Tuesday, February 19, 2013

I'm Making It Up As I Go!

Effective leaders are good storytellers, and with that in mind, our IT leadership community at work  held a two-part workshop on Storytelling last week.  I must admit that I wasn't too sure I would learn much, and I was tempted to cave to the day's demands and skip this extra-curricular activity.

But I'm glad I participated.

This leadership tool, storytelling, is way more useful than I had realized.  It's a powerful way to put ideas out there.  Done properly, you can inspire the team, set a vision, teach lessons, and define culture.  A good story can explain who you are and what you believe.

Of course a story doesn't work for every situation, sometimes strategy and budget woes have to be dealt head on, with data-driven conversations taking priority.  But reaching in the past, and bringing a narrative forward, and applying the lessons to a current situation can, indeed, be powerful. 

Our earliest storytelling lessons came from the adults around us, who acted as part entertainer and part translator, describing and interpreting events with the goal of trying to understand something and share it with us.  Why, for example, did something happen one way more than another?  This oral performance is more visual and less literary, and it should be - there is typically lots of repetition and lots of circling around as the storyteller demonstrates a level of vulnerability while seeking to understand, to take in the listeners' faces, and to introduce the next scene.

So here I am, surrounded by sincere and eager middle-age wage earners, and we shared stories. We learned how to captivate people, tell them a story, and hopefully, with this visualization process, win them over or lead them to action.  How to start?  Create a story map of images, quietly thinking on an event you wish to retell.  And then begin at the end.  For example, you might start with:  "I thought this was a good idea...it wasn't."

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