the story consistently and repeatedly. In fact, great leaders throughout history have all had the ability to tell compelling stories to reach and connect with the public. Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Margaret Thatcher, Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan were all known for being able to connect to the listening audience through the use of effective and compelling stories. What is the story? Well the story simply is the story that a leader is able to tell. When a leader is able to clearly articulate and lay out a compelling and motivating story, people get excited about the message. The story may be delivered in the form of a one-on-one conversation, a small group meeting, a key note, a video segment or a radio interview. No matter what, you still have to have a compelling story to tell. That’s what great leaders do.
Let’s take a close look at each of these components individually.
The Story About Yourself: Great leaders are able to tell a story about their background and history which is not an act of arrogance, but an act of inspiration and clarification. People want to know more about the person and character of their leader. The idea of telling the story is not just for the sake of telling a story itself; it is to get across messages in a way that are both compelling and entertaining. So what is your story as a leader? I want you to work on developing a story that is compelling and also gets across the messages that you’re trying to deliver to your team members. Here are some questions you want to ask yourself when developing your stories:
- What values do I want the team members to get and understand?
- What behaviors do I want the team members to get and understand?
- What parts of my mission do I want to emphasize?
- What parts of my vision do I want to emphasize?
- What parts of the goals of my team and organization do I want to emphasize?
- What specific examples can I think of that would make compelling stories for illustrating these key points?
The Story About Your Team: what is the story that you would tell about your team when you speak to them, and what is the story you tell about your team when you speak to others? As a leader when you tell stories about your team to your team, you’re really doing two things. First, you’re reinforcing the positive aspects of what they do, and second, you’re telling them stories that help them aspire to what they should do in the future.
The stories that you tell about your team to others should be stories about your team’s performance and achievements, but with compelling stories, examples, and analogies. I recently heard an interview with the CEO of the advertising agency who created the Aflac (insurance company) duck. She told a funny and interesting story about how the mascot for the insurance company was created. Sure, she could come up lots of facts and research and demographic information about why the duck appeals to a certain audience, but the reality is that the story she told was much more humorous and memorable.
The Story About The Area Or The Division: this, much like the story about the team, is a story that would be told about the area or the division and would be told about them to them. The purpose of this story would be to inspire and get commitment from each member of the group and to make them feel proud of being part of that team. I once worked for a very gifted leader who at almost every team meeting told some success story. He always made sure to tell us that he felt that the team that he had assembled was world-class, and that he had the best in the world working for him (he also believed it). This built pride and morale on the team
The Products And Services: Leaders need to be able to tell stories about their company’s products and services that are both compelling and in some way, conveys the sales message. Keep in mind that people go to work for companies but don’t necessarily decide to stay. So part of your role is making sure to continue selling people on a value of the company’s products and services. Every time Richard Branson of Virgin companies speaks, it is pure showmanship. I believe that leadership is a transfer of enthusiasm, and a bigger goal as a leader should be to transform your enthusiasm from you to them. The way to do that is through stories.
The Story About The Company: As a leader, it is your job to be an ambassador, and yes I know it is shocking, but also an evangelist for your company. One of the most compelling ways to do that is to tell stories about the company and its history, culture, and values. Work on figuring out what stories you want to tell about the company that you feel would reinforce the value of the company and build company pride and ownership with each individual employee. I’ve noticed by observation that all great leaders tell the story repeatedly and they tell it consistently. Our goal in a leadership position is to make sure that we reinforce and push those messages out and repeat it on a consistent basis so that it literally becomes part of the daily fabric of how the team and a company operates. It may sound all little bit like brainwashing, but the ultimate goal is that when other people in your team talk to prospective employees, vendors, and suppliers, the stories they tell will be eerily similar to ones that they have heard told over and over and over. This is one of the key methodologies of how culture is built- by telling stories around the campfire by both the original storyteller and then, those who have learned it so well that can tell it themselves. Do you have a story?
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