Storytelling is an art that a great leader and speaker know about. There’s a reason why you remember the illustrations that others share in their presentation and how you’ll often remember the stories and analogies from a minister’s sermon before you recall the points of the message itself. People love stories!
I certainly leverage the power of storytelling in my own leadership. Being a good storyteller helps you get your message across, become more memorable to others and raise your influence level across the team. We’ve previously talked about the types of stories (EP 124) that you should have at the ready. Today, we’ll look at 4 elements that make a great story.
Stories don’t have to be long and elaborate
I’ve certainly been known to dial in a little bit of exaggeration or emphasis in a story to drive a point home or to land a punchline. Stories don’t have to be incredibly long, in fact, shorter stories are typically more memorable. Here’s an example of a story that Mike talks about in our book recommendation shows:
Two friends started a computer company. One person was a brilliant engineer, and the other had a passion for marketing and design. Together, the two Steves created Apple in Steve Jobs’s garage where he lived with his parents. Together, they revolutionized the industry and made computers easy to use for the average person. Later, Jobs was kicked out of his own company after a failed boardroom coup. A decade later he came back to pull the organization back from the brink of bankruptcy and made it into the organization that many millions love today. In 2022, the brand founded by two guys in a dad’s garage became the first U.S. company to be valued at $3 trillion.
117 words are all it took to share the story of Apple and it includes all four elements of a great story.
It needs Structure
There are some great stories out there that have been buried by a meandering storyteller. Maybe you know a person like this; they just seem to go on-an-on with an illustration or example and the story never really ends. There is a great episode of The Office where their branch manager Micheal (ep 289) finally has a great story to share and he just kills it by dragging it on and on until people lose interest.
All great stories have one thing in common: they have a beginning, middle, and end. The beginning sets the stage – It’s the backdrop of the situation and introduction to the characters. The middle shines a spotlight on the conflict or obstacles and the end resolves the conflict or shares what the outcome was.
Think about the stories that you want to share with others and visualize how the story plays out. Does it contain a definitive beginning middle and end? If so then you are already well on your way to a potentially memorable story.
It should have Characters
Speaking of The Office, one of the main reasons that people love that show (or really any show) is because of the characters. They are memorable and unique, and oftentimes we can see a little bit of ourselves in those characters that we love the most.
There are times when the concept of your story may be more abstract. Perhaps you are trying to capture your Mission, Vision, and Values. These abstract ideas can be embedded in your stories but the people or characters are the ones carrying the message. When I worked on a project where a company was relaunching its Values, we created videos where the executives came in and shared stories of what that particular Value meant to them or how they’ve seen it played out in the organization. We almost exclusively used the power of characters and stories to convey the message of the Values to those associates.
There needs to be Conflict
People love good conflict in stories. It’s what keeps people engaged as they wait to hear what is next. Remember conflict doesn’t always have to be physical or violent. Other areas to think about in conflict include:
Time – a natural enemy to all people!
A breakdown in resources or communications
An unexpected twist to a well-thought-out plan
Nature or other physical barriers
Society or government
There are conflicts going on around you on a daily basis and it’s very likely that the basis for your story may have more than one conflict. Choose and highlight the one that best accentuates the point that you are trying to make to keep people focused and engaged.
It needs Resolution
Every story needs to end. Give your story some closure. What was the point or lesson learned that you want to share? People enjoy hearing how someone overcame the odds or obstacles and to understand how the person or situation was transformed as a result.
In many business-related stories, the story simply wraps up with a solution to the problem or conflict at hand.
Craft great stories that include all the elements above. Practice and refine them with friends and family and then add them to your proverbial roll-a-dex to pull out at the right time in the future. There is quite a bit of power in storytelling as a communication tool and relationship builder. Tell a compelling story that pulls people in and inspires them.
Living your personal values leads you to live an authentic life that you will enjoy and be proud of, but it certainly isn’t always easy. I’ve had to let some great professional opportunities, old friends, and other valuable things go because they didn’t, or no longer, aligned with my values.
