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Why Story Matters

Yesterday, I completed Robert McKee’s Story Seminar. It’s a story boot camp of sorts – 32 hours of teaching in four days… including a 6 hour, scene by scene screening of Casablanca! The audience consisted of about 200 writers for screen, stage and page, along with several film and TV producers.
 

As you can imagine, 32 hours of content sparked a lot of ideas. So, you can expect several posts in the coming weeks about story. Today, I want to share a few thoughts on why leaders should care about story.
Story Connects – I don’t pretend to understand this phenomenon completely – it’s almost like magic. Any leader who’s used story well in the past understands this. When you and I share facts, we connect with a fraction of our audience. However, a story, well told, can have vast appeal.
Story Penetrates – Much of the communication we receive in our lives just barely pierces the surface of our consciousness. Stories have the potential to embed themselves in our heart and mind. They can cut to the core of who we are and what we believe.
Story Transports – As leaders, we’re always in the process of creating the future… that’s our job! We’re forever working to convince people they should go with us to that preferred future. Story is the perfect vehicle to take people to the future we’ve imagined. Story is a leader’s time machine!
Story Illustrates – When we have an idea, it’s always clear in our mind. That’s not always true for those who listen to our insight. Concepts can often confuse. A story can turn our ideas into tangible examples others can understand.
Story Personalizes – People look for themselves in our stories. They want to make the story their own. A story can serve as a mirror for the listener. That’s one reason a story resonates with people. It can be a reflection of their hopes, dreams and fears.
Story Illuminates – There are many thoughts, feelings, emotions and experiences in life that are hard to understand. Stories can shine a light on truth and help people make sense of life.
Story Inspires – Stories can be used to call out the best in people. When a story represents ideals and values we aspire to, we can be moved by the characters to continue our pursuit. It’s why we love the hero or heroine – we want to be more like them.
Story Sticks – I’m always amazed when someone says, “Hey, I heard you speak 30 years ago.” That’s a real shocker. Then, even more amazing, they sometimes add, “I remember the story you told about ______________.” They rarely remember my outline, just the story!
Great leaders have always understood the power of story. Go back as far as you’d like in history – whether it was Alexander the Great visiting the tents of the injured so he could learn their stories of bravery to share with the other troops; or Jesus telling the story of the lost sheep. Every leader should be a student of story.
I’ve been trying to master the art of story for years. This week has tempered my expectations a bit. I’m not sure story can be mastered; however, like any art form, it can be pursued. That’s exactly what I plan to do.[GLS_Shield]
How could story help you lead at a higher level?

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Coach Joe

7 years ago

Thanks Mark, this reminded me of my sales days when we used to ‘Paint a word picture’ of a typical event that illustrated the problem without our product and then the solution with our product. Later people built this into the ‘Feel, Felt, Found’ testimonial or referral stories. I know how you feel…So and so felt the same way… this is what they found…’ It was all about story. As you point out so well. As a consultant helping the buyer buy and not be sold, it had great closing impact. Usually, we never encountered buyer’s remorse after the sale. They bought the solution story. Thanks again. .

mark

7 years ago

Joe, I’ve never heard of “Feel, Felt, Found.” It makes perfect sense. Story is powerful. As leaders, we don’t want “buyers remorse” either. A great story surely helps. Thanks for joining the conversation! Mark

Vicky Nettles

7 years ago

As a sales leader i am always looking for ways to better connect with my folks. i have a conference call with my group weekly and i think stories would be a good way to make a point. Would you be willing to give an example of weaving a story into a group call that basically updates financials on sales performance month to date and what each person is doing to make a difference. I am a visual learner. i can take a very small example and learn from it. i know you are very busy

mark

7 years ago

Vicky, I appreciate your request for a story. I’m not sure I’ve got a great one to share financial data. However, I have two thoughts that may stimulate your creativity…
Scenario 1 – What if you shared a story about what happens when the financials are favorable. In our organization, we give a lot of money to charity. Therefore, we can, and do, tell a lot of stories about the people our contributions serve. This may include college scholarships, or foster children or camps for kids. These stories help give meaning to the margin.
Scenario 2 – You could turn the financial report (or portions of it) into a story. I’m not a finance guy – I sell chicken; however, I’m sure you could spin a tale about the people that contribute to financials. Here’s an example:
A few years ago, I visited a manufacturing company whose leadership believed in the power of business literacy. While touring their facility, I met Larry. He was a 50-something year old guy with severe mental disabilities (Cognitively, he was probably about 10 years old.) Larry’s job was to clean parts they were attempting to re-use. As I approached Larry and introduced myself, I asked him what he was doing. He proceeded to explain how important his job was and how difficult it was to get it right. He showed me his work and told me the financial implications for every part he could salvage for reuse. Larry was a businessman. He was helping his company manage the P&L and he knew it. He told me when he did his job well, the company made more money. He cared, and it showed. How many people in your business understand how their actions impact the profits of the organization? Larry knew.
I hope this helps!
Thanks for joining the conversation.
Mark

Wes Roberts

7 years ago

Excellent post, Mark. Thank you! Will welcome any creative wisdom like you’ve just shared.
Responding to your last question concerning leading at higher levels: story invites us deeper and wider, as well. Story allows facts to become personal. A story told, without moving me first, will only be an illustrated fact. You have done an splendid job of boiling down McKee’s thoughts. They will be shared with other leaders I’m mentoring. Thank you!

mark

7 years ago

Wes, thanks for taking time to respond to this post! I’m delighted you found the content useful. I’ll continue to share insights from the McKee event as I unearth them. Mark

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