The 7 Steps of Storytelling for Leaders
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?
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.