Today we’ll all look at three areas to consider as you think about your own personal values and how you can leverage them to be a great leader in your own personal life journey.
Understand what your personal Values are
When you live out your values at home and in your community, you have a strong sense of those qualities, behaviors, and beliefs that are truly important to you. It’s not uncommon to have a lack of clarity in our own values. Perhaps you’ve never really thought about it, or perhaps they are very broad – think “respect, kind, friendly” If you think about corporate Values, the best are short and to the point but they cover a very specific position. (Instead of the general term Justice, they may have Embrace Accountability) That focus helps you create a strong moral compass to latch on to.
If you need assistance in narrowing down those behaviors and traits that are important to you do this exercise over a week. Take time to write down a few things that:
Made you feel good or gave you a sense of satisfaction
Made you sad or gave you pause or regret
What others did that you admired or inspired you
What others did that you would not want to emulate
Made you feel useful, impactful, or valuable
This list should naturally bubble up some themes for you of behaviors, traits, and aspects that you are drawn towards as well as those things that you don’t want to be associated with. Now take those themes a step further and think about the root of those behaviors. You likely just found some of your personal values. Write them out and don’t limit them to just a word or two if you need more. Mine are more statements that a single word that you’ll find in many organizations. Some of mine include:
Put others above yourself
Embrace accountability in what you commit to
Do what’s right for others even when it’s difficult
Leverage your Values in your decisions
Your personal values drive should drive a lot of your decision-making. They help you in deciding what kind of job to take, what company to work for, who you befriend, what kind of content you consume, and more. Your values influence the small decisions throughout the day, (Who you follow online, how you spend your breaks, etc) and the big ones (Your long-term companion, how and where you invest your money, etc) to really everything in between.
When you get to those decisions that don’t seem easy – maybe they are complex, or really large in impact – Take a moment to pause and ask yourself how they align with your Values. Is this a good match? Is this what I want to be associated with?
You can probably recall a circumstance where you felt remorse or regret because you made a choice that was not consistent with your values. Don’t beat yourself up too much about it, it happens to all of us. Instead, learn from it and keep moving forward.
Check in to ensure that those you associate with are still aligned
Similar to our show Can you turn into a bad boss? (EP 348) It’s rare to make up one morning and decide to ditch all of your morals suddenly. What can happen though is a slow drift away from your internal values until a person finds themselves aligned with things that they never thought that they would be. There are many ways that the groups, associations, and people that you know can pull you away from your values without you knowing until it’s too late.
Mob mentality – The act of neglecting a person’s own feelings, instincts, and logic to adopt the behavior and actions around them.
Political groups – Groups that change their agenda as time passes. You may have been aligned at some point, but like mob mentality, become loyal to the group so much so that it overrides your own individual sense of values.
Friends – People are always changing and life events only compound those changes. Are the friends that you associate yourself with still adding value to them or have they become toxic to your well-being?
What are you consuming? – The internet is an echo chamber of its own making with many apps and sites pushing and nudging your content based on what you take an initial interest in. Be aware of the technological tug that may be pulling you in a direction you don’t need to go in, or perhaps excluding the direction that you should be heading towards.
Do a check-in with yourself from time to time to ensure that the categories above and other areas of influence for you are still aligned. While it may be difficult, letting go of those things that draw you away from your values will be a worthwhile effort.
Lean into the Values as you lead yourself, your friends, and your family. You will feel a higher level of satisfaction and value in what you do day in and day out, and you’ll like be building lasting relations while making a difference in others as a result.
I have built a career by tieing my work ethics, leadership priorities, and expectations around company values. Sometimes it was easy as others were aligned, to begin with, sometimes I was a hero as I entered a bad culture that desperately wanted change, and other times I was painted as the villain as I asked others to embrace change and held people accountable to how they did their work.
Living the Values at your organization isn’t always easy, but it certainly is rewarding long term and had always helped me accelerate my own career opportunities along the way.
