The 7 Steps of Storytelling for Leaders

Dear Springboard:

Now that I’m in this bigger job, my boss is telling me to start talking up my team and shine the light on them and not on me.

It doesn’t feel right. I’m a hard driver and I’ve earned what I have every step of the way.  I’ve always made sure people know about my accomplishments. It’s gotten me noticed and visibility matters.  It’s what’s worked and gotten me this far.

Sure, I’m a little bit of a self-promoter. But, if I don’t do it for myself, who will?

Sign me,

Dubious

 

Dear Dubious:

Everyone is the hero in their own story.

The challenge for you is to shift your attention to your staff – the people who are critical to your success.

Your situation brings to mind the hero’s journey and the key role of the guide.  In his classic book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell lays out the story structure of the hero’s journey, the outline that nearly all our books and movies follow.  Campbell studied cultures around the world and found a commonality to the local lore.

Oversimplifying, there is a principal character, our hero, whose life is disrupted in such a way as to call the hero forth to conquer a new challenge beyond their current capability.

As our hero ventures forth, uncertain of his abilities and with shaky confidence, he encounters a guide who offers particularly effective advice.  Think Merlin to King Arthur and Yoda to Luke Skywalker.

The guide is an essential character because our hero would not succeed without the guide’s support.

As the story develops, our hero confronts the challenges that must be overcome to triumph.

There is a climactic scene and the hero succeeds (escaping dire consequences of failure), and then our hero returns where he began, transformed by the journey and his success.

Now, if you look for it, you will see this in the movies you watch and books you read.

What does this have to do with your situation?

At a conference last week, I heard Don Miller (author of Building a StoryBrand) give an inspiring talk about how to apply the elements of the hero’s journey story structure for more effective marketing.

Basically, his pitch is that we find a market/prospect (hero); identify a key problem that needs to be solved; be an empathetic and authoritative guide to help; offer a way for the prospect to engage and solve their problem; call the prospect forth to take action; gingerly mention the perils of not doing so; and, end with their problem solved and the hero enhanced as a result of the process.

Miller is quick to point out that for the guide to be successful, the focus stays on the hero. That means the guide should not be singing their own praises.  If that happens, the guide becomes a second hero in the story and is competing with our protagonist.

Miller focused on using the story structure for more effective sales and marketing for a business.

I am proposing that with a slight shift of this mindset, the use of story structure can be effective with employees at work, and people in their personal relationships.

So, here’s a way of looking at the process from a manager’s point of view with their staff in mind:

Locate your character

With what I’m calling the StoryBrand mindset, imagine each direct report as a hero in their own personal story.  

Identify their problem

Think of what they are facing on three levels. What business problem(s) do they need to solve, what emotional issue resolved (increased confidence, sense of accomplishment, honoring specific values) and why does it matter to them enough to persevere? They should know how their efforts fit in the big picture.

Meet them as their guide

Present yourself as a resource to help in whatever way it is needed.  While the focus is not to be on you and your ego, it is necessary to demonstrate empathy and authority for the sake of establishing emotional connection and competence.

Give them a plan

Make sure there is clarity and agreement on goals, roles and expectations.

Call them to action

Challenge them: to reach stretch goals, develop new skills, innovate, to bring out their best selves.

Help them avoid failure

Success matters for its own sake and also because it means your direct reports won’t face the consequences of falling short.

Support them to end in success

Success can take many shapes; whatever it looks like, it should be clear and celebrated when reached.

Dubious, your job description has changed since you were climbing the ladder at lower rungs.

Your job now is to champion your people.

As a leader, get buy in for a vision, point the way, offer guidance, and cheer them on.

Take that spotlight off of you. Ultimately, the light you shine on them will reflect on you.

 

From the Watercooler

The secret to a happy marriage is to wake up every day and think: ‘How can I make my spouse happy.’ ~ Wedding toast by the father of the bride

Your success now

Let Go to Gain Control

Dear Springboard:

I recently got a promotion. I was really excited at first – more money and a better title. It was great. In my old job, I had people reporting to me and now there are people reporting to them. 

