Connecting, Leaders, & Stories

A story shared by a coworker caused me to think how powerful stories are for creating lasting mental visuals, in transmitting information, and motivating individuals to align and focus on what is important for success. Sadly, it also caused me to realize how some leaders underutilized this valuable tool, maybe because of shortness in physical or thinking time, unfamiliarity with a new outlet for creativity, or holding themselves back from offering others a personal glimpse of who they are out of fear.

Stories have effectively and seamlessly transmitted information since tribal days, contributing to the survival of small groups. We still have tribal behavior throughout organizations with workers who often prefer to interact with the same pool of individuals and to even mark territories to protect the tribe from “outsiders.” Of course, these tribes survive at least for a while, but without the benefit of diverse and wide ranging information that can improve their circumstances and ensure healthy development of the organization. Neuroscience shows us that stories stimulate more portions of the brain as opposed to hearing "just the facts!" Stories done well can disarm, convey values (they drive us), spread culture nuisances, establish trust, and more. Leaders can connect via stories, unleashing innovation within organizations. Employees who hear the right stories clearly "see" and "feel" the big picture, are energized, and get creative.

A Real Story. Mrs. M. works in the District-Maryland-Virginia (DMV) area and is a public servant. Although I have never met her, I know enough about her through a story that she practices a form of servant leadership. She serves others for the sake of serving, it makes her happy/content, it drives almost everything she does, it informs her decision process, she feels valued given the impact of her successes, and she treats others as she would like to be treated in the process. She forms and leads a new and different team of about 25 humans every 10 months. If she fails, we all fail because Mrs. M. is a 2nd grade teacher charged with developing young humans to be creative, intelligent, social, and contribute to the overall good of society. Here is how she connects, leads, and builds a powerful story on day one of each school year:

"Welcome Bag from Mrs. M"

  • Cotton Ball - This room is full of kind words and feelings.
  • Chocolate Kiss - To comfort you if you are sad.
  • Sticker -To remind you that we all stick together and help each other.
  • Pencil -To remind you to stay sharp and always do your best.
  • Tissue - To help you dry someone's tears.
  • Eraser - To remind you that everyone makes mistakes and that is O.K.
  • Penny You will shine and you are special and valuable to our class.
  • Lifesaver - You can always come to me if you need to talk.

Mrs. M's "bag" is filled with stories within stories that make her and the students connect and build upon throughout the school year.  I ask you, if you were a second grader, would you connect and follow given her story? If you monkeyed with the text and made it "more adult like," or maybe just used the same text, what reactions would you get from your team, your cubicle mates, or your colleagues? What do we lose, maybe, between second grade and the mature, proper, adult world, that so often disconnects leaders from those who depend on them?

Questions to ponder - How do you connect in your leadership role? Do you use stories? What's holding you back from connecting at a higher performance level?

© Ed Higgins 2018