Learn the Values and their place in the organization
When it comes to your organization’s values, dig in and get an understanding of what they are. The popular way that many companies express their values these are often through single words (empowerment, creativity, trust, service, etc). Although 1 or 2-word values are easier to remember, they really don’t say much or give real clarity to what they mean. Look for supporting documentation that unpacks what each one means to get a true sense of what the organization stands for.
Once you gain that understanding, commit them to memory and look at how the company integrates (or doesn’t) the Values into programming, pay practices, and accountability. In other words, do they truly stand on their Values, or are they something that people look at during their orientation and never revisit? Regardless of which side your company falls in putting its Values into action, understanding and aligning to the Values will help you stand out and accelerate your career.
Make the Values your calling card
Forward-thinking companies will often refer to work that you accomplish in two ways: The What – Your level of performance as it relates to your job description and The How – How you accomplish your goals. It’s always encouraging to see companies that go all-in on the how with some even going as far as to say that they are equally important in evaluating their people and their ability to do more on the team.
The How is all about Living the Values. As you continue to lean into how you carry yourself and your alignment with the company’s overall values, you’ll begin to build a reputation, and a very good one, that then becomes your calling card. People know what you expect when you enter the room and the high standard that you bring with you and those that you influence.
Living the Values accelerates your career
If you put individuals side-by-side that are equally skilled, what would make you choose one over the other? If you’ve got a hiring leader that is worth following, they will always choose the person that is strong in how they get their work done. Here are some ways that Living the Values accelerates your career.
You build stronger working relationships: It doesn’t matter whether you are an introvert or an extravert, a person that Lives the Values in the workplace will always have better relationships than someone that does not. You’ll be known as a partner, colleague, and friend to an ever-growing extended network across the organization. If you’ve company doesn’t emphasize your Values as it should, then people may not make the connection, but they will know that there is something different about you and that they just enjoy being around and working with you. Your life will be easier as you have people with different skills to help support you and your work that relies on others’ involvement will be easier to arrive at positive conclusions.
You’ll likely become a connector for others: It’s been said that a person that is a connector (Someone who makes networking connections for others) advances the quickest in an organization. it’s one thing to develop people in a silo, and quite a different thing to connect people together in order to make their work-life more effective or even to help them advance their own journey.
The strength here is from leveraging those working relationships in a way that brings value to everyone. Your values will lead you to do this in an unselfish way. You’ll give away great talent for the betterment of the organization, it will help keep any leadership ego in check, and you’ll naturally lead in a more servant leadership-like way. (EP 131 Characteristics of Servant Leadership & EP 132 Servant Leadership in Action for more)
You will be a role model for others to follow: I love being a culture champion. It’s so rewarding to see how teams blossom and thrive as they collectively embrace a shared positive culture. As I grew in my journey from an individual contributor to a leader of many, I took pride in being able to be a role model for others and influencing change for the better.
If you are in a tough culture, be a beacon of light for others by how you lead yourself. If you lead others, model the behaviors that you expect of them. When you say to them to Live the Values, they need to see what that looks like and means in the real working world. Many people strive to leave a lasting legacy behind them. It’s a sense of larger purpose in what we do. You can accomplish that in a larger and more meaningful way as you model those values for others to follow.
You’ll be given more influence and responsibility: Those that lead themselves by the company’s values will almost always attract more influence power and additional responsibility. This is a great way for you to have a chance to shine in an authentic way that can help others.
For those Baton Carriers that are in their sweet spot and don’t want to (and shouldn’t) continue advancing, know that more influence and responsibility is a good thing for you as well. Remember that you know your limits (Ep 140 for help here) and share those if you feel like you are being stretched too thin.
Lean into the Values as you lead yourself on your career journey. Your team will thrive, you’ll continue on an upward trajectory of your choosing and you’ll leave a lasting impact behind you.
The journey to becoming more inclusive is so rewarding on a personal level. There is personal joy and satisfaction as you see yourself grow and mature and this area is typically ripe for personal and professional growth.
