I sat in the office of a top executive of a company with more than 10,000 employees. My purpose was to discover his leadership challenges, perspectives, and experiences. At one point he made the statement, “We need people to tell us what’s going on because we’re stupid.” This proclamation was insight into the story he was telling me. His story was the realization that as he ascended the hierarchy in the organization, it was more difficult to get honest feedback. He had to work even harder building trust, asking the right questions, and keeping himself open to honest dialogue. If he didn’t, he would remain ignorant to what was really happening within his span of influence.
I have thought about this story numerous times and shared it with hundreds of people. Why? I believe this is a compelling story to help understand one of the challenges executives experience as leaders. I also believe it speaks of the value and importance of intentionally seeking out and embracing feedback, particularly as one grows in his or her scope of influence. This story has now become my story. Not that I have been in this person’s position, but because I believe the story and the importance of sharing it.
When we hear other people’s stories that are compelling, interesting, and connected to us, these stories become our stories. This is another powerful leadership principle of storytelling – your stories can become my stories. The power of this principle is that a compelling story will exponentially grow.
YouTube is driven by this principle. Someone tells her story in video format, and if it is really compelling it will go viral. These stories will even show up on the news, as if an animated little girl dancing to RESPECT is news.
As an influencer of people, know that the stories you share have the potential of “going viral” if they are compelling. Also, remember that “complaining” stories spread exponentially as well, maybe even faster. Here is an example of the contrast between a “complaining” story versus an “inspiring” story.
“You know Patrick in Finance? He really messed up our budget this year. We got completely stripped of our requests. There’s no way we can reach our goals this year without the funding.”
“You know Patrick in Finance? He worked his magic with the numbers once again. He collaborated with me to find a solution to our budgeting challenges, so now we have a greater chance at reaching our challenging goals this year.”
The stories of other people will become your stories. It is your responsibility as a leader to know these stories, filter them appropriately, and recognize the impact they have on others. Finally, be intentional about sharing stories knowing they have the potential of going viral.
Reflection and Application
What stories have you heard that you are sharing with others? Why?
What compelling stories do you need to share? Why?