Thursday, March 1, 2012

Everyone needs a story

A friend of mine, Todd Hahn, used to say that every night at bedtime his son would say, “Daddy, tell me that story you told me last night again!” There was only one story his son wanted to hear and he never grew tired of it.  So, of course, my friend told the story over and over and over. Once, he observed, “My son never says, “Daddy, tell me the Pythagorean Theorem.” Why? Because people need Story. While we might make decisions from facts, it’s Story and emotion that move us to take action.

Managers are skeptical of discussing relational and emotional aspects at work.  And that is exactly why so many strategies fail and many managers along with them.  Maybe strategy wins heads but it rarely moves hearts.  Managers focus too much on what is comfortable for them, but ineffective in getting results.  They focus on things like compensation plans, organizational clarity, 360 reviews, talent alignment, rote training and Balanced Scorecards. And while their thinking is well-organized and true, no one is moved by any of it. No one ever said to a CEO, “Please tell us about the Balanced Scorecard one more time, I find the subject so motivating!” 

When are people moved to press a strategy forward on their own initiative?  When they are inspired by it.  When they see their place in it.  When they realize it as an epic journey of a group of people of which they are a part.  When they become nervous knowing there’s a real chance of failure.  When they see an opportunity to build lasting relationships amongst their teammates. When they are want to give their life to it.

Inspire.  See.  Realize.  Become.  Build. Give.  When hearts are captured by a story, people are moved to action.

Don’t try to be someone you’re not. Authenticity is critical because everyone can smell fake a mile away. You must tell a story that is honest and in a way that is transparent and vulnerable.  If your storytelling is a bit rusty but you desire to motivate, there are lots of ways to hone your skills. Pick up a book like The Power of Story by Jim Loehr, or Noel Tichy’s Leadership Engine, or anything by Patrick Lencioni and learn from a master.

How will you know you have arrived as a storyteller?  When your people tell you that you have moved them emotionally and you see them taking action and see them repeating the story because it has become their own.


  1. Another good book on topic of bringing emotion to strategy is the latest Heath brothers book 'Switch'

  2. Sherri - I will take a look at it. On first pass it looks quite good.