Few things inspire me more than witnessing the potential in extreme leaders like the ones I recently spoke to at Denver’s Columbine High School. They were a thousand miles away, but the magic of modern technology allowed us to see each other and have a lively discussion about the connection between two of my favorite topics – leadership and storytelling. And I ended the call excited about the future those leaders will help create.
As a writer and keynote speaker on leadership, I told them, I use stories all the time.
Stories are experiential. When audiences can relate to people and events, they understand not just the concept but the emotions and feelings. They connect to the story and therefore to the lessons within it. The principles no longer seem theoretical, but alive and real. An ideal like “be honest” takes on clarity and significance.
Not only do they connect to the truth in the narrative, but they draw inspiration from it. They see their potential reflected in the way others have persevered. They realize they aren’t alone, that others share their challenges, and that they, too, can achieve their goals and dreams.
But you don’t have to be a leadership speaker to use stories. Indeed, a huge part of leadership development is understanding your journey, the journeys of others, and how to share those accounts, regardless who where you lead. So, somewhere in our discussion, I hope the students took away at least two important lessons.
The first, of course, is to live a life that’s worthy of sharing with others. Love others. Do the right things. Make a positive difference in the lives of your friends, family, co-workers and anybody else whose journey intertwines with your own.
All leaders have at least two stories – the one they’ve written and the one they are writing. It doesn’t matter if they actually are written down, because they are “read” each day by the people who witness the lives of their leaders. You can’t not share your story, so make it count.
The second lesson is to become an intentional story teller. The poet Muriel Rukeyser once said, “The universe is made of stories, not atoms.” In other words, stories are powerful. So, why not make them intentional?
The art of the story can get lost in our digital world. We can default to photos and emojis and – OMG! – the dreaded acronyms. We might master the art of brevity by cramming our thoughts into 140-character snippets, but we lose the power of a message that unfolds with movement, purpose and inspiration. Great leaders don’t fall into that trap. They practice and improve their oratory skills, and constantly look for opportunities to share narratives that matter.
The personal experiences of a leader provide an opportunity for people to connect with that leader, to see him or her as something more than a drone-like decision-maker but as a flesh-and-blood person. But the greatest leaders I’ve known also have the ability and willingness to make others the heroes. In other words, they find ways to share stories that recognize and honor the people around them.
Even over a video teleconference, I could see that the students in this class had a passion for making their world better. I have no doubt that they will live that out. And by sharing their life stories with others, they will be extreme leaders worth following.