My teenage son Matt had bonked a big test, part of his ongoing problems with homework and tests. And I was pissed off beyond belief. I was done with the games. I told him “the party was %$#@! over!” That I owned him now. That rules would be put in place to deal with this once and for all.
Matt responded with typical witty bewilderment but seemed to understand things were a little different. And you know what? Damned if he didn’t start to turn his grades around. We got really positive descriptions of his efforts and successes from his teachers, and the tone of our conversations started to change.
After a period of sustained success, Matt called me at the office and asked for some privileges back. I congratulated him and told him that I was so proud of him. But I also told him that now I knew how smart he really was and could be, it was game on for him. He needed to continue to perform well in school.
That’s when Matt asked me, “Dad, is this a good call or a bad call?
“What do you think?”
“I am not sure. That’s why I’m asking.”
“Well, you turned around your grades, you are capable and smart, and your dad is now going to help make sure that you are successful. Is that good or bad? You get to choose.”
“I’m gonna go with a good call.”
My son is infinitely wise . . .
And there you have it: A story about choice that could be applied to how to interpret news and situations as good or bad, or choosing your mindset and understanding situations at work as positive or negative. That’s what stories have the power to do.
The power of this storytelling should be familiar to all of us. From cave drawings to hieroglyphics to the oral traditions of Native Americans to the Bible to Shakespeare to Charlotte’s Web, human history has long known the power of storytelling. Which is why I believe everyone in business must be in what Seth Godin calls the “story business” for us to be our best.
Because building and maintaining relationships requires us to tell our stories.
It doesn’t matter what business you are in or how charming you are. But if you want your next-generation leaders to understand this, you’ll need to show most of them what a gift being in the story business can be. You’ll need to own and share your stories at the deepest levels as a kind of calling card for finding relevance.
But let’s be honest: this isn’t easy to do well, let alone genuinely. Storytelling is difficult and sometimes even uncomfortable. It is not what we’ve been taught to do, and it is hard—just like the relationships they are trying to help create. Which is why most of us really suck at telling our stories.
Actually, it is appalling how bad people are at telling their stories, let alone connecting them to what they do. We can’t even tell our stories to ourselves in the mirror, let alone one-on-one or god forbid to a group or audience. After all, fear of public speaking ranks higher than death in most surveys. So we can’t tell our stories and fear telling them more than death . . . how the heck are we going to connect?
I used to suck at telling my story for the same reason most people do: I was never taught to focus on the importance of my story. Not at home. Not in elementary school through high school and into college and graduate school. Not in the workplace.
This is why we constantly work on stories with millennials and non-millennials at keynotes, workshops, through coaching, and in our software platform at Launchbox. We start with three simple questions designed to be asked and answered quickly:
- Who am I? Where was I born? Where do I come from? Who is my family? What is my background—my family identity? What am I grateful for? What and who have made me who I am?
- What is my experience? What work have I done? What am I inspired and motivated by? What am I passionate for and about? What have I had to overcome, and what are my triumphs?
- What value do I bring? What am I good at? What are my special skills? What has made me unique and special? Why do people love me, and what do I do to maintain that? What kind of attitude do I have? What can I do for others? What about me makes me successful that is not about my technical experience?
Go ahead and answer these questions and use them to craft stories that bring the things that happen to you in life to life. Use them to share your strengths, skills, passions, and values, show how you live them, and connect them to what you do and can offer to others. Use them to own who you are and forge genuine connections with others that lead to results.
Need help getting started?Let us help you stop chasing relevance and make it happen. For more on working from the inside out, check out Part One of Chasing Relevance: 6 Steps to Understand, Engage, and Maximize Next-Generation Leaders in the Workplace.