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Posts Tagged ‘leadership’

To be a leader, you need followers, right?

To pull in followers you need to connect with people and draw them towards you and your goal.

The stories you tell in your speeches and in your conversations are your primary tool for doing that. Here’s a three-point plan to develop stories for that one purpose – to connect with others who may support you or help you.

  • Prepare. Who are the targets of your stories? List them in categories – workers, society or church members, parents. Then write down what you think they want to hear from you on this occasion. Are they looking for information, encouragement, motivation, reassurance? Develop a general idea of what needs to be said and the tone you will use as you say it.
  • Select. Once you have your outline select some stories that fit your message. If possible list more than you need, then choose the best. But keep the others in mind – as you are speaking you might find the perfect place for one to illustrate a point you are trying to clarify.
  • Focus.Run through your chosen stories, silently or aloud, See how well each one fits the point it is to illustrate. Work to improve that fit. Add tiny details to help listeners to identify with the story. Change something to make it better fit your purpose. (If it works better for this audience with a young woman as the focal point, rather than an older woman, make that change.) Add a touch of humor, preferably directed at yourself. Put in some emotion, reflect the emotions of the audience right now.

Adding stories connects you in a personal way. They reduce the distance between the leader and those being led. They make the leader more human – no longer is he simply  ‘An Important Person’, he has made himself multi-dimensional and even perhaps slightly vulnerable. He has shared stories that show him as human rather that impersonal. He is one of them rather than a suit from the big city.

Of course, you might be the leader of a small group where everyone knows you and a great deal about you. Then your stories will illustrate examples of strengths and accomplishments that they might not be aware of. The Prepare, Select, Focus system works equally well here.

The point of connecting as a leader is to have others share your vision and your goals, and to have them understand the why and the how. Stories make that connection easier and more comfortable. You are offering easy steps on a well-lit pathway rather than a leap of faith into the darkness.

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You have two things to consider as you start putting together your leadership speech:

– what you want to tell them

– what they need to hear.

Making a good synthesis of these is the secret of your success.

Leaders are usually pretty sure of what they want to say. It takes a bit of research to understand what people need to hear. Take time to go around, talk to your people, ask questions, listen to their answers and especially listen to their stories.

It may be that you have this plan and it’s good workable plan. If only people would do a bit extra, get behind your idea, change some of their old ideas…. You can rah rah till Harry Potter gets old and people still won’t hear you.

But if you have listened to them and their stories you’ll know they’ve heard rumors, they’ve noticed things. Company stock prices are down, a couple of key people have left. People are not listening to the details of your plan, they’re listening for an answer to “Will I still have a job this time next year?”

It sounds simple. If they support your plan of course they’ll have a job next year. The devil is in the details they say. Rah rah speeches tend to be short on detail.

“Our primary focus will be on Product A,” you announce.

People working on Product B think “Does this mean our side of the company will close down? Will my job be safe?”

Critical thinking here means that you spend time researching your people – their history in the company, their ideas their concerns and most of all their stories.

Yes, people will complain, whine, brag, show off. You discount that stuff and listen for the meat of the subject. Then you define and analyze the essence of what has been said. Listen for the underlying feelings, concerns, pride.

In order to lead well and to focus your ideas into a leadership speech you need the understanding that comes from this research and you need the analysis you make from all you have heard.

Then you fit your ideas around your people’s thinking. Because now you know their thinking well enough to use it as a driver for YOUR ideas.

Knowing their stories – even feeding one or two back to them in your speech – makes you one of them. To know these is to be accepted, and no longer just “Whatzisname the board hired a couple of months ago.”

As a leader, taking time to know your people is essential research. Weeding out the relevant from the irrelevant uses your analytical skills. Understanding their stories completes the picture.

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If you are the leader, then you are the most important person in this situation, right?

The others are just followers. They have their skills and their uses – you’d be the first to acknowledge that. But, bottom line, you are the leader, the one who has the ideas, the vision, who holds the whole thing together. so it’s all about you, your vision, your plans. When they succeed , it will be your success.

In the first 73 words of this I’ve used the words ‘you or ‘your’ 8 times. More than one word in ten is about ‘you’. Did it make you feel that you are focal to what this article is about?

That is the feeling you want your people to have when you are speaking to them. People will not think that the talk you are giving is all about them if you use ‘I’, ‘me’  or ‘my’ all the time.

“My vision is…

“What I want to do first is…”

“I’ve always found that…so I want to…”

“My experience has shown me that…”

‘We’ is a good step forward. It’s inclusive but as you outline plans for what ‘we’ are going to do the sceptics in the group will be aware that ‘we’ comprises you in your air-conditioned office and him/her doing the scut work.

The surest way to bring your group onside is to speak to ‘you’. If nothing else it changes your mind-set from yourself as the central, important figure to remembering that other people are involved and they have mind-sets too.

Their mind-set -and your mind-set are not the same. As you address the group your job is to align mind sets so that their thinking about this project pretty much mirrors yours.