It sounds goods but the problem is my workload has exploded. I’m working really late, plus weekends and still missing deadlines. AND, I’m more than a little peeved that when I’m burning the midnight oil, I’m the only one here. The rest of my “team” is long gone.

Sign me,

Overwhelmed

 

Dear Overwhelmed:

First, congratulations on the new job! I’m sure it’s well deserved.

It sounds like a familiar scenario. You’ve taken on more responsibility on top of what you were already handling.

One of the toughest challenges of taking on a bigger role and thriving is the importance of shifting gears.

There are a few dynamics here. First, to keep all your current duties and add new ones is not sustainable.  There is only so much time (and energy) available. Keep in mind that every time we add something new to our plate, we must let go of something else.

Second, what made you successful in your previous job will not work in your new job in the same way. If you stay involved in the day to day operations of your direct reports or their staff, you can’t be available to do what is expected of you in your new role.

Let’s say in your old job you were very hands on; you worked alongside your staff, you checked details and ensured that deadlines were met. Now that you have broader responsibility, you cannot be in the weeds like you were before and still be available for your new duties.

What this comes down to is that you need to let go of your old role. Many people find that challenging.

One issue is that some of their identity is enmeshed in the old role.

Another issue is the skills they developed and came to rely on. They say, “You’re telling me to stop doing the things that worked so well and got me this far and start operating in a way that is new and, to me, untested? Do I have that right?” Well, yes.

As an example, now that you have both direct and indirect reports, you need to get out of the weeds (read: out of the way) and let your direct reports manage their staff.

First, by doing this, you will have the bandwidth to start leading: see the bigger picture, communicate a vision and set goals, engage key players (in multiple directions) for buy-in, and set the pace and direction for executing.

How to accomplish all this? The answer is delegation.

This means that instead of having the comfort and control of being hands on, you empower and trust others to do the work. It can be hard to let go when we think we could do it faster or better — OR, faster and better. But, if you hang on, you can’t be available for the requirements of the new role.

I would recommend that you start small and hand over some tasks that are lower risk. You might also target tasks that take a lot of time and don’t require much skill. Repetitive items are also a good choice.

You’ll need to hand over bigger projects, and soon, to get real impact.

You can make a list of activities and score them on a scale of 1 to 5: noting the time alleviated from your schedule; the time involved in training; and whatever specific competencies are needed such as being good with spreadsheets or strong interpersonal skills.

To delegate effectively, we can’t tell just anyone what to do, walk away and expect it to be accomplished as we wish.

It’s important to know the strengths of individual staff members and assign accordingly; give clear instructions and deadlines; provide the necessary tools and resources. It’s a plus to provide context for how the task fits into the bigger picture; it can make something mundane feel less so.

I’m a big believer in checking in along the way to inquire on progress, answer questions and offer encouragement.

Here’s a tip: delegate the outcome you want but not exactly how they need to get there. This is important because the other person might have a better way to accomplish the task. They will feel better about the task being their project and you can sidestep micromanaging.

It helps to anticipate that someone doing a task for the first time or two will take longer. So, prepare to be patient. When they’re finished, thank them and show appreciation. And, if the work is noticed by others, don’t claim credit for yourself, instead recognize the efforts of the people who actually did it.

So, the bottom line: take action and loosen your grip.

That means delegate and let your staff own the work. You’ll have less control over the details and how exactly things get done, and gain control over the bigger picture and setting the agenda — what your new job is really about.

Success is yours if you delegate.

