There are many sessions and posts about “the one skill every leader should have”. I don’t disagree with most of them but I do find it funny that we try to boil down all of leadership to one important skill. But in the spirit of trying new things, I though what would be the skill that I think has helped me the most in my professional career: it was actually pretty easy to answer, storytelling.
When I say storytelling, I do not mean reading “The Three Little Pigs” to someone. I mean sharing a very personal experience/story that helps build a connection to the situation at hand. I have used storytelling in my professional career for as long as I can remember. Obviously, as my experiences grew, my stories became more relevant and valuable but I think even in the beginning they were a huge help.
Someone on your team is struggling with the feedback they just received from a teammate about being too pushy in a meeting or I have to give someone feedback:
- I might understand the feedback root is tied to this individual’s amazing passion that can be at times a double edge sword. I understand this because I’ve received similar feedback and then relay the story about receiving feedback that was hard for me to hear but helped me to understand how to make sure everyone had a chance to be heard. The goal is to share a story that helps the person not feel like this unfair, too big to handle or that they are doomed. I try to make a connection with myself to help them see that they can learn and grow too. It might be a starting point to then brainstorm potential next steps. If nothing else, they feel a little less singled out and maybe a little less defensive.
For training and/or conference session:
- People connect with real stories. People want to hear the ugly, bad and eventually good journeys. People connect to people not to ideal perfect scenarios. Life is messy and if we want people to open up to potential new ways of thinking/behaving, we might first have to open ourselves and our stories up to others. The more raw and honest of a story I tell, the more the feedback is about how inspiring and motivating the training was. Now the trick is to keep them short and engaging stories. It is possible to drone on and on and on and then that defeats the storytelling power.
Now I’ve made this sound super simple. You will just magically think of the perfect story at the perfect time and in the perfect tone to tell it every time. Nope! I have absolutely told a story that missed the mark completely – this usually happens when I assume the wrong root issue/intention. I have absolutely had moments when I’ve had no relevant story to share. This was brand new territory. In some ways, that’s helpful for me to realize. I cut myself a little slack as I try to figure out what to do as I have nothing to draw upon from. I’m even sure I’ve repeated stories – although people are kind and don’t laugh at me when I do.
I am sure I will read more leadership posts and work on new skills as a result. However, I’m also sure that storytelling will remain a foundation element of my leadership skill set. I think it’s why I absolutely love sharing at conferences. Maybe someday I will work on story writing beyond this blog.
Have you leveraged stories to connect?