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The Three Story Skills Used by Influential Leaders

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photo by Instant Vantage / CC BY

guest post by Christopher Kogler, President, Narrative Intelligence

Although we talk about storytelling most often, there’s more to stories than just telling them. In fact, we teach those who participate in our Storytelling For Leaders  program that there are really three important components to story work. The three critical components of story work include: storytelling, story listening and story triggering. Each has a unique and valuable role in a business leader’s story quiver.

Storytelling is just what you think it is – telling a story. But, in the world of business storytelling this takes on another important dimension. Recounting a business story such as a personal business experience you’ve had, has the purposeful intent of making a business point. It might be a teaching moment for your staff, it might be a change management initiative or it might be a story that you’re using to persuade clients or colleagues to move in a new direction. Whatever the reason, the intent of business storytelling is to make a business point in an effective and memorable manner.

Story Listening is something we are much less likely to engage in unconsciously. Story listening is a very conscious act. There’s a real art to story listening and it involves getting someone else to tell you a story. By actively getting others in your organization to tell you their stories and listening carefully you will be not only be able to get an “insider’s view” of what’s going on in other parts of the company but you’ll also be able to understand more clearly the organization’s values through the stories you hear and collect. One of the keys to developing your story listening skills is to ask lots of open ended questions like, “How did you arrive at this approach?”

Story Triggering is the third skill that leaders can develop and use to influence, engage and inspire their people. Simply put, story triggering involves a leader doing something so amazing that people throughout the organization will recount what happened via a story. Story triggering happens when leaders lead by example as opposed to simply paying lip service to their ideas.

One example of story triggering that comes to mind involves the Mars Company, the makers of Mars Bars, M & M’s, pet food and other food products. The company is the third largest privately held company in the United States with annual sales of US $30 billion and is still owned by the Mars family.

In a meeting several years ago in which a Mars family member was attending, one of the florescent lights was flickering in the annoying way that only florescent lights can do. At one point in the meeting, Mr. Mars simply got up and left the conference room. Attendees wondered what was going on and were a bit on edge as he left without any explanation. In a few minutes, he returned with a ladder, removed the flickering bulb and put the bulb and ladder in the corner. He then sat down without saying a word and the meeting continued.

What’s remarkable is that Mr. Mars could have demanded that a maintenance person be called to deal with this problem but he dealt with it himself. Simple acts like this one speak volumes about the values and character of an individual leader and in this case triggered a story that continues to be told today.

Increase your influence by becoming skilled in the three dimensions of story-work during the interactive Storytelling for Leaders training. Register for a workshop or inquire about bringing the program to your organization.

 

 

 

Four Ways Storytelling Improves Communication in a Corporate Setting

guest post by Christopher Kogler, President, Narrative Intelligence

The best corporate presenters are individuals who have learned how to convey their corporate messages to their stakeholders via a story. When done effectively, storytelling’s power resonates on a wide variety of levels. So what are some of the benefits that an individual can expect when using stories to convey initiatives like a firm’s change management plan or its new direction?

The ability to share and elicit stories helps us to build rapport and a connection with our audience.When we first meet someone we naturally look for a way to relate to and connect with them. Whether talking to potential clients or new employees, stories that build rapport provide that opportunity. By telling a Connection Story that shares something about your character and reveals something about what drives you, you are establishing a link with that other person. And, once a person feels a connection with you and they understand something about your character, they are much more likely to listen to what you have to say.

photo by DavidLawler / CC BY

photo by DavidLawler / CC BY

Stories provide communication that is clearer, more memorable and inspiring than a list of facts or a PowerPoint presentation. There’s a reason for this. Stories that are engaging and contain emotion affect more areas of the brain than a straightforward, rational explanation. When more areas of one’s brain are stimulated, understanding increases and the comprehension of information increases significantly. Weaving facts into your story is much more effective in conveying information than simply providing the facts alone.

Stories have the unique ability to influence others without the benefit of authority. If you’re trying to change someone’s mind, it’s always better to share a story on the topic that makes your point before launching into your formal argument. Stories encourage the listener to be less judgmental while listening to your viewpoint.

Stories provide the tools we need to effectively explain things in ways that connect with different audiences. Different stakeholders have different points of view and bring different biases to the table. And, as a result, their reaction to the information you’re providing may be very different depending on their perspective. For instance, selling a division of the company may be applauded by the Board but be considered a huge loss in that division. To be able to construct an Influence Story in a way that is appropriate to your audience gives you significantly more flexibility in conveying difficult information or getting someone to think differently, rather than simply presenting them with the facts.

