RECAP: How leaders can share better stories #leadwithgiants

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#LeadWithGiants Twitter chatI was the guest on the #LeadWithGiants Twitter chat on Sept. 28, 2015 on the topic of the importance of authentic storytelling for leaders.
Some of the topics that we discussed are listed below. I’m answering the questions here as well, too – instead of presenting screenshot tweets to you, which I think aren’t that user-friendly to blog readers.

Why are stories important and why should leaders care about stories?

Shared stories and goals help teams move forward and do that together. If our story is that we care about each other, believe in each and like to work together, that’s our story. People will live it, share it and pass it on. Leaders can lead by example. Live the story first. Then tell it. Not the other way around.

How can leaders lead the way in storytelling?

Leaders can encourage the sharing of all stories – positive and negative. When only positive stories are shared that’s called marketing. When we share positive and negative stories that’s called authentic sharing. Start sharing them internally, work through them and fix things that need to get fixed. Some stories can even be shared publicly. This is scary to many organizations, leaders and even employees. Truly authentic organizations are accepting! And when something needs to be discussed, it does get discussed. And this does not mean people get fired for sharing a negative story. That’s the Industrial Age way of doing things!

What are the biggest hurdles for leaders and their followers with which stories could help?

We don’t want to ruffle feathers or be politically incorrect. But don’t mistake politically incorrect for actually incorrect. We think stories need to sound a certain way – usually market-y. Once we move past that mindset it’s actually fairly easy to spot stories and share them.

What happens when stories aren’t told?

They die. That’s usually the case, but sometimes – depending on the story – somebody else may decide to publicly share it. Think of stories in the past that brands tried to hide and that were then uncovered by journalists. The problem with letting other people tell our stories is that they may not get them right. The problem with some of us sharing our own stories is that we may not be as transparent or authentic as we could be.

How is authentic storytelling learnable and sustainable?

Most of us actually used to be authentic storytellers as children. Just listen to children tell stories. They are sometimes too authentic. They share everything. As we get older we unlearn this and instead focus on finding the right message or answer.

Authentic storytelling can easily be relearned but needs to be encouraged and modeled by our leaders. If it’s not it’s very hard to sustain in organizations.

How does authentic storytelling fit in with business goals?

Business goals that fit in with a bigger mission are really the best and easiest to sustain.

For example:

We build  widgets to solve xyz problem.

Simply enough, you share stories around how you are solving that problem and how people are doing that. Educational content works well, too/

It gets a bit harder when your business reason for existing is:

We build green widgets because we can charge more for them.

It does come down a bit to your authentic reason for doing what you are doing. The more community-minded the reason, the easier it usually is to share great stories. If the only reason is to get as much money out of our customers, it’s just gotten a lot harder.

How do you determine that a story is worth sharing?

There are plenty of stories happening around us. Just go story shopping for them. There are plenty out there. Once we determine that we want to share more stories, it’s easier to spot them. A good rule of thumb: If you want to tell somebody about what happened, it’s likely a good story. Remember that good doesn’t always equal positive.

How can everyone be encouraged to participate in storytelling?

Make it simple. Publish stories. Don’t make the process cumbersome.

What happens if people share the “wrong” authentic stories?

There’s no such thing. Are we mistaken this with the wrong marketing message? Fair warning, though: Some authentic stories can open up serious consequences by others who are involved in the story and if they disagree with their involvement in the shared story. Something to be aware of before publishing: Are you ready for potential consequences?

What if there are multiple versions of the same story?

There likely are. Sometimes the facts differ minimally, which is often not seen as a huge deal. It can get more interesting when people disagree with larger pieces. Even when things are written down, there can still be multiple versions. It’s OK. We can all have our own perceptions. Most of the time nobody is harmed by that.