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.

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