What is their mind set? They may be apprehensive – newness tends to create apprehension. Talk to some of the group ahead of time and get an idea of what they are thinking. What are their concerns? What positives or negatives are taking up mind space?

Perhaps they already know that you have an MBA from Harvard and a twenty-year brilliant career with XYZ company, but how  does this affect them personally?

Your vision may be superb but does that mean I have to work overtime, and will I be paid for it?

Get the ‘I, me,myself’ moved from your mind to the mind of each person who is listening to you. This is not a weakness; you are not giving up some of your  power. You are tying into the thoughts and ideas of others. Understanding their ‘I’ thoughts and turning them into ‘you’ phrases in your leadership speeches connects you faster and more effectively.

That’s what you are aiming for.

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I needed a new car. I had been to several local dealerships where I was – a woman alone – prime target. I had been welcomed, ignored, served coffee, and instructed (“Don’t lease, buy”).

Some smirked and sent their spottiest youth out to practice on me. Another wanted me to buy without the hassle of the test drive.

Then I went to the dealership where an older man popped a mint in his mouth and tried to show me cars, although they must all have been new on the lot as he knew nothing about them. As I swooned from the aroma of mint – and the alcohol that lay behind –  it I noticed a familiar face.

Their business manager, moved from another dealership, an honest, straightforward young man who had always been courteous and reliable.

Phew! What a relief! Finally I had what I had been looking for – a sense of trust. He wasn’t a salesman but I knew I could trust him to be on my side. He took time to chat about his new job and this dealership. The mint man disappeared and was replaced by someone who knew his product and was ready to listen to me. I was ready to buy. Trust does that.

In any interaction, whether you’re selling cars or promoting your vision for the company the first step is to establish trust. Trust is difficult to establish rationally. You can start with some facts about your accomplishments in your previous leadership roles – and they had better be fully honest because if you’re caught in an exaggeration the tenuous trust link is immediately broken.

But what difference did these accomplishments make. Where’s the story? If you are a volunteer, did your volunteer role result in feeding 500 more people than last year? Perhaps including Pepe and his family who were fleeing domestic abuse. What has happened to little Pepe and his family since then? Maybe he’s on a soccer team now for the first time.

The story is the emotional proof. It’s the “show me don’t tell me”. The PowerPoint slide of Pepe playing soccer penetrates far deeper into the imagination than the PowerPoint graph showing 500 more people than last year.

Telling stories and anecdotes about yourself and your previous, accomplishments shows openness. If you can show a hint of humanity and humility it’s even better. (“I’m great at sales, but as a record keeper I’m not so hot. The year I sold 3 million was also the year I nearly got fired for my sloppy reports. That’s why I trust Frank here to do all our record keeping.”)

Three birds with one stone. You’ve been open about your weakness, you’ve shown you know how to correct mistakes and you’ve given Frank a pat on the back and a sign of your trust in him.

As you establish yourself as a leader trust is your strongest ally. Build it by listing the attributes you’d like to portray (goal oriented, visionary, approachable, …) and by showing these not just with facts – the tip of the iceberg – but with a story to give the in-depth picture.

Make it vivid, with humor and with a one to one connection. A strong sincere story is money in the trust bank.

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Quick answer – you need leadership stories whenever you want others to follow your lead.

So why do leaders so often rely on facts when a story would engage their people so much more effectively?

Because facts are so much easier. A bit of research, an Excel spreadsheet, maybe a Powerpoint presentation. Voila! You’re done! You can even throw in some handouts. In color.

But have you answered the questions that are in people’s minds?

Well, maybe not , but I’ve given them all the facts. How am I supposed to know what every one of them is thinking? I’ve made it quite clear that the company is losing X dollars a year and we need to lay off Y people for a saving of Z dollars over five years. Surely they can understand that.

Yes, but there are two kinds of understanding. There’s comprehension – I understand that it takes me half an hour to drive to my daughter’s house, 45 minutes in rush hour. I also understand that it’s better if I phone first and don’t just drop in – this is the emotional level of perception and discernment.

When you are giving information that affects people’s lives comprehension is not enough. The leader’s discernment and perception should be the basis for communication.  What do people need, – emotionally need?

They need a sense  that you are on their side, that you care. That you are not just some anonymous suit with a hatchet aimed at their job. And yes, this means leadership stories that show you understand. Stories that tell:

  • how you and others have tried to avert the problem. Talk about the efforts, successful and unsuccessful, you have made
  • the effects outside issues have had (‘When this happened in another country, these were the precise effects we felt.’)
  • how previous downturns have affected the company and who did what to turn it around
  • talk about efforts you are making to soften the blow and mitigate the effects on each individual
  • offer, if you can, some hope for the future. Stories about ways other companies have survived similar problems

Brainstorm stories, anecdotes, illustrations that will add color and life to your stories. And offer them to your people when they need you to go beyond the defensiveness of facts and show your empathy with the way they are feeling.

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