Intro: Do you own a business, lead a team, manage a family? If so, today’s podcast is going to blow your socks off! How you can use stories to align everyone in the same vision of who you are and what you stand for? How you can use stories to define your brand and your values. Now you can lead with the most enjoyable medium in the human quiver of communication! Stories!
Body: Stories are our lives in language. Welcome to the Love Your Story podcast. I’m Lori Lee, and I’m excited for our future together of telling stories, evaluating our own stories, and lifting ourselves and others to greater places because of our control over our stories. This podcast is about empowerment and giving you, the listener, ideas to work with in making your stories work for you. Power serves you best when you know how to us it.
This month has been a fun and exciting launch for the Love Your Story podcast because each episode has focused on different aspects of the power of stories. In episode one we discussed how stories are fluid creatures and can be reframed to serve us better. In episode two we became the hero of our own stories and talked about the heroes journey. This week we are going to be looking at some absolutely amazing story ideas for leaders. Next week we’ll be looking at one of the funnest research projects I have done, and discuss how story revealed an amazing insight into how we can manage risk.
So, let’s jump right in.
If you lead a company, a team – of any type: business, sports, charity; or if you have a family that you lead, you’re going to love today’s insights. As I talk about these ideas, apply them to you – to the group you lead, and I’d love for you to jump on-line to loveyourstorypodcast.com and share with us how you plan to use today’s information in leading your team to success.
A vast majority of the stories that we share with each other are shared very informally. Talking with the guy in the cubical next to you, or shooting the breeze with a friend at the dog park. The water cooler stories happen all day every day. It’s part of the ritual of exchange between people as we live moment to moment. But once you understand the power of the story you can start to use them deliberately, with purpose. You can use story to accomplish goals and achieve clearer vision among groups.
If you’re a leader of any group of people you know the importance of bringing new tools to your leadership role. You know that leading others is no small task. How do you communicate and create a sense of cohesiveness? How do you create a group vision where everyone is on board? How do you lead and direct your charges in a way that creates clarity, not confusion? Not only will you be able to make your vision clearer, you will also keep the interest of your team members when you’re done with today’s podcast, because we all prefer to hear a story over looking at a page of statistics, or a well-meant lecture.
The first type of story I want to talk about is the Identity Story! Who is your team and what does it mean to be a member of your team or family? How did you start? These stories are important because it’s the foundation of who you are! This step is often overlooked with the assumption that everyone ‘gets it.’ But if time isn’t allotted to defining this for the team mates, then you have a group of people who are all drawing their own conclusions. These days as new college graduates are heading into the work force, often they want a greater cause – not just a paycheck. They want meaning and purpose behind the company they chose to work for. Being clear on your identity as an employer, a family, a group or organization is keep to stability within the ranks. So we start with origin stories.
These origin stories are fodder for identity!– as a leader, you get to provide this for your people. How did your family start – how did mom and dad meet? How did your team come together? How did your business begin? I’m going to borrow some examples from the book Circle of the 9 Muses by David Hutchens.
The year was 1876 and Thomas Edison opened a laboratory in Menlo Park, NJ. Out of that laboratory was to come one of the greatest inventions of the age. A light bulb. After a merger in 1892, he called his new organization General Electric. On their website, after telling this story in more detail, they say: Today, that same spirit of innovation and discovery is still a part of everything we do.
General Electric is using their origin story to communicate a clear picture of who they are, what they stand for, and to provide a marketing vision that exemplifies the way they want to be seen. All with a simple story, they encapsulate that they are a company of innovation and discovery. How much more memorable is that than the statement “We are a company of innovation and discovery?”
Once you discover what you identity story is – the one you want to use to define your group – you have stepped onto the path of a multi-pronged solution. The identity story not only defines you to your team members, it also defines you to your customers, clients, and competitors. If this story is put into marketing, retold at meetings, and used as a tool, pretty soon everyone is clear on what you are and what you stand for. I want to point out that the employee or group member understanding is not to be under estimated here. When everyone is on the same page and has a clear vision of what they are working for – the sense of unity and forward progress, with like minds, blows the roof off. If this is missing in your group, start looking for your identity story.
What might a family origin story look like? My mom and dad met in a small Idaho farm town in the middle of nowhere. Mom had arrived for a summer get-away with her uncle, between semesters at college, and dad saw her at a church event. After a day working out on the farm a cute girl was a welcome distraction. A spark was struck and almost 50 years later they have 6 kids, and 30 grandkids. My dad has 12 brothers and sisters, and that side of the family is hundreds strong when you start counting kids, grandkids, even great grandkids. We have a heritage of family, love of God and hard work; and we all know it.
