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The Art Of Storytelling – Access To Inspiring Others


Part of a leader’s job is to reach people with a powerful connection and ability to inspire them. Most leaders know the importance of this, but the really great ones know how to do it effectively and they make it their business to do so consistently. Emailing, texting, memos and missives do not reach and inspire people. Those methods of communication simply transfer data and information, give orders and instructions, or make requests. They don’t reach into a person’s heart and soul and they don’t move people to action. Any good leader will tell you that one of the things that is essential in leading others successfully is to be able to use language in such a way that it touches and inspires people. That happens in speaking, in a conversation, and virtually every time it’s done well, it’s done in person ~ in face-to-face dialogue. Good story telling is an important skillset for any leader to have.

A few years back I worked with a CEO of a Fortune 500 company. He shared with me that the most significant thing he learned about the public’s perception of his company was that it depended on his ability to tell a good story. During the quarterly review calls with the analysts he needed to be able to tell a story that they would believe in. He said that the results and circumstances in the background, coupled with a good story that he believed in, would get people to view the future favorably and invest. He said the trick is to get them to buy the story because when they do, the perceived value will go up and so will the stock price. Executives and leaders need to develop this ability if they intend to engage and inspire their audience. It is a skill, an art, and it can be developed.

Unfortunately, most of us know that story telling is a dying art and skill set ~ mainly due to technology. It’s no secret that people have stopped having conversations and have begun to direct their attention to a little screen that they hold in their hands that they seem to be captured by. Years ago I was on a vacation in Ireland and visited the Aran Islands off the west coast. I took a quick jaunt on an ass-cart ride and learned about the old and treasured art of story-telling. The ass-cart is a small cart or carriage pulled by donkeys. The salty, local man driving the cart told about the story-telling that used to be such a strong part of that culture. If you went into anyone’s home you’d hear amazing stories of leprechauns, fairies and the lore of life from the past. People would tell stories passing down the history of the families and the local culture. Life was handed down from the past. But that doesn’t happen so much anymore. When TV came into people’s homes people stopped talking to each other. Story-telling is becoming a lost art form slowly disappearing in our culture and society with the influx of technology, the internet, TV, and broadcast media. People no longer need dialogue to entertain. Stories are disappearing. The art of telling stories is almost gone.

How do you develop good story-telling? There are essentially 5 elements of a story. First is Have a Central Theme that runs throughout the entire story ~ what is the point you want to make? Have that theme grow as the story is told, and weave it throughout the conversation. Secondly, Draw on Your Own Experience. Share real life experiences that make the point. People don’t want to know how great you are ~ they want to see how great, or human, they are. They want to know how this applies to them, or in other words, they want to see how great they are. Third, Paint a Picture. Give them details that allow them to call up a picture in their own mind. Show don’t tell. You want the audience to see themselves in your story. Embellishing the story with your experiences makes the story more vivid and real for people. Fourth, Evoke Wonder. Engage people in the telling of the story. You want them wondering where is this going? How is it going to turn out? Your audience will feel they have learned it for themselves. It becomes a personalized conversation. And fifth, Keep It Simple. The story should demonstrate one conflict, one lesson ~ it is one story.

Story telling is an invaluable tool for any leader and while some have a natural ability, it is a skill that can be developed with a little bit of focus and work. It’s our experience that any good leader must find a way to inspire and move others through story telling.

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Will What’s Next Make A Difference?

I’ll bet if you’re like me you try to get the important things done first. They seem important because there’s usually a benefit for getting them done or some kind of pain for not getting them done. So in one sense they occur like they have to be done. However, we often don’t relate to things on our plate with any sense of urgency. In fact, we often procrastinate particularly about the things we don’t want to confront.

Being effective at producing results is directly correlated to the speed with which we move things into action and get them complete. It has been said that power is defined by the rate at which you translate intention into reality. A person’s power is a function of being able to produce results with velocity. To do that, the task has to exist in time. Here’s something I’ve learned that I have burned into my DNA and it has changed everything: “if it’s not on the calendar, it doesn’t exist and it’s not going to happen.