3 Steps to Better Relationships

After her meeting with Bob, Barbara felt like she was walking on air.  She couldn’t remember the last time her spirits were so high.
She felt like Bob really heard her and saw her. Cared for her. Like she really mattered and he saw her in a way that even she had forgotten.
There are some people who can make you feel like you’re on the only person in the room. They are enormously effective and have great impact.
What was it that Bob did?  Listen?  Sure, and it was more than that.  Bob had a well-developed outward mindset vs. an inward mindset and so that meant that he was focused on her — her needs, her objectives and her challenges.  He left his needs and his ego out of the conversation.
How does someone do that?
Start with mindset.
The Arbinger Institute‘s latest book The Outward Mindset – Seeing Beyond Ourselves proposes that what makes people like Bob so impactful is a mindset that is focused on others.
Arbinger makes a distinction about mindset:  it’s not so much about our self-beliefs; it is instead how we regard our connections and how we regard our world and the people and circumstances in it. An outward mindset is about being alive and interested in other people, and focused on their objectives and needs and not on our own.
It’s deeper than shifting behavior.  Mindset drives behavior and behavior drives results.
People with an outward mindset are engaging and can tap into other people’s enthusiasm and bring out their best selves.
Basically, it’s about shifting our focus from self to others, and can be immensely practical.
Some possible applications come to mind.
With a direct report:  shift from issuing a directive and how to get things done to helping that person see what is possible and how they can achieve an ideal outcome. Emphasize their professional growth and development.
With a boss:  how can we support them in their role to reach their objectives.  Make their success a priority.
With a significant other: how can we focus on attending to their wants and needs, with no keeping score and with no strings attached? Put their happiness ahead of our own.
Arbinger notes the cost of an inward mindset (when people focus on themselves and not their impact) is wasted effort, less collaboration, curtailed innovation and employee disengagement.  Not to mention less than satisfying relationships.
While it’s certainly easy to lapse into a default of focus on self, it’s about progress.  Efforts to take on an outward mindset will be rewarded.
Those who have an outward mindset take responsibility for their impact and hold themselves accountable.  Arbinger created a simple acronym to help remember that process – SAM.  These people:
  1. See the needs, objectives and challenges of others
  2. Adjust efforts to be more helpful to others
  3. Measure and hold themselves accountable for their impact 
Why doesn’t this happen more? Too often, we’re waiting for another person to make the first move. People are generally concerned about themselves and worry that if aren’t vigilant, they will lose out.
If we believe that what we send out, we get back (albeit not always right away), then initiating with an outward focus can be generative.  One challenge is to take the risk of making the first move and to do so somewhat boldly.  Arbinger warns that a tepid start will result in a tepid response.
So, the invitation is to embrace the challenge and just start.  You may trigger a reciprocal response in the near term and you may not. No matter, you will be sowing seeds for the future. The immediate opportunity is to be a catalyst and be useful in the process.
Think for a moment about some impact you would like to have. What are you willing to risk by shifting to an outward mindset to try to achieve it? A little ego? A little vulnerability?
It’s your move.
Ball’s in your court.
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From the Water Cooler . . .
If it is to be, it is up to me.
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Success now.  

Get Off the Merry-Go-Round of Shame

Dear Springboard:

A few days ago, I made a mistake–that in retrospect wasn’t that big a deal–but boy, did I punish myself for it. It happened at the start of my work day and I obsessed about it all morning and into the afternoon. I couldn’t believe how careless I had been. I know better.

The point is that I went around and around in my head. This happens a lot.

I’m sick and tired of it.

Please help!

Signed,
Stressed Out and Shamed

 

Dear SOS:

We all make mistakes. The key is how we handle it. Your signoff of “Shamed” offers valuable insight.

Just last week, I had a client who shared that she had done something she was sorry about. She too felt badly, obsessed over it, and . . . the feeling lingered. She noticed she was saying to herself, “How could you be so stupid!” and “What a loser. You keep doing the same dumb things.”

Then, she thought: “Now wait a minute. It’s not that big a deal. A year from now, I won’t even remember this. A month from now? Likely not. A week? I bet I won’t give it a second thought.”

So, her next thought was: “This is upsetting but not important in a lasting way. What can I do to let go of this faster and stop the feeling lousy about it sooner?”

Her awareness was a critical first step. It gave her some objectivity and she was able to step back and see the situation in a slightly detached way.

She remembered what she learned from Brene Brown and her work on shame and vulnerability. She had watched her TED talks on shame and vulnerability (the fourth most watched ever).

Spend a few minutes with one or both of those videos.

If you find them interesting, you might want to pick up one of her books. You could start with Daring Greatly published last year.

In the meantime, here are some top-line learnings.

Shame is more powerful than guilt. Guilt says I made a mistake. Shame says I am a mistake. And, further, be sure to hide this awful fact so the flawed person I really am isn’t exposed.

