Friday, August 28, 2009

Leadership & Storytelling Part 12a of Many...

In this entry we pick up with the third competency of modeling of the Interaction Ring of the Story-Based Communication Skills model. In previous entries we explored the tow other skills of being able to select a story and tell a story. There are two aspects of the model skills. Here's the first of two discussion on the story-based communication skill of modeling.


There are two aspects to the modeling competency. The first aspect can be summed up in a cliché, “actions speak louder than words.” Our behavior has the potential to speak volumes. Our actions can create memorable experiences for others that are retold as stories. We should strive to enact our intentions instead of announcing them. Be mindful of how your actions can create stories. The modeling competency also describes how we use language and visual aids to explain complex ideas. Analogies, similes, metaphors, and anecdotes are just a few examples of using language to generate models.

While interviewing an executive at Dreyer’s Ice Cream I heard a wonderful story that is a perfect example of how stories are created by actions. This story takes places towards the beginning of the company’s history. It was a day or two before Christmas Eve and the receptionist working the phones was not busy. There had been almost no calls for the day. When the President walked by her desk the receptionist asked him if she could leave early. The President thought to himself, “I have one of three possible responses. I can tell her what she wants to hear and instruct her to forward the phones into voice mail and to go home early and have a wonderful holiday. I can tell her that every call is important and that by greeting each customer personally she helps the company succeed. Or I can tell her to make the decision herself.” The President decided to let the receptionist make her own decision. To this day he’s not sure what she decided nor does he care. She was the best person to make the decision and he trusted her to make it. This story is retold at every employee orientation. The President enacted the values of the culture he espoused and it left an indelible mark in the minds of his employees.

We don’t realize how significant our actions can be. Ad hoc water cooler conversations are riddled with stories of people’s behavior. Imagine your actions in terms of what stories they might generate. There is no need to be paranoid. Every person will not perceive our actions no matter how noble our intentions may be positively but we need to be more purposeful in how we go about them. A good modeler lives by example.

Exercise: Modeling Competency – Creating Stories through Actions

Identify a key message you want to communicate. Perhaps it’s a message you have tried communicating several times but it has failed to stick or maybe it’s a new idea you have been trying to advance. Consider what actions you could take to model it. One of my favorite examples comes from a client who was having difficulty with their quality control department. The CEO of the company held a luncheon and had everyone’s lunches purposely mixed up. Sometimes these actions will be single acts that have a big dramatic effect as in the quality control example however; sometimes you may need to try a series of actions. Think of what actions you can take to model your message. Will anyone else be involved in the actions you need to take? Why do you think these actions will be effective?

There are times when you cannot directly reach your target audience. In these instances you need to mold the actions of others. You need to act as a coach by helping others determine what actions they can take that have the potential to create stories. Guide them to look for opportunities that are a natural part of the organization’s activities. These are great places to look because when we introduce variation in otherwise stable behaviors they are likely to be noticed. When you are coaching someone have them consider the impact of their actions and how others might respond. Help them prepare for the possibility that their actions may not create a positive story. How will they handle any negative ramifications? Ask them to imagine how any of these can be transformed into positive ones?

All of these skills can be measured with the only assessment in the world that measured story-based communication skills (recognized in 2008 with an HR Leadership Award from the Asia Pacific HRM Congress).

Story-based Communication Assessment: Click Here...

I also have a book of self-development exercises to work on these skills with yourself or others. All of these exercises that map to the nine skills of the competency model

Book of Self-Development Exercises: Click Here...

I also recommend my book, Once Upon a Time: Using Story-Based Activities to Develop Breakthrough Communication Skills. It contains a collection of group process activities aligned with these story-based communication skills.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Leadership & Storytelling Part 11 of Many...

We continue with our examination of the Interaction Ring and the second competency of Telling Stories. This is what most people think of when they talk about storytelling skills. Over the next blogs we will venture into some areas that may be less known to you.


Relaying information with authenticity. Paint a vivid, engaging picture for listeners.

Some behaviors include…

* I use anecdotes when I communicate.

* I vary the tone and volume of my voice when I communicate.

*I allow others to interject their own thoughts and experiences during a conversation.

*I invite my listeners to interact with me by adding details, anticipating the direction of the conversation, and contributing comments.

Maybe you are shy or self-conscious. I am not concerned with turning you into an award-winning orator. There are great resources out there that have a lot to offer in that arena. The ability to dramatize a story for purposes of entertaining is an art form but does not concern us here. If you find it natural to spin a yarn or be the center of attention there are other subtleties to be an effective communicator through stories that you will want to master.