There is an obvious benefit for getting things done and acting with priorities, so why don’t we approach things this way? There are three things that account for our tendency to put things off. The first is having no sense of urgency. Certainly there are challenges that happen in life that we resolve with speed. However, usually those things often have some kind of consequence attached and the pain of not doing it occurs as greater than doing it ~ so we act. Absent the external consequence we often don’t act with a sense of urgency. Secondly we fall in the trap of “someday”. You know those things that we’ll get to later. We put those things on the list of what there is “to do” and that keeps them in existence, but they exist only on the list ~ not as if they will actually get our attention for action. We don’t have time for those things now. We may never get to those things, in fact. And thirdly, complacency which stops us from taking any action. There are many situations in our lives to which we have become numb. We’ve learned to tolerate those things. We’ve developed an ability to live with those things ~ even those things that initially we would never tolerate. We have become complacent.

There’s an interesting metaphor about a frog and a person. If you put a frog in a pot of boiling water it will jump out of that water immediately. But if you put a frog in a pot of cold water and then turn the burner on and slowly increase the flame to heat the water up the frog will boil to death. It will keep adjusting to the ever slight increases in temperature which will eventually kill the frog. People are sometimes like those frogs. We will allow ourselves to adapt to and tolerate things that don’t work even when the consequences are dire.

Most people divide their tasks into two categories. One, what’s important, and two, what’s not important. Ideally, they go to work on the ones they’ve decided are important and pay less attention to the unimportant tasks. Consider the possibility that there is a third category. It’s a category that most of us don’t think about because it’s not “important”. We call that category “what makes a difference”. The items that fit in that third category may not even fit into important or not important. However, they are distinct and make a big difference. Here’s an example ~ The other day I received a communication from one of our clients that was an internal document that she had cc’ed me on so that I was aware of what was going on in their company. It was about the company’s core values. She didn’t ask for any feedback about it. But after I read the document, I realized that there were things that I might be able to say about it that would make a difference. I asked her if she was interested in and willing to discuss the document. She responded immediately with an unquestionable “yes”. We had the conversation and I shared what I noticed about the document and how it landed for me I shared what I thought would make a difference in the document and made some suggestions on how to make it better. She loved what I suggested and we produced a second version of the document which then led to a third version that she is very happy with. The day after our call she sent me a note thanking me for having the conversation and told me it was very valuable and had opened up her thinking to take action on something that would elevate that area or the organization to a new level. Clearly, my input came from that third category ~ the “what makes a difference category”. Maybe the “what makes a difference category” is the most important of all.

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Your People – The Best Investment You Can Make

The bottom line: investing time in developing your people is the best investment you can make ~ bar none. Your people are the heart and soul of your organization, and when they get better you get better, and your organization gets better. Your product and services improve and profitability goes up. Investing in their development is a “no brainer”.

Here’s why ~ everyone knows that having a coach opens up possibilities that wouldn’t open up if working on your own. When working with a coach you can often see something that you couldn’t see before, which often leaves you being more effective and more productive. A coach instructs, guides you in the areas you can’t see or figure out for yourself. Perhaps you’ve tried to teach yourself to play an instrument, get your finances in order, or to get yourself in shape. Most people discover that you can only go so far on your own. When you hire a coach, you have someone that has the skills and expertise to teach you those skills and guides you. Having a structure or program to develop yourself is a worthwhile investment. Your progress will become smoother, go faster, and be accomplished less painfully.

A good example of this is Aaron Judge of the NY Yankees. Judge is one of the most exciting, new baseball players on the scene today~ and while he is just a rookie, people are talking about him as though he may become one of the greatest players ever. He has already hit the most home runs as a rookie in history at the half way mark to date. In addition, he’s currently on pace to beat Joe Di Maggio’s rookie home run record. When he was interviewed at this year’s All Star game on how and why he became so effective, he said that the previous season his batting average was 179. He wrote down the number “179” and kept it on display on his phone. He kept it in front of himself to remind him to work harder each day. He also immersed himself in a specific coaching structure to help him improve. He used the coach to help him work on improving. Today his batting average is 329. His performance is directly connected with hard work, good coaching, and determination ~ he is a baseball phenomenon.

