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The Power of Storytelling

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May 26th, 2011

- Updated on

June 14, 2018 - 9:16am

Background: Pete is a successful, high potential leader in his organization, a multinational pharmaceutical organization. He served in the Marines and possesses the many characteristics you would expect from someone with an accomplished military career on his resume: he’s goal oriented, no nonsense and hard to get to know.

Interestingly, his team saw Pete very differently than Pete’s peers and bosses. His direct reports experienced a kinder, gentler Pete. To advance further in his career, he needed to address the perception that he was inflexible and lacking emotional intelligence.

Proposed Success Strategy

Fred, AJO’s executive coach, proposed an approach that was met with initial skepticism from Pete. In an early meeting, Fred asked Pete to identify incidents in life that shaped his leadership style. The incidents needed to meet the following criteria:

  • Significance (i.e. the events had a lasting impact)
  • Personal (i.e. offers insight into “Pete the person”)
  • Values-driven (i.e. communicates his core values)

Because of his military background, Pete had some great stories that demonstrated perseverance, determination and personal struggle. Pete shared his stories with Fred. In turn, Fred asked focusing questions, including:

  • What might be the message behind the story?
  • What would be the purpose of sharing it?
  • When would he share it?
  • What would be the “headline” that he would want colleagues to walk away with?

 Pete ended up with several stories that he could use to illustrate a point, sell an idea, win over an audience etc. The lessons learned from Pete’s stories were simple yet numerous:

  • The power of commitment
  • How to recognize when you need help in reaching your goals
  • What support to ask for in order to reach them
  • Prior success is no guarantee of future success
  • The importance of being clear about your goals and what you are willing to sacrifice to achieve them

Because Pete was somewhat uncomfortable shifting from a “business script” to a “personal script” (i.e. from an analytical approach to a more anecdotal one), Fred suggested that he practice telling the stories using the following sequence:

  • Rehearse them alone
  • Sharing them with his spouse and other family members
  • Telling them to friends/trusted business colleagues
  • Look for an appropriate opportunity to use one of them in a meeting.

Lessons Learned: Pete recently used one of his stories during a business meeting to illustrate a point he was trying to make. Afterwards a senior leader complimented him on his story and the point it made.


The Power of Stories

AJO Executive Coach, Fred Bunsa advises: 

  • Our experiences in life provide us with the content for powerful stories. When told well, they give others insight into who we really are as leaders
  • Stories capture our imagination and so connect us to others. Because we experience a shared understanding, they are great for team-building
  • Stories about struggles with failure demonstrate vulnerability and can serve to make leaders appear more accessible and human to those they need to influence
  • Stories are remembered long after facts and mission statements and corporate objectives are forgotten


Recommended Reading

Fred recommends:

The storytelling process described in this article can transform the tension and competing agendas that often undermine change initiatives into esprit de corps and true collaboration.

About Fred Bunsa: 

Fred has a passion for helping individuals and teams reach their full potential. With over 20 years of work as a manager, sales consultant, and HR development leader, Fred brings extensive experience and value to his work with clients. As a skilled speaker, coach and consultant, Fred has played key roles in successful efforts around sales force and leadership development, change management, mentoring, performance management, coaching, and program management.


 

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