You must believe your stories are interesting. This is the first hurdle. People love to hear stories. Without stories our conversations are dull. Worse yet very little can be communicated without them. Transmission is encapsulated in language understanding is transferred through stories. Isolated islands of abstractions leave us wanting. We listen awkwardly waiting for some way to connect to the speaker. As soon as an illustration enters the conversation we breathe a sigh of relief. Finally there is something we can grab unto. Stories are fundamental to how we communicate. Therefore we must become adept at using them.

When telling a story expand and collapse the amount of detail you include. There is a time and place for stories to be told in long, rich detail however most organizational settings require us to be concise. From our discussions earlier in the book we know that stories can be as short as a single sentence. While you may parse down the number of details you use be sure to include ones that will enrich the story for the audience it is being told to. In the next exercise you will practice truncating details without sacrificing a story.

Tell a story by reliving it. Overcome any self-consciousness by connecting to your story. If you watch a story as it unfolds in your mind it becomes more real for you and the people you are sharing it with. Telling a story is another opportunity to learn from it in one or more ways. As you relive the story you may discover new insights, and secondly people’s reactions to your stories may offer you a new perspective. These things are only possible if you engage your imagination.

Recognize that there is no right way to tell a story. Find your own voice. Each person has a unique way of internalizing the world and expressing themselves. Admire what you like in other people’s communication style but do not emulate characteristics that are not in keeping with your own. People respond to authenticity not to gimmicks. Have you ever been in a group when someone’s story grabs your attention? It’s not always the story delivered with award winning aplomb.

The most important facet of telling stories is frequency. The more you tell the more comfortable you will become. Make stories a natural part of your conversations. Stories are not just for speeches, presentations, or pre-meditated occasions. Telling stories is an integral part of any conversation. In this next exercise you will identify how stories are occurring in your conversations and work on incorporating more of them into your own.

We tell stories to invoke rich responses in others. The best response is another story. Sometime this story is shared and other times it is not. When you tell a story try to involve the listener. Let them participate in the story. Try inserting questions as you tell you story. These act as triggers for others to search their memory for similar experiences. If you do this you will need to be prepared for interruptions. I am always reminded of reading a book to an inquisitive child. As the reader it is easy to become wrapped up in the story and brush aside a child’s interruptions. These interruptions are more central to the story than the story itself. As adult tellers of stories I think the same principle holds true. In fact, if the story becomes derailed and goes an alternative direction we may have to abandon the original story altogether. If we are interested in making a connection we need to give up a certain degree of control. When the setting does not lend itself to interruptions such as a large group or a brief time period, use rhetorical questions and slight pauses to encourage listeners to be involved in the story you are telling. To do this well it requires us to be less focused on ourselves, and more focused on the listener. It is a shame that much of our storytelling in informal conversations has a tendency to be self-absorbed in nature. At first this will demand a concerted effort on your part. The rewards are worth the disorientation.

All of these skills can be measured with the only assessment in the world that measured story-based communication skills (recognized in 2008 with an HR Leadership Award from the Asia Pacific HRM Congress).

Story-based Communication Assessment: Click Here...

I also have a book of self-development exercises to work on these skills with yourself or others. All of these exercises that map to the nine skills of the competency model

Book of Self-Development Exercises: Click Here...

I also recommend my book, Once Upon a Time: Using Story-Based Activities to Develop Breakthrough Communication Skills. It contains a collection of group process activities aligned with these story-based communication skills.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Leadership & Storytelling Part 10 of Many...

We start our detailed look at story-based communication model for leaders by looking at the Interaction Ring.

The Interaction Ring with its three skills describes how we use stories to connect with others and communicate. The three skills are:

1. Selecting
2. Telling
3. Modeling

This is the tip of the iceberg. When people think of storytelling skills these are the ones that come rushing to mind.

The Interaction Ring contains the competencies that are most noticeable by outside observers. Selecting, Telling and Modeling describe how we use stories to communicate. In actuality, these are the least important competencies. They demonstrate mastery of the competencies found in the Core and Process Ring without which the competencies in the Interaction Ring amount too little more than showmanship. The Interaction Ring is the icing on the cake. All the other competencies have to be working in concert in order for us to be effective communicators and learners regardless of how clever we are in selecting stories, how theatrically we tell them, what behaviors we model or analogies we leverage to explain ourselves.


One of the questions I get asked the most is, “how do you know what story to tell?” It’s an excellent question. Of course the setting of where a story is to be told has a lot to do with it. Stepping back to do an audience analysis will be instrumental in guiding you. For example, it is more straightforward when you are giving a presentation at a conference in front of a large audience than if you are attempting to select a story on the fly in an informal conversation. When you have advance information about who the people are, why they are coming, and a sense of what you think they want to get out of your talk than it is easy to use your preparation time to scan a wide assortment of story options. However, when we do not have the luxury of planning, selecting a story becomes more challenging. In these extemporaneous settings you must rely on the “listening” competencies of the Core, and the Indexing competency from the Process Ring. How to select a story is a function of our index.