Brown offers some tools to combat shame.

  • Start with awareness and see if there is a pattern to the triggers that generate shame. Without awareness, shame is driving the bus and we don’t even know it.
  • Objectively look at the messages you tell yourself. Ask whether the behavior or goals you set for yourself are realistic or even desirable. Are you expecting yourself to be a superstar in all circumstances? Whose voice it that is so demanding?
  • Practice self-compassion. Would you talk to anyone else the way you talk to yourself?
  • Reach out to someone you trust and share what is going on. Shame is like a vampire – they both suck the life out of us and neither wants to be exposed to the light.
  • Own the story. Don’t resist but instead surrender to the fact that shame is part of the human experience. With that ownership, take control so you can write the ending of your own personal script.

It is important to be aware of our Inner Critic, or Gremlin, and what it is saying.

These steps can help develop shame resilience, which is the ability to objectively look at the situation honestly, acknowledge a mistake and any hurt or disappointment. And, at the same time, really hear an internal message that I am not the mistake I just made.

The way in is a willingness to be vulnerable and, just when we least feel like it. We need to courageously shine a light on the toxicity so shame’s power will fade.

While many shy away from just the thought of vulnerability, there’s great hope in noting that vulnerability is the birthplace of joy, love and connection in all its forms.

Thanks for writing.

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From the Water Cooler . . .

Doubt kills more dreams 
 than failure ever will.

 

Come here for your success

Just Say “I don’t”

Karen is at her wit’s end.  She feels worn out, stressed out and fed up.

She can’t say no.
Friends, family and colleagues ask her to help and she always says Yes.

She doesn’t want to disappoint.  She wants to help. Connections are important to her.

Plus, she believes the old saying that if you want something done, give it to a busy person.  So, she tells herself that taking on these extra tasks is actually helping her to get through her own long To Do list.

Karen feels busy, too busy to get to the things that really matter.  Her busyness is diluting the attention she can give to her priorities.

Every time she says Yes to something new, she is saying No to something else.  (It could be that important-but-not-urgent project, sleep, time alone, or spending time with friends and family.)

A solution to this kind of dilemma is to set limits and then employ a strategy to support the resolution.

Last month I read an article in the Wall Street Journal about personal policies and have been sharing about it ever since.  “Personal policies are an established set of simple rules that guide your decisions and action,” said the article written by Jennifer Breheny Wallace.

“I don’t eat dessert,” is a stake in the ground and aligns with losing weight.  A personal policy matters to the individual because it is honoring a personal value.

The article also notes that language makes a difference.  Saying “I can’t” doesn’t have nearly the weight as “I don’t.”

An experiment with a group of young women on a wellness challenge of exercising more and eating better showed a dramatic difference between the strategy of saying, “I don’t” vs. “I can’t.”

While our emphasis so far has been on saying No to lighten the load, a personal policy can also support our intentions to say Yes, and especially when our resolve might be challenged.  For example, “I don’t say No to  . . .”  requests for help from close friends and family.

It’s only the end of January with 90% of the year still to come. If you have already abandoned your 2016 goals or even if you never made any in the first place, it’s not too late to start your year over.

I have created a personal policy for myself – just one. I don’t work on Saturdays.  This is new and, honestly, it’s a little uncomfortable to let go.

Given that this involves letting go of a habitual way of being, it’s not surprising that there may be some discomfort.  I look to the underlying value that led to the personal policy in the first place.

As a solopreneur, it is a slippery slope to just check my email land allow the gravity of my inbox to pull me in.  It leads to working seven days a week and that schedule doesn’t have space for recharging.

I believe really not working one day a week can enhance my sense of well being.  It will make me available for new things.

With the desire for a break and the belief that breaks are actually refreshing and lead to greater productivity, I am looking forward to more movies, matinees, socializing, golf and tennis this year.

My personal policy expressed as “I don’t” is a gracious and empowering way of making my life more enjoyable and a bit simpler.
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From the Water Cooler . . .
 
I was so mad that I wasn’t getting 
 what I wasn’t asking for.
get the success you deserve.