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Stories: Seeds for the leader's garden

Posted Oct 22 2008 9:30pm

The value of stories has been popping up on my radar recently, so here's the first in a series of posts on the topic. I want to start by exploring the potential that stories hold for nourishing leaders as well as those who chose to follow them.

This post focuses on one leaders use of a story to establish playing field for leadership excellence.

I have been fortunate to work with Western Union over this past year. The company embarked on a leadership adventure last winter using the Leadership Challenge to drive and support their business strategy.  Grover Wray  is the Executive Vice-President of Human Resources. He is the champion of this plan for success and has worked hard to bring it to life. He expresses clear determination to "Model the Way". Toward that end, Grover relayed a personal story to his team and in the process established a new recognition system he hopes will become tradition.

It seems Grover and his father took an annual fishing trip. The trips provided great opportunities for Grover to share time with his father and learn from him. Grover has continued the tradition with his son. He told us the increase in fishing skills has been negligible, but the value of the trips immeasurable. He drew on the spirit of those trips to create a new slant on the old expression "Feed a man a fish, you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." The new version goes something like this: Lead someone for a day and you have provided direction. Inspire them to lead and you have helped create a culture where leadership is abundant and success abounds.

He finished the story by distributing fishing reels to his team, symbols of the leadership culture he hoped to inspire. He then presented beautiful fishing lures as recognition of individual leadership excellence.

When I met with his team the next day they were clearly moved. But after speaking to Grover I realized how much the story provided for him as well. It enabled him to speak from his values and bring those out for the team to see. It enabled him to honor his father in the work he is doing now. It enabled him to encourage excellence within his team in a personal and therefore meaningful way. It also provided a great symbol to use in recognizing excellence and still tie to the values he espoused in his story. I suspect it may also have created a connection to his team he might not even fully recognize. It most certainly helped define how his team views him as a leader.

We all know the power that stories can have. They fill our hearts and minds; lifting us up, guiding us, giving voice to our values. Stories help create cultures, and then sustain them. Telling a great story is an art form. As leaders, we rely on stories to inspire and encourage others. But stories also help us define who we are as leaders. The stories we chose to relay help define our individual leadership style.

What stories do you tell? What do they reveal about the leader you are?
Submitted by
Beth High


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