In a recent poll that asked “What is the single most important question you have about leadership”, “How can I improve my communication?” received 34% of the votes. (The runner-up received 20%.)
So, we’ve been discussing communication and how to improve our skills in this area. One area where many fall short is in engaging others BEFORE they try to inform. Most meetings start off with the obligatory and brief niceties. Then, they proceed right into the data dump… metrics for this, numbers for that, status for this, issues with that… blah, blah, blah. A whole lot of information… but who really cares?
Telling facts touches MINDS (informs).
Telling purposeful stories touches HEARTS (engages).
The greatest value and motivation comes from touching hearts!
In axiology I often talk about the hierarchy of value.
Often we are so focused on the Mid and Lowest classes of value that we neglect the most valuable one. Many times, in fact, we devalue the highest class of value.
As I speak to audiences of leaders, I talk about the intrinsic, the people part of leadership. They understand that leadership involves people but often they just want the ‘people’ to be human doings instead of human beings.
I talk about taking the time to get to know the human being. In this newsletter, I’ll discuss telling stories and many of you will hear a thought like this in your head: “I don’t have time for that.” “They should just do their jobs.” “I shouldn’t have to motivate them.” “They’re getting a paycheck.”
If human beings were just heads and hands without hearts, those statements above might work for you. As you know, human beings are much more than that.
In a world where getting “more with less” seems to be norm. Real leaders are learning how to get “more with more.” You see, the human being already has a heart. If you’d learn to use more of the human being, you’d be able to get “more with more.”
Stories will help you do that! Purposeful stories will inform their minds and more importantly will engage their hearts.
I know, I know, you may be saying “I don’t have any stories.” That reminds me of a story… When you go into kindergarten and ask, “If you can sing, raise your hand.” Virtually all of the children’s hands will go up! When you go into middle school and ask “If you can sing, raise your hand.” A few hands will go up. By the time you get to college, VERY FEW hands will go up. Why is that? Do children become mute as they grow older. No, but they do put their own parameters around the question. They don’t hear “if you can sing”, they hear “if you can sing WELL”.
You have stories that you can tell. They may be good stories or they may not. That’s not the point. The point is that stories ENGAGE people. Stories pull people in. Stories touch lives.
Telling purposeful stories is a skill that can be learned. It takes a little practice, but the dividends are immense. Here are a few tips:
- Define the purpose of the story. This purpose should be around a core value or values that you want your team to exhibit. (It ideally should be aligned with your organization’s core values.) If you want people to be more accountable or responsible, more open, more giving, then make this the purpose of your story.
- Develop a routine for questioning your team members and others around these values. If your value is innovation, you may ask “What’s the most creative idea you’ve heard today?” If your value is around accountability, you may ask “Which of your strengths have you used to produce your results today?” Make it a habit to ask questions.
- Collect responses and turn them into stories. Don’t just try to do this in your head. Write them down or put them in a document. Some folks email their responses to themselves from their smartphone right after the conversation so that they don’t forget. Find a way to collect the potential information for your stories.
- Start every meeting with a story. Yes, I mean EVERY meeting. What good is a meeting if bodies are present but no one is engaged? Most of the informing that you do will go in one ear and out the other… unless they are engaged.
I know that you may believe this is a LOT of work… that it takes too much time. Yes, at first, while you are practicing this skill, it may be a lot of work and it may take a lot of time. But a lot of truly worthwhile things in life take work and time. One thing for sure is that if you learn to ENGAGE before you INFORM, you will be touching hearts. If you learn to touch hearts, the heads and hands will follow. You will be truly leading and not just managing.
By the way, some of your stories will fail to make the point. That’s ok. You’ll be making a point that it’s ok to fail. 🙂 Keep trying. You’ll get better with practice.
“PowerPoint presentations may be powered by state-of-the-art technology. But reams of data rarely engage people to move them to action. Stories, on the other hand, are state-of-the-heart technology—they connect us to others.”
– Peter Guber
Improve your communication one thousand-fold by learning to tell purposeful stories.
ENGAGE your team today and get MORE WITH MORE!