In business when you invest in your people, you are committing to develop them into successes. If you were going to build a house, you’d hire an experienced contractor, construction expert. You wouldn’t do it yourself. When you are developing your staff, your employees, take the same approach. Whether you are introducing a new technology into your organization or learning the latest techniques and strategies, hire an expert to teach your people and do it right from the start. This will ensure that your people take the new training seriously while simultaneously committing to having the results be long-lasting. The trainer you’ve hired is the expert and has the knowledge, skills and experience to train your people accurately and efficiently.

Companies sometimes opt for postponing employee training and development with outside trainers and coaches to contain costs. Later they might determine if an employee is worth investing in after they’ve proven themselves. This can easily backfire, particularly with millennials who have a desire and need for development. If the opportunity to grow and develop is not there it usually leads to attrition. Studies have shown that 40 percent of under-trained employees will leave their positions before the first year is over due to a shortage of skills training and development opportunities. Well-trained employees are more likely to be productive, experience greater job satisfaction and therefore, grow with the organization. Though training and developing a new employee requires a financial investment, not training them and having to go through the process of recruiting and re-hiring can be far more expensive. The Return on Investment in training and developing your employees is one of the best investments you can make in your organization.

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Five Reasons Why Most Strategic Initiatives Fail

Here’s the harsh reality: 70% of strategic initiatives fail in implementation. These are the large, “critically important” programs that leaders champion. They launch such campaigns to great fanfare, but most die a silent death, fading away with barely a mention (or sometimes crash).

According to Ram Charan, author of Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done, “70% of strategic failures are due to poor execution… it’s rarely for lack of smarts or visions.”

But five fundamental actions can turn this situation around. In our experience, 70-80% of such initiatives succeed when a company follows these principles:

  1. Explain your vision until employees actually understand it. Most programs fail for the simple reason that employees don’t understand what their leaders are trying to do. Stating your vision is not the same as making sure employees understand and absorb it.

People need to fully comprehend the vision. You need to give others a picture, both literally and figuratively. Show them: this is where we are going, and this is how we are going to get there. (Many leaders skip the second part.) For example, you might explain that “we are going to invest in our sales force, put in a much more robust CRM, and increase our marketing.”

Finally, explain why you are doing this and why there is a sense of urgency. Show all what you are asking them to do.

  1. Get people aligned. Posters, speeches, and company-wide email blasts are not nearly enough. Connect with your people, face-to-face. Get them to see that this is possible, that together you can actually achieve or surpass your goals.

Together, address questions such as:

  • What would it look like if we were successful in this initiative?
  • How would people act differently?
  • What would each of us change?

For example, what does it look like when you raise the level of customer satisfaction? It looks like National car rental, where every employee asks, “How was your car? How was the service?” when you return it… and they actually listen to your answer.

  1. Explain their role in delivering the vision. Every person and department should understand the roles and responsibilities that they own. They also need to understand the plan through which they will deliver the promised results.

In the absence of clarity, people tend to make stuff up. When this happens, chaos and inconsistency seeps into your business. Your description needs to be specific and vivid.

The more general the explanation, the greater the odds that things will go south. Companies like to skip training and explanations, but this is where you can cut chaos and confusion off at the pass.

  1. Have a scorecard! Walk into a well-run paper mill and you’ll see a sign that shows how many safe workdays that plant has operated in a row. It should also have daily and weekly production results on a whiteboard.

Well-run businesses are filled with employees who know how they are doing, both collectively as well as individually.

For example, the old Continental Airlines once set out to improve customer satisfaction. They decided that achieving more on-time departures was the single best way to impact customer satisfaction. One way they did this was by installing countdown clocks at each airport gate to track how much time remained before the plane needed to pull away from the gate on time, and the clocks publicly documented how the gate crew was doing.

  1. Hold people accountable. When things don’t happen as planned, you need to have a culture that figures out what happened and holds people accountable for the results, or lack thereof. This doesn’t mean being overly harsh; it simply means recognizing that a problem exists and fixing it.

