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eTips from the Storytelling Coach - Number 19
Can We Lead Through Stories?
eTips is a free, monthly electronic newsletter from Doug Lipman. You can subscribe, unsubscribe, or read a more detailed description of the newsletter at the eTips page. You can also read the other back issues.
- 1) CAN WE LEAD THROUGH STORIES?
- 2) TIP: SETTING UP A PERFORMANCE SPACE
- 3) ANNOUNCEMENT: THE LEADING STORY MONTHLY
- 4) WORKSHOP ANNOUNCEMENT: MARKETING
- 5) ANNOUNCEMENT: ONLY 2 "MARKETING MENTORSHIP" SLOTS LEFT
1) CAN WE LEAD THROUGH STORIES?
Is it possible to lead through storytelling? For me, the answer is yes - but there are dangers to be aware of.
Being a leader is not the same as having a position of authority. Rather, to lead a group is to ACT SO THAT THINGS GO WELL for the group as a whole. Of course, this can be done by the nominal leader: the CEO of an organization or the chair of a meeting, for example. But leading can also be done - sometimes, even more effectively - by the rank-and-file employee who helps create connections for others, or by the person in the back row who quietly spends the break encouraging others to speak their truth.
The Tools We Carry
Storytellers lead in many ways, including:
- As artists, providing a vision of who we are, who we have been, and who we are capable of becoming. Howard Gardner (author of "Leading Minds"
) describes the process of offering people a new "vision story" as THE essential leadership skill.
- Using the telling of a powerful story to create a group experience, a sense of community. In our increasingly impersonal society, storytelling can give a much-needed dose of human connection.
- Giving an experience of timelessness. Like other arts, storytelling can give us an chance to slow down from our frantic pursuit of the purposeful - long enough to contact the meaningful.
- Offering stories as gifts to audiences, not as the attempts to persuade, instruct, or admonish that form so much of our communications. Bruno Bettelheim called fairy tales "love gifts" - a term that I believe can apply to any story told in the spirit of openhearted sharing.
Many storytellers (and others) are also skilled at eliciting the stories of others. As a result, they can open channels of connection and understanding that are vital to any group's ability to thrive. Benefits include:
- Providing a model of respectful, egalitarian communication.
- Increasing our understanding and trust for each other as we imaginatively "walk a mile" in someone else's experience.
- Bringing out unspoken problems and conflicts, so that they may be addressed.
There are many opportunities to combine storytelling and leadership - from "new frontiers" like corporations, government agencies, and healthcare institutions to "old friends" like schools, religious institutions, and libraries. Skilled storytellers can increase the effectiveness of any group. At the same time, those already leading can use storytelling skills to guide, gain perspective, empower, and resolve conflicts.
I recently coached three executives from a multinational corporation. They were all part of a program intended to encourage the spread of good ideas within their organization. The twin goals of their program were 1) to facilitate the telling of success stories and 2) to encourage managers to listen carefully to the ideas of those who report to them. In short, their program consisted of telling and listening!
Even fields that have long welcomed storytelling can benefit from "story leading." Education, for example, has yet to integrate the most potent aspects of storytelling into educational practices, such as: listening respectfully; engaging the imagination and feelings along with the intellect; and individualized shaping of meaning. What would education look like if these facets of storytelling were integrated into every instructional interaction? Who better to lead the way than those who understand storytelling?
Here There Be Dangers!
Yet the bright beacons of these leadership opportunities may also lead us through swamps and shoals.
One danger is that, as we gain access to new fields, we will promise more than we can deliver. Why? With our zeal for the importance of story combined with our lack of in-depth experience in these settings, we may unwittingly create a rapids of disappointment and disillusionment.
Another danger is that we might take on the very qualities we provide a counterbalance for. People need storytellers to help lead (and leaders to become storytellers) as a way of correcting trends such as: an overemphasis on results, an under-emphasis on feelings and human experience, and lopsided, top-down communication styles. Where we are needed most, however, folks are most likely to offer us a podium to preach from. If we accept it uncritically, we may unwittingly perpetuate notions such as "only experts have good ideas" and "communication is a one-way process."
Further, we may easily find ourselves shoehorned into promising specific results. As Annette Simmons says in her interview for the Leading Story Monthly (see below), "When you introduce storytelling to people, they become empowered. When you empower people, you can't control what will happen next!"
To be the leaders we are capable of becoming, we need to continue to do what we do best: imagine, connect, communicate, and listen!