Today we are going to focus on actions that you can take as an individual and as a team to ensure that everyone feels valued and has a voice, feel valued, and want to stay around for a long time.
Actions to take as an inclusive leader
It’s hard to have an inclusive team if you are an inclusive leader yourself. Even if you are that type of leader, your leadership will fall flat unless others see, feel, and understand it from you. Here are some personal actions to take as an inclusive leader.
Seek out differences. Curiosity is a trait that many organizations look for in great leaders. It shows that they have a growth mindset and are unlikely to fall into a sense of arrival in their career. Curiosity also lowers overall risk across the leadership board. Get to know those that are on the edge of your network. Spend time with those that you interact with quite a bit, but don’t know so well. Look for the quiet ones in the room and take time to understand their perspective. Seek out individuals that are different that you to gain a larger worldview.
Be present and tell your story. To lead a potentially large change, you need to be present in that change. You’ll gain more buy-in from those that you are looking to convince if they see that you are invested and involved yourself. Tell a compelling story and why it is important to you. Share the impact that your own personal journey has had on you and share the success stories of others (If they are ok with that) to help others see the vision.
Understand your own inclusive shadow. Being an inclusive leader holds little value if you are the only one that thinks you are inclusive. Seek feedback from those that are different from you in their opinion. Do they see you as an advocate and supporter? Check-in with those that you trust and value as well. Doing this helps you find those blind spots that you have. It’s like you are both underestimating and overestimating different parts of how you lead yourself and others.
Learn your impact. At the end of the day, what is your impact on others? Are you being emulated by others? Do you see some effort or behavior change that you didn’t see before? Are you being welcomed into more diverse groups that you were not previously a part of? Are people looking for your direction when it comes to inclusion? Seek a mentor or advisor on who to keep improving.
Whether you are trying to change a small team or a very complex organization, you are more of an influence than you often give yourself credit for. Strengthen your own leadership skills in this area, so that you can lift others up.
Actions to take as an inclusive team and organization
Thinking about your current state around inclusion may be daunting as you think about future possibilities. Start small. Here are some actions that you can take to help your people, team, and organization be more inclusive.
Recognize that it is a journey, not a race. When you tackle inclusion, you are taking others through a journey where they likely will need to challenge their own biases and self-awareness. That’s a huge change in and of itself, without even considering the programmatic, and potential policy changes that need to be made. Keep at it and don’t get discouraged by early setbacks.
Include the most impactful leaders. Many people automatically assume that the top leaders are the most impactful. They are in terms of strategy, but your middle managers are the ones that bring that strategy to life. Prioritize these leaders as you begin the journey. Include them in the process and leverage this group for advocates and early adopters. This will increase your likelihood of lasting change and accelerate your efforts toward your goal.
Leverage data to tell your story. I absolutely love using data to tell the story of what the opportunity is and to celebrate the progress that has been made around an issue. Leaders can often rely on their perception or feelings when it comes to inclusion, “I feel like we are a pretty inclusive group and everyone is treated the same and welcome.” Dig in and gather data on the current state of the team. The data will often write the story itself around what the opportunities are. Be sure to listen to the show today for some examples of how to leverage data in a real way when storytelling.
Pay attention to diverse associates and customers. Your diverse population has a higher likelihood of leaving the team when they don’t feel like they belong and are being heard. Tap into their life experience and their professional experience in the organization to understand what some of those nuanced and obvious points are that the group needs to work on. Also including them on the journey assures them that you aren’t simply paying lip service to change, but that you are truly invested in a new future together.
Being a more inclusive leader has several benefits. You’ll be a more effective leader, the legacy you leave behind will be stronger and your company will be more relevant and profitable as a result. Take the steps today to help others become wildly successful in their roles.
I’ve had the honor to be a part of some really great life-changing projects, events, and situations in my career. When asked about my proudest moments as a leader the stories typically go down a road of inclusion and helping break barriers for others to succeed in new ways. I simply love helping others meet and exceed their own personal and professional expectations.