Increase your influence by becoming skilled in the three dimensions of story-work during the interactive Storytelling for Leaders training. Register for a workshop or inquire about bringing the program to your organization.

Grow your Influence by Repaying Your Connections

iStock_000032189170_Small-760x450A Connected Networker know that even when you are on the receiving end of a favor, you have the opportunity to grow your influence. That’s because in the world of networking, repayment is the same currency as pre-payment.

My latest post on Simply Hired’s blog explains the steps to take after a job search that will immediately set you up for whatever favor you might need next. Being liberal with your appreciation and maybe even sending a balloon bouquet are only a start.

Repaying your network is a never-ending cycle.

Connected Networking Works

This morning, while searching my email archives for an address, I came across a message from 2011 that illustrates just one of my many personal successes with business networking:

Dear friends.

In many ways, a modern professional is only as good as her network.

During my recent international job hunt, my network surprised and
delighted me with its strength and reach. The kindness you offered —
perhaps solely on the recommendation of a connection two, three or
more times removed — will be repaid many times over.  My
long-standing commitment to assist others with  job search advice,
resume forwards, tips about unpublished openings, etc. was reconfirmed
as a result of your benevolence.

I’ve safely landed in the UK and accomplished my goal of securing a
corporate communications position with a large global company prior to
my arrival .  This week I started at SAP, where I am
[guiding employee and executive]communications
for the EMEA region.

Thank you again for your assistance.  And rest assured that with me in
your network, you will always have somewhere to turn for support!

Best,
Amanda

This note is proof that I believe in the power of business networking. In fact, I landed every job on my career path, and every consulting client as well, by business networking in a way that I call Connected Networking.

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You can, too. An article just posted on SimplyHired features an interview about using Connected Networking to aid your career. In it, I share non-obnoxious ways to keep your job search on your network’s radar.

SimplyHired recently made me an expert contributor to their blog on corporate culture, change management, employee engagement, and business networking topics, so expect to see more from me. If you can’t wait for the next post, then download a free copy of  my Fool-Proof Guide to Jumpstarting Your Transformation into a Person of Influence.

Strategy Dies in the Forgotten Middle Layer of Management

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photo by Kumar Appaiah / CC BY

Middle management is where well-intentioned business strategy goes to die.

Harvard Business Review took a thoughtful look at the strong connection between communicating management intent and achieving business success. It seems the why often gets lost in communications. It makes no sense, until you consider that mid-level managers play an important (yet under-appreciated role) translating corporate strategy, goals, and policies into specific tasks for their teams.

Remember that these people weren’t in the board room when the decisions were made and the strategy was set, but they are ultimately responsible for making or breaking a corporate initiative. They will either take the big idea and make it reality, or the grand plans will wither and die a slow death at their hands.

Their power lies in their position as the translator of concrete ideas to actionable tasks. Dictating from above doesn’t work because employees respond to and have a deeper connection with the person to whom they directly report.

When I was with SAP in Europe, Middle East and Africa, we asked a sample of the 11,000 employees how they received most of their information. They said: their manager. We asked how they preferred to get corporate information. They said: their manager. We asked how they wanted to receive information in the future. They said: their manager.

The direct manager of every employee is the preferred communications method. Fancy intranets, newsletters, or bulletin boards will never replace this human interaction with the single person who holds the key to determining an employee’s level of job satisfaction, performance and accomplishment, and level of compensation and career advancement.

Managers are wise to acknowledge this and determine how to leverage their influence. Too many managers remove emotion from their interactions with employees, which dulls their ability to be influential. Instead of thinking of business strategy as a fact-driven directive, managers have the power to bring it to life by creating an emotional connection to the future state the strategy will reveal.

Only robots perform tasks without comprehending why they’re necessary, what came before, and what will come next in the process. Employees are not robots and they are unable to operationalize a strategy unless they are armed with a fundamental understanding of their role in its execution.

Good managers know exactly what speaks louder than words. Observed actions are not only modeled by the team, but they also trigger stories that move rapidly through the organization. Whether the story is a retelling of bad or good behavior, the decision-making and actions of  employees will be influenced.

Stories are sort of like implanting a programmable chip in employees’ minds. Annette Simmons noted, “Story is like mental software that [managers] supply so that [employees] can run it later using new input specific to the situation…..Once installed, a good story replays itself and continues to process new experience through a filter, channeling future experiences toward the perceptions and choices you desire.” Stories turn employees into independent thinkers and eliminate the need to micromanage.