2) TIP: SETTING UP A PERFORMANCE SPACE
If you have a choice of where to stand (or sit) when telling, consider standing with your back to a long wall. By making the back row closer to you, this set-up minimizes your distance to the listeners seated in the far corners. The downside: you will need to turn more from side to side to see all of your audience.
Place yourself in front of a non-distracting background. Ideally, any active doors will be behind the audience, so that late-comers don't walk into your listeners' field of vision. Avoid standing in front of any window behind which interesting things are happening!
If you are outside, try to have a building wall or a fence behind you. The wall will reflect your voice toward the audience, making it easier to be heard. And it will shield your listeners from visual distractions behind you.
3) ANNOUNCEMENT: THE LEADING STORY MONTHLY
Once a month or so, someone asks me, "What kind of a person is Judith Black, really?" Or, "You work with Jay O'Callahan. What's he like?"
I don't think these questions spring just from idle curiosity or the desire to gossip. Instead, I think they reflect a need we feel to know others who face - and often succeed against - the same problems we encounter as storytellers.
And the problem is not just personal. As a movement, we need to share our cutting-edge thinking, make our success stories known, warn each other of disturbing trends. Communicate our visions of what storytelling can add to the world. Or too many of us will fall prey to discouragement. Isolation. Lost energy for our art.
To help this process, I've started a new series, "The Leading Story Monthly: Recorded Interviews with Great Minds in Storytelling." Each month, you get a one-hour interview with a luminary in the storytelling world: Judith Black, Jay O'Callahan, Carmen Deedy, Jim May, Gay Ducey, to name just a few. You hear their unguarded thoughts, their candid experiences, their aspirations for our movement.
If you sign up in the next seven days as a Charter Member, I'll give you five extra benefits that are worth much more than a year's membership. Including a bonus interview with Annette Simmons, author of "The Story Factor." Best of all, you can cancel easily at any time - and it's all completely guaranteed!
Read the complete description on the web at
or ask me to email it to you. This is a kind of storytelling education you've never had before!
4) WORKSHOP ANNOUNCEMENT: MARKETING
I'm offering an incredible opportunity for just FOUR lucky folks. This August 9-11, in Atlanta, I'm offering a weekend intensive in "Marketing That Really Works - for Storytellers." Incredibly, it will be limited to only four people! You'll leave with everything you need to take charge of increasing - and refining - your storytelling work.
This workshop, and the Marketing Mentorship Program (described below) are complementary ways to get the help you need, to put to use the principles in my recorded telephone seminar on marketing. (For a description of how I came to learn those principles, please see http://storydynamics.com/Services/Telephone_Seminars/marketing.html.
You will leave the weekend with a clear idea of exactly what to do over the next months, to transform your storytelling life into the life you want!
This workshop comes with my Triple-Profit Guarantee! If, in the six months following the workshop, you do not earn AT LEAST three times the cost of the workshop, I will refund your entire tuition! At the door, if there is a place left, this workshop will cost $895 per person. Those who pay in full by July 7 pay only $745. For this week only, subscribers to eTips can pay just $195 each, in three installments: one now, one in July, and one at the workshop.
If you are interested, please email me for an application. (To understand why I require you to apply - and why I won't accept just anyone to this elite workshop - read about the Marketing Mentorship Program, below.)
5) ANNOUNCEMENT: ONLY 2 "MARKETING MENTORSHIP" SLOTS LEFT
I'm starting a new 5-month Marketing Mentorship Program, for those who are ready to take charge of marketing their storytelling. It is only open to six people - and, even though this is the first public announcement of it, four places are already filled.
This program lasts 5 months. Each month, you'll get support, check-in, and new information from me. The first and fifth months, this will be an individual phone session. The middle three months, you'll join the other five folks and me on a telephone conference call for group coaching.
The cost is $99 dollars a month - with a triple-profit guarantee. If, in the six months following this program, you don't make AT LEAST three times the total amount you paid, I'll refund your money. You can't lose!
I'm accepting applications for the last two slots. Email me for the application. Your answers will be kept confidential. I'll let you know if you are accepted or not. If necessary, I'll ask you for more information.
Why an application? A program like this requires folks who are ready for it. If your problem is finding what you like about storytelling, I'd be happy to coach you - but not as part of this mentoring program. In fact, I have already turned down one applicant. The Marketing Mentoring Program is for folks who have found their "groove" in storytelling - although not necessarily which audiences or venues to pursue - and are ready to apply their creativity and commitment to creating unique, effective ways to bring their art to others.
All the best,
P.S., Email me for one or both of these, or view them on the web:
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This page was last updated on Friday, November 28, 2003
Copyright©2002 Doug Lipman