Here's a complimentary copy of a tool I developed to help leaders select stories.

Complimentary Tool for Selecting Stories: Click Here...

We'll be continuing our exploration of the Interaction Ring and the two other skills in the next two blog entries.

All of these skills can be measured with the only assessment in the world that measured story-based communication skills (recognized in 2008 with an HR Leadership Award from the Asia Pacific HRM Congress).

Story-based Communication Assessment: Click Here...

I also have a book of self-development exercises to work on these skills with yourself or others. All of these exercises that map to the nine skills of the competency model

Book of Self-Development Exercises: Click Here...

I also recommend my book, Once Upon a Time: Using Story-Based Activities to Develop Breakthrough Communication Skills. It contains a collection of group process activities aligned with these story-based communication skills.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Leadership & Storytelling Part 9 of Many...

Now that we've looked at behaviors we are ready to roll our sleeves up and get down to what I am really passionate about - story-based communication skills.

If stories are fundamental to how we communicate, learn and think than it stands to reason that we must have some inherent equipment for stories. Most would agree that humans work with patterns to make sense and give sense to the world. Stories contain chunks of information. Consider a hologram where one pixel of information is encoded with all of the a picture's information. Or how about the complex intricate coding of genetic information in strands of DNA found in all our cells. Stories are fragments and threads that tied together begin to form patterns of overlaying stories. Our meaning and identities are enmeshed in the highways and byways of memories remembered and reconstituted as narratives.

So...I started with the assumption that there must be communication capabilities we have. Working within the framework of stories I was thrilled to find a way to get a handle on what these capabilities or skills might.

Over the next ten blog posts I will share what I observed. The last 15 years of my research, writing and consulting has been dedicated to developing simple, practical practices that people can use to enhance their performances in the workplace and other areas of their lives. The habits and skills of story-based forms of communication have been studied in light of how they effect interactions in all facets of our lives.

Based on award-winning research, Nine Story-Based Communication Skills are used to construct a simple, workable framework that encapsulates behaviors we are engaged in all of the time. When these behaviors are focused with a story lens it creates a profound breakthrough in how we share, process, and take in information.This work has been acknowledged by the Asia Pacific HRM Congress HR Leadership and published in various places. It is also a core part of my leadership development work with my clients. Without any further ado let me share the nine communication skills

Nine Story-Based Communication Competencies

The more I worked with stories, the more I realized there must be some essential competencies to being an effective communicator, learner, and thinker with stories.As I pored over piles of surveys and reviewed hours and hours of interviews,I began to notice clear repeating patterns. One of the things that struck me immediately was the central role stories play in communication. Yet despite the fact that they are so pervasive, we are not aware, purposeful, or strategic in how we use them. Although stories may be an obvious facet of communication, they’re not something we seek to understand or leverage more effectively.

The model includes three rings...

1. INTERACTION - Describes how we use stories to connect with others and communicate.

2. PROCESS - Describes how we work with experiences to transform them into meaningful and reusable stories.

3. THE CORE - Describes how we open ourselves to be aware and sensitive to stories.

The nine skills are...

1. Modeling - Being aware of ones actions and using them to create lasting impressions in the eyes of others. Employing a variety of analogical techniques to bring an idea or concept alive.

2. Telling
- Relaying a story with authenticity that paints a vivid, engaging picture for listeners.

3. Selecting - Picking a story that is appropriate to the situation at hand and that clearly communicates concepts, ideas, or feelings.

4. Indexing - Developing a flexible, vast, mental schema for retrieval of experiences, and knowledge.

5. Synthesizing - Finding patterns in new experiences and creating connections between them and old ones.

6. Reflecting
- Reviewing experiences with circumspection and extracting knowledge from them.

7. Eliciting - Asking questions and finding ways to pull stories from others.

8. Listening - Absorbing stories and invoking the imagination to enter them in a fundamental and deep way.

9. Observing - Practicing mindfulness to become aware of the stories implicit in others’ words and actions.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Leadership & Storytelling Part 8 of Many...

Over the last seven blog posts I have characterized eight leadership behaviors. Before diving into our final one here's a recap of the first seven. I'm sure none of these will surprise you:

1. Cultivate Trust
2. Delegate
3. Manage Boundaries
4. Share Passion to Instill Passion
5. Recognize Talent
6. Park the Ego
7. Stop and Listen

And now for number eight...but wait be sure to add your commnets. What other key leadership behaviors you would add to this lsit. This isonly a conversation starter...

