This week I went out to dinner with team mates twice. On each night, I heard inspirational stories from my team mates – 1 personal and 1 professional – that really made me think deeply about how I am living my life. One story was about friendship; staying friends and keeping a beautiful tradition for 40 years. Another story was about bravery and leadership; knowing when to leave a company because it is not a fit.
Consultants tell stories. From the time we make proposals to clients, we are telling stories of how we did the work previously, how the industry is changing, what we know of their competitors, and why we can be trusted as consultants. When we recruit, we tell candidates what we are looking for, and paint a picture of what their life and career will be like, if they join us. When we make recommendations, consultants pull together all the data, interviews, benchmarks, industry trends, hypotheses, and insights into a cohesive narrative, which is often told by Powerpoint. Simply, we tell stories.
Life is about stories. My wife and I – certainly the older we get – believe that life is about stories because the most important things in life (getting spiritual here) is about people and experiences. Once you have enough money, safety, and get over the ambition of the 20s and 30s, it is about people and experiences.
Stories come from travel. “Are you going on vacation this year?” is one of my favorite questions to ask clients, friends, and strangers. It gets people thinking about good things: relaxation, friends, family, travel, and fun. It is what stories are made of.
I was once told that Europeans rarely speak of work, or ask “what do you do?” when first meeting someone at a party or social. It is crass, and actually, a bit boring. Instead, conversation gravitates to travel, food, hobbies, and sports. Americans talk about work, while Europeans are more apt to tell stories. European readers, tell me if this is true.
Stories come from sacrifice. Very possibly, things that have the most value to us are the things that we worked hardest to achieve. For hard-charging consultant types, the projects where we really had to invest our head, heart, and hands are the ones we are gloriously proud of. Also, when we run into cowards, bullies, and ignorant people – they are anti-mentors who we learn not to be like. This is informative too. These experience make us better coaches, and managers. Tough times make us more competitive.
“If you are going through hell, keep going.” – Winston Churchill
Leaders tell stories. This is so true, it is almost a cliche. Leaders get things done through other people. Leaders make voluntary followers. Leaders motivate through words, vision, direction, credibility, authenticity, and ultimately, stories.
Storytelling is an art.
1) Think of 3 people who you know who tell great stories. What is their secret? Travel and diverse experiences? Openness to try new things? A strong sense of timing, and really making the “punch line” of the story count? A good listener who knows what the audience is interested in hearing? Learn from great presenters.
2) Think of 3 people who are terrible at telling stories. Do they drag on and on? Do they laugh at their own jokes, when others don’t? Do they talk about boring things people are not interested in? Do they repeat the same stories?
3) Watch TED. Listen to story-telling podcasts. Visit with people 20-30 years older than you, and ask them about their lives. Pre-internet stories are WAY better. Trust me.
My favorite story-telling podasts:
Have a story-worthy week. This is what they say at the end of the Moth broadcast. What a wonderful thought. Live life fully. Do work that matters. Make it memorable. Have a story-worthy week. Amen.