Being inclusive not only accelerates your career, it also enhances your business and elevates others in the process. Today, we’ll dive into a couple of different ways to think about inclusion, how to care for it, and some of the common traits that are found in these types of leaders.
Inclusive leaders think about diversity in terms of demographics
The initial place that many people go to when they think about diversity is demographics. This can be a great starting point for a larger journey for you, your team, and your organization.
From a forward-facing perspective, your team should mirror the customers and community that you are serving. Reflect on those two groups. Does your team look similar or do you have some work to do? I once had a leader that recognized the gap on their team but didn’t know how to fill it. They weren’t getting a diverse group of people coming in on their application process. My advice to them was to connect with that community of people and meet them where they are instead of expecting them just to show up at your door. Mix up your recruiting efforts; how you publicize an opening and change your approach.
From an inward-facing perspective, look at the make-up of the team or organization. are there more women at the bottom of the chain and more men at the top? At what point does the dynamic flip? Run the same exercise from a cultural perspective. It can be an extremely eye-opening exercise that brings some strong data points as you begin to tell the story of the journey that needs to be taken.
Inclusive leaders think about diversity in terms of inclusiveness
An inclusive leader knows that being fully inclusive is more than a photo-op, or just getting the right mix of people on board. It’s the power of diversity of thought that really pushes productivity, creativity, and retention rates forward. Companies that rate high in diversity of thought also lower their risk of turnover by 30% (Deloitte Study 2018).
In order to foster, nurture, and grow an environment of inclusiveness, focus on these four things:
Fairness and Respect: People need to know that they will be respected in their work and that their opinion matters. They also don’t want to see signs of favoritism in projects or teams. People want to feel like they have an equal chance to be wildly successful in their roles.
Feeling like they are valued and belong: Associates won’t stick around long if they don’t feel like they can be their true authentic self. It’s not good for them or for your team if they feel like they have to put on a face or hide who they are. They desire to showcase their unique self and feel a part of the larger team.
Safety: In order for your people to be their most innovative, vulnerable, and open they need to feel safe. They desire a sense that what they share will not be used against them, impact them in a negative way, and are supported to openly share.
Empowered to grow: Once they feel safe, and respected and they know that they are valued, helping them gain a true sense of empowerment and then supporting that empowerment into real action is the next step on the journey.
Combining the sightline to demographics with the power of diversity of thought makes for a compelling team that will be highly effective and one that others will want to be a part of.
Traits of an inclusive leader
All great inclusive leaders share some common traits among them. Here are some areas to think about as you work to become more inclusive.
Curiosity: Curiosity in a leader is a great all-around trait to have because it ensures that they stay relevant as times change and have a personal and professional growth mindset. Curiosity leads an inclusive leader to seek out different ideas and experiences from others.
Cultural Intelligence: This is an understanding that your worldview is not the same as others and the ability to seek other perspectives for a larger understanding. I recently saw this in action at a local government meeting where one group dismissed another’s concerns. They felt that since the subject at hand wasn’t offensive to them, then by default it shouldn’t be offensive to anyone else. It was an obvious show of a lack of cultural intelligence.
Collaboration: This leader is aware of gaps in representation and is proactive to help fill those holes in meetings and projects. Are the right people at the table?
Commitment: Being an inclusive leader often requires a culture change, and that is something that takes time. These leaders are committed to a long-term vision, instead of seeing it as a check-the-box project that you move away from.
Courage: Along with commitment comes courage. It will take courage to step in a call out a situation, the current landscape, or have a difficult conversation with a co-worker.
Self-Awareness: We all have biases. Have the self-awareness to know what some of those are or where you have a tendency to let your guard down or go on auto-pilot is important to lower those blind spots.
Self-evaluation time! On a scale of 1-5, how would you rank yourself in each one? (Some categories may be difficult to self-evaluate) Ask a close partner or advisor about how they would rank you in each category to get a good understanding of opportunities for your own personal growth.
