Key Point: Do you know that in some cultures, “story” is a verb? A woman who grew up in Papua New Guinea as a child of missionaries, was my seatmate at a luncheon the other day. We marveled at the stories being told by several of the speakers. I told her that at the company I’m at we are putting more emphasis on purposefully developing storytelling capabilities within leaders. She paused to think about that and the commented with some amusement… “Do you know that in Papua New Guinea, amongst all the culture, STORY is a verb. When people get together they actually plan to ‘story.’ They make social dates to ‘story.’ It is the most powerful way to communicate and learn about each other.” So how often and well do you story? If you want to be a leader in our white water world, becoming a great storyteller is a valuable asset. Want some insights and tips? Read on.
Tom Peters, a hall of fame management guru shouts out, “Story is more powerful than the brand, the best story wins. I am — simply, unabashedly, out loud, screaming, and shouting — saying, focus on the quality of your storytelling. Turn that complex idea into storytelling. And if you don’t believe me, talk to an effective trial lawyer…”
Here is the business card of Simon Kelly, the Chief Operating Officer at Story Worldwide. It is a metaphor to remind us that effective communicating is really about telling a great story. People love stories. When we share our lives with one another, it’s through stories. Compelling stories persuade and even have the power to change deeply held beliefs. To really engage your audience, we need to deliver stories that people want to read, watch or hear; stories they want to be a part of and enjoy so much, that they will be inspired to share them again.
- Recognize and Accept Becoming a Great Storyteller is Important. Personal stakes are essential for effective storytelling. What do you stand to gain or lose? Why is what happens in the story important to you and your audience?
- Observe Presenters Telling Stories. The best presenters regularly use stories in their presentations and content. There are many reasons to use stories including providing humor, making points memorable, identifying with the particular audience, inspiring people to act, building a shared vision, and relieving tension. Check out The Moth. This great site won a Peabody and you can rapidly increase your insights by watching and listening to well vetted and celebrated storytelling. Look for the following criteria; it is told well, the presenter is sincere, it fits the occasion, and the audience can relate to the story.
- Constantly Collect Stories. Keep a notebook (electronic or otherwise) to keep track of your ideas and stories you like. When you know a good story, sooner or later you will find a way to include it into a presentation. Ronald Reagan was called “the great communicator.” And whether you liked his politics or not, almost all pundits believe he was a story collecting and telling genius.
- Practice, Practice, Practice! Becoming a superb storyteller takes practice. Get a coach to help you. Do NOT rely on PowerPoint to be your “blah, blah, blah” crutch. Use it is an aid if you must but NOT as the medium for the message. Remember that YOU are the medium. When you’re ready, audition a story on Moth. What a great place to learn and develop your story skills!
STORY in The Triangle,
Key Point: “Thanks for asking.” What a powerful phrase. I was in a meeting the other day. A steering team of leaders was establishing principles that would guide us on a sensitive and emotionally laden exercise. The decision framework we applied would impact thousands of people and their daily work experience. The subject matter expert (not the ultimate decision maker) who had put in countless hours of research in support of one particular principle watched the committee’s judgment fundamentally alter something she believed in. I watched her shift in her chair as we consciously took a different path than she recommended and simply asked her… “How do you feel about the outcome we just arrived at?” She looked me squarely in the eyes…Paused… And then simply said, “Thank you for asking.”
The meeting did progress constructively but the most salient outcome for me was to remind myself how important it is to “check in” with others and their feelings. And as a precursor to being aware one has to be present enough to understand when, where and with whom. And to accomplish that YOU and I have to be better practiced at understanding our own feelings. This is the essence and necessary foundation of Emotional Intelligence (EQ).
Cindy Wigglesworth, someone who I greatly admire and the author of an important new book entitled SQ 21: The Twenty-One Skills of Spiritual Intelligence, elegantly explains it this way:
“Emotional self-awareness is the skill and the ability to name our own emotions accurately and to understand what triggered them. It is a crucial skill because if we do not understand our own emotions it is nearly impossible to accurately understand and have empathy with another person’s emotions. Furthermore, if we do not understand our own emotions and what triggers them, it is hard to exercise appropriate self-control. Empathy (the ability to emotionally put ourselves in the shoes of another) and emotional self-control (the ability to make appropriate choices in the face of strong emotions) are essential if we are to be effective in relating to other human beings. These skills matter in our personal lives and in our professional ones. If we cannot ‘feel with others,’ we cannot accurately predict the emotional reactions our coworkers, our employees, our customers, or our shareholders might have in response to decisions we make. We will fail to factor in relevant data.”