Your story will be completely different. That’s the wonder of the stories of our lives – so much color and variety, but thinking about which stories you may want to use to define your family or your team, is part of the process. Maybe the origin story is sketchy at best. If the origin story is not working for you, consider the next type
The next story I like is called a Value Story. Does your organization pride itself, yea market itself, as being environmentally friendly? Do you stand behind the quality of your product, or pride yourself on your customer service? Are you the company with the latest and greatest – cutting edge technology, or the top fashions as soon as they walk off the runway? This is another fun one! Find the stories within your company and team that show you living up to these values. Do you remember that old story of Nordstrom taking a return for a tire because a customer insisted they had bought it there and Nordstrom had a no questions asked return policy? Well, Nordstroms doesn’t sell tires, but the story goes that they took the return because the customer was #1. Whether or not it’s true, the story built trust in Nordstrom’s return policy. It showed excellent customer service and spread, as stories do, to accomplish an entirely organic type of marketing.
Are you a family that prides itself on community service and helping those around you? Do you have a fun family story or two that shows your family in action? Sharing and retelling these stories to one another start to define values you’d like to see in your family. Kids love stories, kids get stories, kids understand stories better than lectures!
My father has a story where he was loading bales of hay after an early fall frost, and as a youth, he was excited that they would get more money for the load because of the water in the hay. When he mentioned this to his father, Grandpa looked at him and said, “They aren’t paying for water, they are paying for hay.” This one statement was a lesson in honesty that my dad never forgot. He shares the story occasionally, long after grandpa’s death, but it’s a story that defines family value.
the story you get to choose to use is one where you or other members of the team were at their best! A time when George Washington cut down the apple tree but chose not to lie. Retelling your family’s version of the rise-above story and using it as a definition for future actions is a way to clearly show what your family or team stands for.
Another example from Hutchen’s book was a 2012 customer service call that lasted 10 hours. The customer called to order a pair of Ugg boots from Zappos but in the conversation, the service rep discovered that the customer was about to relocate to the Las Vegas area, where Zappos is located. They spent 10 hours exploring neighborhoods and other details of life in Vegas. At the end of the call, the customer purchased a pair of Ugg boots. Zappos viewed the incident as an employee following protocol – and this was another experience of customer service. The story has proven to be useful in showing the extent to which Zappos will go to serve their customers—for both their employees, as well as their clients. No amount of advertising or print copy can do what a story does.
So, as a leader you want to be clear about the identity of your group – who you are – IDENTITY/ORIGIN STORIES! And, you want to be clear on what you stand for – which values define your actions and efforts – VALUE STORIES. And, you want to be clear on where you are going. This third story opportunity is called VISION STORIES.
What do you see for your team, group or company? What do you want to accomplish – what’s your desired future? Vision statements are popular in business and life coaching. They tell what the end goal is – but you’ve heard the popular adage – Show Don’t Tell – A story allows you to show your vision so you can better guide your group toward it. Vision stories are a little more complex because they haven’t happened yet. But here are 3 approaches you can use to determine yours:
For example, I have a Realtor friend who was just starting out in the business. He wanted to make real estate a profitable career, so he looked at the stories of how other highly successful Realtors had developed their businesses. He found a Realtor who was a top performer and who was willing to share his story of rags to riches – the struggle to the top. It was a realistic tale of success and failures with a grand ending. It provided a clear road map and vision for this man and he used this man’s story as his vision for where he wanted to be and how to keep pushing through the barriers as they showed up, just as this man had done in his story.
Let’s say you’re a small group leader and you can envision your group coming up with the winning ad campaign the company will chose. Create this story. What does it look like? How does it happen? Do you have a story from the past where the team pulled together to win the account and you can hold this vision of team work up as an example? The speech might sound something like this: “Last year when we worked on the Johnson and Franks account, we came together as a team. Remember when Jonah and Elizabeth stayed late and ran into the janitor every night that week and were on friendly speaking terms. And remember how the janitor shared the story about his kids having that condiment fight with the neighbors and it gave us that great idea that we created the winning campaign around!” Team work, ingenuity, outside the box sourcing! This is where we are headed again.
This quick little story shows people working hard, looking outside the box for solutions, and winning the prize.
Craft these stories in as much detail as possible and get the team involved in creating the story. A story circle works great for this — then share the story repeatedly! It takes ideas and makes them real!
Leaders change the world! Leaders lead those who change the world. And stories, the world’s oldest form of sharing, connecting, communicating ideas, intent, identity, warning,…are an often underutilized tool. But now that you know – you can begin to use story, on purpose, with intention and you become influential on a whole new level – a strategic leader with a new set of tools to bring to the table.
Have fun using your new skill set, and telling your stories this week. We’ll see you next week on Love Your Story podcast. Stop by the website and share your stories with us.