In failed projects, accountability often slowly fades away. People just stop trying, until eventually everyone does.

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When you apply these five principles, you will start making solid progress. But it’s not magic. It’s a product of taking effective and consistent effort. If you go to the gym everyday and follow what the trainer tells you, in not much time you will gain muscle mass and lose weight.

None of the above principles are a secret, but collectively they represent a healthy discipline.

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Hiring the Right People – A Trim Tab

The Trim Tab metaphor was used by Buckminster Fuller ~ an American philosopher, systems theorist, architect, and inventor. I met him years ago.  He shared something that has impacted me ever since ~ The Trim Tab Effect.  It provides access to the possibility of making something happen more efficiently without exerting more effort.

Bucky said: “Think of the Queen Mary—the whole ship goes by and then comes the rudder. And there’s a tiny thing at the edge of the rudder called a trim tab. It’s a miniature rudder. Just moving the little trim tab builds a low pressure that pulls the rudder around. Takes almost no effort at all. But if you’re doing dynamic things mentally, the fact is that you can just put your foot out like that and the whole big ship of state is going to go. So I said, call me Trim Tab.”

Consider your hiring process. Face it, you’re not going to be happy if you hire the wrong person. Anyone who has done so knows exactly what we’re talking about here. It takes a lot of time to recognize that you’ve hired the wrong person. Then, a lot of time to admit it to yourself, to try to adjust to it, and then to attempt to fix the problem. After all that it usually takes a lot of time to make the decision to fire that person. And after all that you have to start the process over again ~ more time, more energy and more money. Have a process that makes something happen more efficiently without exerting more effort. Trim Tab.

Here’s the process we designed to ensure a good hire:

  1. Start with good, qualified candidates. We hire a good placement firm.
  • The candidates will be pre-screened for skill level. In our firm it is essential that the right hire is competent in all Microsoft processes.
  • The placement firm will pre-test and pre-qualify candidates before referring them.
  • They will also conduct a thorough background check ~ don’t underestimate the value if this. I have and it has backfired on us.  Trim Tab.

 

  1. Conduct a thorough interview process. This means more than one interview with several people interviewing each potential hire. Sometimes there is the right “chemistry” with one person, but another manager may not experience the same. We conduct three interviews: the initial interview. the call back, and a final interview.  Simultaneously the firm is interviewing several other candidates in the process, rather than a linear process. This will expedite things significantly. Trim Tab.

 

  1. Test their skill. Give the potential candidates a TASK to complete. We do a lot of presentations with our clients so it is essential that our employees are facile with generating Power Point presentations. The assigned task is to provide a 14-page presentation ~ “Tell us why we should hire you.” The document should represent who you are and what you are about. The purpose of this Power Point is to present yourself in a way that represents you as the best person for the job.  This will give us a chance to find out more about you; give us a sample of the kind of work you do and the quality of the work you do; give us a better sense of how you think of yourself, how you think and approach a situation and how you think you might fit in with Leadera.  (We then give examples slide by slide of how the person might complete the task.)

PROVIDE SIMPLE, CLEAR DIRECTIONS: “Complete the following assignment and send it back within 24 hours.”  Following directions is a “must”. I’ve learned a lot from this step as well ~ how a person follows directions is essential to the successful fulfillment of work flow in the firm.  Trim Tab. 

 

  1. Trust your instinct. Recognize the difference between what’s “on paper” vs. what your “gut” is telling you. Some candidates have all of the right qualifications, but something about them tells you they are “not quite right”. Determine the difference between their credibility vs how they “show up” for you in person.  Trim Tab.

 

  1. Bring them into a public setting. We’re looking to discover what it’s going to be like working with this person ~ what they’re like in real life. We take them out for a lunch or dinner meeting. There we can see how they interact with people ~ reveals much more than how they behave in an interview. How do they treat the wait staff?  How do they place their order ~ are they ordering from the menu or requesting the chef design something specific to them? Are they easy to interact with socially? Where is their attention focused ~ on themselves or on others?  Trim Tab.