No matter where you are in your career or organization, you can become an inclusive leader and have a lasting impact on others.
Another year is almost in the books! Hopefully, this week has been one where you’ve been able to take a little time for yourself as you gear up for a new year of both personal and professional growth.
I always find the new year to be a great marker in which to set some of my own goals and evaluate how I did the past year. It keeps me on track to never waste a moment even during pandemic times. Maybe you do the same (or should start setting some goals). Here are some common mistakes that leaders make that may help you form some ideas for goals for yourself and your team.
Underestimating (or forgetting) the power of culture
Culture is everything. It dictates who you are, who you do the work that you do and it’s what makes you unique compared to your competitors. As obvious as that is, many leaders fail to link culture to strategy as they communicate to their team. Putting your culture and value top of mind certainly helps to keep it connected in communication. When I was a multi-state operations leader, I had all of my locations say the mission statement together before each shift. It felt odd at first, but it quickly got to the point where it felt weird not saying it at gatherings.
Today in the healthcare field, I’m always looking for ways to naturally input our values into the conversation to draw in focus and alignment in what we do and how we accomplish our goals.
Take the approach that works best for your team, just be sure to link your strategy back to your guiding principles so that your team understands why they are doing it and how they so go about accomplishing the goal. Drawing culture and strategy together makes it easier for your team to be successful and do their job well.
Talking about an individual instead of talking to them
One of the common themes that I discuss with leaders, no matter their leadership level, is coaching. Leaders typically have no problem at all talking about their employees. Whether it’s by gossip or just trying to get something off their chest, they’ll openly share their frustrations and ideas on improvements with others.
Good leaders muster up the managerial courage to have difficult conversations with others because, at the end of the day, that person needs the feedback that you have otherwise they will never improve. (Ep 322)
It’s also important to instill that direct approach in your team as well in order to strengthen your culture and team dynamic. Just as you may want to go to others with your grievances, your people will want to come to you with theirs. Instead of acting as a constant intermediary, encourage your people to connect with each other directly with their concerns and feedback. Doing so builds up trust within your team and frees your time up for other productive things.
Overly depend on the physical
Culture (and leadership) can be misunderstood. When learning about a leader’s disposition towards servant leadership or the culture of their team, the person will often share about physical items. They are sharing the What instead of the How.
What examples: Bringing in a food truck for lunch, creating a game room or ping pong table space, or hosting a potluck during the holidays.
How examples: How you prioritize your time and people, stories of helping one another, going above and beyond for your customer, and how you show care while holding others accountable.
You may look at that list and say, “Wait a minute. I’m a good leader and I do things like the What examples all the time for my people.” That’s great, but culture should hang on the what alone. Even a terrible boss can order in donuts every now and then.
Having an authentic culture has everything to do with your interactions with others as you all do your daily work. Sometimes leaders lean in too hard on the rewards without investing in How people lead themselves and work with others.
Failing to invest (Bonus tip!)
We’ve closed out every podcast for over seven years with the same catchphrase, “Invest in yourself to develop others”. It’s important to continue to invest in both yourself and your team and your business to ensure culture and priorities stick. Often times leaders will throw a little bit of money at an idea, concept, or strategy and then call it good. Think of a diversity and inclusion strategy. A leader may see that it is important and then see some people to course and move on. That strategy is not likely to have a long-lasting impact on just one event.
Think of how you invest in others and yourself as just that…..an investment. You’ve wouldn’t expect to retire from a one-time investment of $100. You add in a little bit each check through your career and then by the time you retire you have a nice little cushion on money waiting for you. You’ve got to keep that same intentionally as your push out new initiatives and priorities. Keep investing in communication, education, and connection for yourself and those you serve.
All of our mistakes today hold a common theme of culture. Overcome these common mistakes that leaders make that impact their teams in ways that they may never truly fully realize. Lock into and invest in a strong culture to see your people thrive and your business goals increase.