- Practice using “feeling words” to describe and name your emotions at various times during the day. What are you feeling? What triggered that feeling? Can you govern that emotion?
- Ask yourself who is in the driver’s seat regarding the way you think and feel? Does your own ego boss you around willy-nilly? Can you make appropriate choices in the midst of very strong emotions?
- Ask yourself and honestly answer: Are you empathetic? Can you put yourself in other people’s shoes? Can you really relate well to those you interact with? When and where do you do this in the workplace?
- See how many “thanks for asking” types of responses you can generate. Ask more… Tell less.
Asking in The Triangle,
Key Point: When I feel insecure in a new group and/or situation, I sometimes prop myself up. I start to include titles or accomplishments, drop names or “facts” when I really don’t need to. My introduction then becomes more about me and less about who I’m meeting. I don’t do that as much these days, but when I’m feeling a little vulnerable I have to work hard to consciously remember that I’m just fine as who I am in the context. I have to be in the moment with my new acquaintance. Do you really have a clear process for connecting with others for the first time?
The following is a summary of a few great guidelines by Jeff Haden for effectively introducing ourselves to new people and/or into new situations. It was published in Inc. Magazine and I wish someone would have coached me on this earlier in my life. So this is for you to share with others who may benefit from this perspective.
Less as more.
Brief introductions are always best. Provide the bare minimum the other person likely wants or needs to know initially. This is not to maintain distance, but because during a conversation more about us can be revealed in a natural, unforced, and therefore much more memorable way.
Stay in context.
If we meet another parent at a school meeting, for example, just say, “Hi, I’m Lorne. My daughter is in sixth grade.” Keep our introduction in context with the setting. If there is no real context… Just say, “Hi, I’m Lorne.”
Unless we’re in a business setting, job title is irrelevant. Even if you or I are in fact the CEO, just say we work there. Be humble. Why does the other person need to know we’re this or that by job title?
Focus on the other person.
The other person is the only person that matters. Ask questions. Actually listen to the answers. The best connections never come from speaking; the best connections always come from listening. This goes back to a blog I posted last week and the “two ears, one mouth adage.”
- When you introduce yourself, embrace the moment and the setting and what it says about you right there, not in some other environment.
- Just be whoever you are. Authenticity, honesty and integrity are a bridge to trust and sought after traits. Those of us who have been around know darn well none of us is perfect. On the other hand, do NOT put yourself down either. Be confidant but not a braggart. Be humble but not apologetic.
- Be present with and focus on the other person. As the author notes above, the BEST connections come from listening. This is a vital element of the RESPECT value I emphasize in The Character Triangle. Ask a lot of sincere questions. Care about the answers you get.
- When you meet that person for the first time, do not underestimate the importance of a firm handshake, total eye contact and a big smile. (Other Non-Western cultures not withstanding). Send the message, “I’m really glad to meet you. I know I have much to learn about you.” Remember that people have a story. They are much deeper than their job title or other labels. Enjoy discovering who they are.
A real “hello” in The Triangle,
Key Point: Be aware of the innovations happening around you and whether your skills, personal attributes, and value are relevant and significant in this rapidly changing world. Do you know who Vijay Govindarajan is? You might want to follow him. This Harvard PhD is perhaps the world’s most sought after and distinguished academic focusing on innovation and strategy in the world. His work includes the concept of reverse innovation. That means providing more value at dramatically lower costs, while still being profitable. Do you think it is possible to conduct open-heart surgery at a cost of $2,000 USD, with quality better than the Mayo Clinic and still make 45 percent margins? Well apparently it is. Or how about developing a prosthetic device made out of recycled yogurt containers that costs less than $30 dollars and performs better than a titanium device costing an average of $22,000 USD? We could benefit by applying reverse innovation thinking for ourselves. How do we provide more value at lower total cost to the people who pay us while still increasing our net worth?
The painful reality is that the world is facing a skill, attribute and value crises more than an employment crises. Growing, profitable organizations have cash to spend and invest in people with the skills and attributes they really want and need. However the world is changing so fast that the jobs and personal characteristics that were relevant or significant five years ago, often no longer are. So we have to reinvent or reverse innovate ourselves. What do we need to have as a skill, attribute and value set three years from now?
