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Storytelling - just for the kids?

Storytelling is one of the most universal experiences across cultures and throughout the ages. Originally stories were the way of recording history before the written word became a more permanent medium. Traditional myths and folk tales can help us to learn how to tell our stories of today. It was really great to find that Settle Stories had found an innovative way to make sure that their annual summer event still took place online. You still have time to catch the last few sessions...

What is it about stories that captivate us? As children we loved to hear stories being read and as we grew up and learned to read were encouraged to pick up books. We also grew out of calling them stories and started calling them novels. Popular novels have carefully researched, well constructed narrative that draw us in. And more and more people are returning to listening to stories through the growing popularity of audio books. But traditional myths and folk tales are a different type of story.

Unlike fairy tales, folk tales have their origins in history, and traditional myths stem from beliefs in an era when our understanding of our world was different to now. But does our more extensive knowledge of how the universe works lead to less myths? Well it seems to lead to less widely held myths, and just as many individual myths as there ever were. Myths and beliefs go hand in hand, so for all those beliefs you hold that simply aren't facts, you may well be creating your own myth. And the stronger you hold onto the belief, the greater the myth becomes.

And what is a blog if not a story? Ramblings of a mad person, or written with a purpose in mind? Well one of the things I've noticed in my journey through leadership is that stories are increasingly important part of the skill set. Thinking back, I paid attention to authenticity, collaboration, accountability, empowerment, strategic thinking, managing risk... I'm sure you can add a few more to the list, but storytelling just wasn't among them. And then two things changed that. One was a senior leader who understood the power of the story. His approach was a single story, repeated regularly, so that everyone in the organisation knew the story we were collectively telling. Actually, it wasn't the story itself that made the difference, it was noticing the effect of how the story drew people together towards a single goal.

The idea of standing up and telling a 'story' felt uncomfortable. Telling stories to other adults in a workplace setting can feel a little odd at first, and brings with it a sense of vulnerability. So that brings me to the second thing that happened. I learned about the power of metaphors in a change conversation. I came across a few that really sat comfortably with me and began to use on a 121 basis. One was the decision tree that I came across in a book by Susan Scott.

Countless decisions are made every day in a company and right now, at this stage in your development you have a history of making good decisions in these areas. Lets think of these as leaf level decisions. You make the decision, act on it, and do not need to report on it. The aim is for us to move more decisions to leaf level. Leaves are important, and if anything does go wrong at this level, if a leaf falls, the tree survives and continues to thrive. New leaves will grow in the future.

Branch decisions are those decisions where you can make the decision, and act on it, and then report it later, say in a weekly report or your next 121. The sort of areas that are branch decisions are... You see a branch is the sort of decision where you have the skills, knowledge and ability to make it, and because it is that bit more important than a leaf, warrants that safety net of reporting. If a branch does break off, the tree won't die, and although there may be some damage, it can be cleared up.

Then we have trunk decisions, and these would include these areas... I would still like you to make the decision, and then come and discuss it before the decision is implemented. Its good to check out a trunk decision because if anything does happen, the tree may survive, and re-grow, but it will never be the same again. And finally we have root decisions, We are going to make root decisions jointly, with input from many people. These are the decisions that, if poorly made, could cause significant harm.

The metaphor works well whatever the level of ability of the decision makers as the types and level of decision is varied with each person. It also allows for a conversation about the tree rather than feeling like it is directly about the person, so feels more comfortable. People draw their own analogies and meaning from the narrative, and that brings more personal ownership that simply saying to someone 'these are the only decisions you can make without me'. And the sense of pride that comes from something as simple as hearing 'these are definitely leaf decisions now' is palpable.

Carefully constructed stories that contain the morale in the tale have every bit as much a place in modern leadership as they did in the fairy tales and folk tales of old. If you want to find out more then we offer an applied NLP in leadership module as on option on our NLP Practitioner

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