In the early 90’s, I found myself in a leadership role with a small company. The CEO lacked any level of refined interpersonal skills; he bullied, he coerced, and was a generally unpleasant human being. But boy let me tell you - he could he spin a yarn.
He had a gold tooth and a very misshapen nose and occasionally, at leadership meetings, he would tell the tale of being young and brash with more confidence than skill and ending up with what he called his “souvenirs”. He would relate his “souvenirs” to a tough, hands-on defeat, to lessons learned and to overcoming setbacks, to grit.
His stories engaged the leadership team. He had others: his rags-to-riches story about taking risks and managing losses and succeeding in business; his stories of hustling deals with sketchy suppliers in his early days. And though, I did not like him as a person, or as a boss - I stayed with the company longer than I wanted simply because he was interesting.
When I turned in my resignation, of course, he had a story for me - a story of a poor decision he’d made, of not following through when things got hard. He told me that he didn’t want me to make a similar mistake. The story got me thinking, and I waffled for just a second before sticking with my choice to leave.
As I said, he was a pretty terrible boss and an unpleasant man. I never missed working for him, not a single day, but from time to time, I did miss his stories.
As my new career progressed, I worked for many leaders with many styles and many strengths. It was years before I experienced anyone who could engage a team with story as well as that old CEO. As I moved into leadership development work, I learned more about “storytelling” as a leadership skill. I often found myself thinking of that unpleasant CEO, often wondering what a powerhouse he might have been had he worked on his emotional intelligence.
A story can explain data, engage a workforce, motivate a team, close a sale, touch a heart, change a mind. As a leader, do you use storytelling? A good story, well told is an incredibly powerful tool. Think back on your own experience, what leaders have you had that used story effectively? What did you learn from them? From their stories?
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