What is happening around us that could deeply impact our status and employment? As an example, people like Tom Koulopoulos, author of the thought-provoking book, Cloud Surfing, firmly believes our greatest asset will be the community and connections we develop within “the cloud.” And the perfect storm behind velocity, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity is work that is quickly becoming placeless, ageless, weightless and yet increasingly complex. So, what’s in it for you to embrace this “white water ” world and tornado change?
- Give yourself time to reflect and think about what skills you need to grow and develop to continue relevance, significance and value over the next three to five years? What are they? Why?
- Be able to understand and be mindful of the potential impact of the “cloud,” big data and mobility on your work life. Go ahead and measure your Cloud Surfing IQ. Read about “Big Data” and better understand what the term means. Try and do as many things as you can on a mobile device (and I don’t mean a laptop).
- Go and join five million others (including 10,000 teachers) who live and learn on the free learning site, Khan Academy. I hope you will find it both stimulating and that it causes you to think about what’s in it for you.
- Self reflect on your ability to become more agile, collaborative and fully fluent in mobile technology. And most importantly, in the spirit of being accountable, develop your own personal development plan to “innovate” yourself regardless of where you are in terms of age, experience, gender, and/or location.
- Challenge yourself on relevance, significance and value. Get out of your comfort zone and have the courage to enjoy the ride “rebooting” yourself.
Rebooting in the Triangle
Key Point: It takes quiet confidence to know when not to say anything. This is a personal struggle for me. I have lots of opportunity for on-going personal development and one area requiring priority attention is learning to become more discriminate when, where and how much I talk. Frankly, I think I’m a reasonably effective listener and communicator. I’m not someone who typically talks over people, dominates conversations, or is sloppy in choice of words. I also usually ask quite good listening questions. But the more senior one gets, the more they have to be highly efficient when taking up airtime. And I have to give this serious attention now. Why?
The people in my current environment are, for the most part, highly accomplished and smart people. They listen and are quick on the uptake. The most precious commodity they have is time and how well it’s used. And as people get more advanced in their application of that resource, more self aware of the energy they have and want to expend, they put extra value on efficient conversation; especially in business settings. The old adage that “God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason,” is sage advice.
Board members are particularly sensitive to this matter. Their wrinkles and grey hair are usually earned through thousands of meetings and group activities. And contrary to the belief of many, it is NOT disagreement and a well-served debate that typically annoys them. In fact, they often relish the contribution of constructive conflict if it results in better decision making. They actually MOST detest repetition of agreement and/or people who fill a vacuum of space, adding no value. Sometimes these two mistakes go together and for confident, successful people, this can feel like fingers scratching on a blackboard. I may be guilty of that “blackboard scratch sometimes, and I am in a role where even one time is too many. I have to apply the following character moves and I will!
- Evaluate where you are on the “value talk” scale. Do you know? If you have some work to do on this, try some FeedForward practice Marshall Goldsmith coaches top execs how to use. Here is how it works: A. Find three to five people who are key stakeholders in your sphere and tell them, “I want to add more value and be more efficient when I talk.” Ask if they would be fellow travelers in your journey to get better. B. During a brief (10 to 15 min one-on-one conversation) ask for two suggestions from these chosen “coaches” that might help you improve on this in the future. No feedback on the past is allowed; only what might work in the future. We’re focusing forward, not looking backward. C. Listen attentively to the suggestions. Do not critique or make ANY comment on the feedback. Just thank the participants for their ideas and recommended action. (The person giving you the recommendations should simply say, “you’re welcome,” after your discussion. Nothing more needs to be added by them or you).
- Take the suggestions given, develop your own action plan and seriously practice working on the area you want to improve on.
- Over the next 12 months briefly check in with your selected coaches and ask them for continued forward-looking suggestions. If you are improving they will typically let you know.
- Remember that it is successful people who have the self-honesty, courage and tenacity to want to relentlessly improve. At the same time we are not in the business of being perfect.
- Ask yourself every day. “Did I do my best today to _____?”
Do the above and you and I will improve. The process works because it is about you and me. And as Marshall Goldsmith humbly admits, coaches are only as good as their students.
The confidence to be quiet in The Triangle,