We can easily underestimate the power of stories in leadership. We all have a story, they just read differently. Our stories are written in different fonts, sentence structures, and lengths. Some are written in blogs, told in front of audiences, or shared over a campfire. Our stories are one of the most powerful tools we have in connecting with another human being.
My first job was at Media Play. Media Play was a retail store with a computer section, CD section (compact disk for the younger readers), toy section, and a book section. They no longer exist, and I think I know why. Their hiring practices were highly questionable. They hired me to work in the book section, I was sixteen years old and did not read books. That should have been an automatic disqualifier!
Fast forward to today, I love reading and bookstores are fading away. Pretty crazy, huh? Reading is a way to grow and serves as an escape for me. Looking back, I was surrounded by a whole department of books, full of stories I failed to read. Stories ranging from every day people to world leaders who changed the course of history. It was like a gold mine of life experiences at my fingertips, and I had not a clue what those stories could have taught me.
Thankfully, that was an early chapter in my life. My story wasn’t finished. You have a story too and yours isn’t finished. My hope is that this post inspires you to know the significance of that story and the role it can play in bettering others and the world you live in. This week, we dive into ten ways the power of stories can transform our leadership:
Be A Vulnerable Storyteller
This is not easy for most leaders. We believe the lie that being vulnerable makes us look weak. Leaders are supposed to be strong and have it all together, right? Wrong. People follow real, authentic, and genuine leaders. Truly strong leaders have stories. It makes them who they are.
Live for Today
Another trap we can fall into as leaders is being so planned and prepared for tomorrow that we fail to experience today. I am a planner and preparer by nature and struggle with this. We never know when the final chapter of our story will be written. It is critical that we are present and in the moment. This is one area of our lives that being short-sighted is good. Live for today.
Someone Else Will Write Your Epilogue
In books, many authors write an epilogue. Epilogues are essentially the author’s summary of the story. In literature, authors get to write their own summary of the story. In life, we do not get the same luxury. Someone else will write the summary of our story when we are gone. Those someones are likely to be your family and the people you lead. Give them good content to work with and plenty of sources to cite.
Some of the best stories are yet to be told. Most of those stories are buried in layers of shame, regret, remorse, hurt, or embarrassment. We think that these untold stories are unique to us. They are not. What we think is most unique to us is most universal to everyone else. This is so true. Maybe your untold story is just what someone else needs to hear today in order to turn the page.
Struggle Stories Makes You Strong
Some of the people that I have connected with on the deepest levels shared their story with me. Not just normal stories, but struggle stories. Alcoholism, sexual abuse, divorce, loss of a child, bankruptcy, you name it. I have lived a relatively sheltered life, free from some of the things my closest friends have walked through. They are way stronger than I could ever be. I admire each and every one of them for not getting stuck in that chapter of their life, I’m not sure I could.
Failure is Not Fatal
Winston Churchill said, “success is not final, failure is not fatal, it is the courage to continue that counts.” Here is the great thing about our stories, our next chapter is waiting to be written. It can be written any way we so choose. Once the ink dries on the previous page, we just have to keep writing. If we keep flipping the pages backwards, we will never go forward to see how the story ends.
Do Not Judge The Book
We have all heard it said, “do not judge a book by its cover.” There is a lot of truth to that. Because our failure is not fatal, neither should the failure of others be. Do not judge the book by its earlier chapters. The story gets better, keep reading. Think about your world today, what if everyone judged you by who you WERE and not who you ARE?
Listen to Other Story Tellers
Leaders should learn from mistakes and grow wiser. Wisdom is generated from life experience. You can gain wisdom one of two ways. You either learn from your experiences or someone else’s. Your experiences hurt worse, I promise!
I have been fortunate to be a member of a leadership group every Tuesday and a men’s group at church every Wednesday for some time. Many of the story tellers in those groups are further ahead of me in life. When they share their pains and struggles from their life experiences, I grow wiser.
Stories Generate Empathy
Sympathy and empathy are used interchangeably, but are significantly different. Here is how I see it. If your parents are divorced and mine are not, I cannot sympathize with you regarding divorce. I have never walked in your shoes before.
Empathy is me trying to get as close to what it feels like to walk in your shoes as I can without directly experiencing it. Stories generate empathy. It lets people into your world and creates a better understanding of the overall story.
Stories Reduce Hate
My friend Kit Cummings is the Executive Director of the Power of Peace Project. Kit started the program with prison ministry. He would go into maximum security prisons and work with the leaders of rival gangs to create peace. He shared something with me from his experiences that Stuck, “once you know someone’s story, it’s hard to hate them. Imagine if we made the attempt to learn other people’s stories before we decided to hate them? The world would look a lot different, wouldn’t it?.
The Power of Stories Conclusion
If I would have written my story the way I would have planned, the book would have looked a lot different. One of the early chapters would have had me winning a high school wrestling state championship and getting an offer to wrestle in college. Thank God that my abilities significantly limited the achievement of those goals, because my life would have looked a lot different.
Maybe I would have gone away to college instead of staying local. If I went away, would I had married my best friend Shannon? Would I have got the phone call from my eleven-year-old football coach asking me to be a summer camp counselor. If I didn’t become a summer camp counselor, would I have become the Parks and Recreation Director? Would I be the City Manager today? Where and what would I be?
Our stories are unpredictable. They have surprise endings. The plan we have for our lives looks straight in the windshield, but is full of twist and turns in the rear view mirror. Our stories are not straight lines. There are mountain tops, valleys, detours, setbacks, and most importantly comebacks. The surprise of how the story ends awaits all of us.
Never forget the power of stories.
Ordinary to Extraordinary Intersection
Are you sharing your story?