8. Know When and How to Take Risks

Without risk and uncertainty very little can be achieved. Jumping into a situation with reckless abandon is seldom fruitful and may simply be a different face of the same malady afflicting those who are paralyzed with fear and unable to ever take a risk. So there is a delicate balance between risk and safety. A leader must learn how to decide when to take a risk and how to take it in such a way as to minimize its potential damage. Part of success in risk taking lies in allowing others to take risks and trusting their judgment, especially when the risky action being considered lies closer to their realm of experience and knowledge than to yours.


• Challenge yourself to learn or try something new. Look for opportunities to get out of your comfort zone.

• Seek people who can act as your coaches.

In the next nine posts. I will discuss what I have discovered in my research, publishing, and coaching on storytelling skills for leaders. We will dive into nine story-based communication skills for leaders.

BTW thanks for reading and please share your thoughts!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Leadership & Storytelling Part 7 of Many...

7. Stop and Listen

The importance of this simple and powerful technique cannot be stressed enough. Leaders must learn how to listen on many different levels. Hearing others’ words is only one facet of listening. Leaders must also discover techniques and practices for tuning into the actions of people around them and unscrambling their observations into insightful reflective patterns that guide their interactions with others. Self-reflection is another crucial form of listening that gets overlooked. Leaders with the capacity to retreat into the stillness of their heart, mind, and gut in the frenzy of change and chaos around them can act from a place of fuller knowledge than can leaders who work principally from their heads.


• Set aside ten minutes a day to rewind the day and review your interactions with others. Consider how any of your interactions with others might have altered your mental model of them.

• Look for any interactions that might have resulted in misperceptions. Determine the best way to follow up and alleviate the potentially negative impacts of these interactions.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Leadership & Storytelling Part 6 of Many...

6. Park the Ego

Conviction and self-confidence are key attributes of a leader, and as such they help her develop a healthy ego. However, when ego consumes a leader’s perceptiveness and becomes a tool of power versus inspiration, it has ceased to serve the leader well and has become dangerous to all. Leaders must learn how to draw internal strength from their egos while simultaneously parking them out of the way. Leaders who put others first do so by attending to the egos of others and not to theirs.


• Reflect on things about yourself (skills, abilities, qualities, experience, knowledge, . . .and so forth) that you are very confident about. Then reflect on areas where you are less sure of yourself. Our egos tend to be more dominant in areas where we lack true self-confidence and self-esteem. Identify these areas in yourself and others, and be watchful. These are the areas where our egos can easily get out of control.

• Give other people the opportunity to take the lead in areas where you have more experience. Act as a coach rather than as a doer all the time.

Be sure to check out my upcoming webinar with Shawn Callahan of Anecdote on August 19th, 2009...

Three Questions We Usually Get from Leaders About Storytelling: Reflections, Discussion & Tools.

Click Here to Learn More...

Monday, August 3, 2009

Leadership & Storytelling Part 5 of Many...

How does clay and pottery have anything to do with leadership?

I am intrigued by the process of how raw clay is transformed into pottery. There is an inherent potential in the clay, then through motion of a spinning wheel, a little water, and skillful hands an object is born. Work is completed with the collaborative energies of active agents each working to do their part. Some of the forces emanate from the hands of the potter while others appear to have their own objective reality. The spinning of wheel strikes me as an apt metaphor of an organization and all of the outside forces swirl around it shaping its trajectory and unfolding stories.

The potter as leader, recognizes the inherent value of every piece of clay. Each clump of clay has a unique potential to become something special and is perfect in its own right until the energies of of its properties are unleashed by the intentions of the potter.

The act of molding clay is initiated by a drive to create. There may be a vision such as making a pot. The potter has the experience of having made many pots. There maybe goals of needing a pot to match others that have been made; but all of these visions, experience, and goals serve as context. The ultimate force of the potter is the drive to create. Her willingness to see how clumps of wet earth have so much more to offer. It is not an act of subjecting the clay to bend to her will. Rather it is a call forth into fruition. The potters technical skills are complimented and buoyed by her instincts and heart.

So...leaders need to:

5. Recognize Talent

Talent is everywhere, and everyone has unique gifts and talents. Recognizing talent can be a challenge, however; requiring leaders to suspend their biases, values,judgments, worldviews, expectations, and perspectives. In order to recognize talent,a leader may have to work with what on the surface appear to be shortcomings or liabilities to the organization and transform them into positive skills.


• Make a list of people you find it challenging to work with. Next to each name write a short description of why you find it difficult to work with that person.

• Now imagine how some of these traits you see as negatives might be seen as assets. Can you develop a game plan for doing a better job of leveraging these traits?