Managers who step up to their role in strategy execution will likely find themselves elevated to a position where they are in the room next time big decisions are made. So forget implanting a microchip in employees’ heads or replacing them with robots. Instead, tell a story or do something remarkable that triggers a story and watch an abstract strategy come to life before your eyes.

 

Have I Got a Story to Tell You…

Actually, that’s the worst way to start a story. The first rule of storytelling is: never say the “s word”.

As a communicator who has operated in many buttoned-up business settings, I’ve often been tasked with creating inspirational messaging that resonates with key stakeholders.  Intuitively I knew the best way to connect with the audience, and thus change their minds, motivate their actions, and influence their decisions, was by touching their hearts with a poignant story. Yet I struggled to draw stories out of many leaders.

Try as I might, executives and managers resisted my efforts. Perhaps it was fear of appearing vulnerable or unprofessional, or perhaps it was performance anxiety, but storytelling was not on the table. Many times, the best I could get out of them was a generalized example, or perhaps an analogy. Neither of those are stories, and neither of them pack the emotional punch I sought (nor the full results they intended).

Earlier this year I was having a quick pub dinner with my husband when he received a work call. I used the interruption to open Twitter and there I found a retweet that caught my eye:

Anecdote Shawn tweet

I had no idea what expertise Shawn had, but I’m always open to networking opportunities. A quick click of Shawn’s Twitter bio and Anecdote’s website, followed by a Twitter conversation, which turned into an email conversation, and led to a meeting in New York City, then two week later, I was in Los Angeles to experience Storytelling for Leaders myself. I was immediately hooked by the idea that it was possible to incorporate pointed, strategic stories into any business environment.

This isn’t acting lessons – no Shakespeare or fables here. This is storytelling for leaders. A leader is anyone who needs to influence, engage and inspire people. That’s pretty much all of us.

Now I’m thrilled to announce that I am Anecdote’s first partner in the U.S. who will be certified to deliver Storytelling for Leaders program. If you want to learn more about bringing this program to your company, contact me.

The program itself is much more than a one-day workshop. Not only do participants learn how to spot, tell, and trigger stories, they also practice their story telling technique through a deliberate practice program that encourages behavior change and reinforces learning by engaging the workshop participants for six months after the workshop. The results are that minds will be opened, patterns will be broken, and change will occur. It can’t be helped. That’s the power of story.

Storytelling for Leaders

Influence without relying on authority.

Build fast rapport.

Change minds and inspire action.

Anecdote’s Storytelling for Leaders program will teach you the techniques you need to better influence, engage and inspire others – just as hundreds of leaders already have, from Melbourne to New York, London to Singapore.

Organizations are changing quickly. Structures are flatter and reporting lines more complex. Staff and customers are spread around the world. And everyone is deafened by the ‘noise’ of information inundation. Yet the modern leader still needs to be able to influence and persuade in this constantly fluid environment.

The sharing of stories orally is a powerful way of cutting through. When we tell stories, people ‘get’ what we are saying – and they remember it. This is the case whether we are communicating informally (which is what we do most of the time) or in a more formal environment such as a presentation.

“Other presentations were dry and heavy, but the Yammer presentations really stood out because we were telling stories versus merely sharing data.” A Storytelling for Leaders participant describes the way storytelling changed her presentations. Click here to hear more.

More than just storytelling

Storytelling for Leaders will teach you a systematic method for becoming a better, more confident storyteller. However, the program goes further. You will also learn how to use the magic of stories to get more from others:

  • Story-triggering involves a leader doing something remarkable enough that it inspires people in the organization to recount what happened. We show you how you can do this successfully.
  • Story-listening is the art of getting others to share stories. You’ll learn how to elicit stories from others, building stronger connections and gaining a better understanding of what’s really happening.

More than a workshop

Storytelling for Leaders is not a one-off workshop but a complete six-month program. It includes:

  • A full one-day workshop. The workshop is highly interactive as we strongly believe in the power of practical activities to foster learning. Throughout the day you will engage in hands-on activities designed to build your storytelling skills and confidence. See the workshop in action here.
  • Our unique Deliberate Practice Program (DPP). This workplace-based program includes six modules, spread over six months, which will embed and enhance what was learned in the workshop. Most of the learning you do will occur during in the workplace, during the DPP, rather than in the workshop.

The Deliberate Practice Program includes online support, with the opportunity to ask questions and share your experiences at any time.

“The workshop covered a lot of territory in a way that combined analytical rigor with a clear and informal delivery. I recommend it without reservation.”

Who should attend?

Storytelling for Leaders is beneficial to anyone whose role requires them to influence, engage and inspire others. Previous participants have included senior leaders, project managers, salespeople, consultants and trainers.

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