Leadership lollipop moments – AKA small things matter


A client was telling us how she had recently gone to hear Sir Richard Branson speak.  It was an interview format but for the first 10 minutes it just was not working. Branson seemed nervous, and wasn’t connecting with the interviewer or the audience.  The whole set up was making the audience cringe with embarrassment for both of them. Branson then reached out to pour himself a drink of water.  But before he poured himself a glass, he poured a glass of water for the interviewer and handed it to her first . In that macro second all the women in the audience went ‘Aha’ and felt his empathy for the interviewer. The interviewer immediately  relaxed and Branson, the interviewer and the audience were off to a roaring start, after a very shaky beginning.  My client noted how something so small opened the room and made such a difference.

I was reminded of that again when just recently I was watching some of the ads for ‘The Voice’.  Channel 9‘s new reality show and yes I’m a “Voice tragic”! I saw the same thing transpire.  Two of the judges Seal and Joel Madden were trying to woo a contestant.  Seal said “I believe you”. “I believe you”, how powerful is that, who can resist someone who says that?  I thought then Seal would surely win the contestant over, this is done and dusted.  Joel Madden stepped in and told the contestant ‘I believe IN you’.  The contestant did not even blink and immediately responded from his gut ‘I have to go with Joel”.  Just when we thought Joel had surely lost the contestant, the use of a single preposition ‘IN” won him back.

We all know small things matter, but not how much small things can matter and nowhere more so than in leadership.  I have never been able to articulate this well without it sounding trite or obvious, till I came across this TED talk (my other addiction, when I’m not watching The Voice!) by Drew Dudley. He talks about ‘Leadership lollipop moments’.  He says we have made leadership about changing the world and we have spent so much time celebrating a few things that hardly anyone can do, and feel those are the only things worth celebrating.  We devalue the small everyday moments when we are true leaders; we might say something small that has a huge impact on one person without even realizing it.  Drew calls these leadership lollipop moments and uses it to redefine leadership.  He shares the best story ever to illustrate his point.  Watch the video and set yourself the challenge to see how many leadership lollipop moments you can create today?

Leaders how to find your Communication Mojo NOW!


In an Austin Powers movie, Austin loses his mojo – stolen by Dr Evil and then destroyed!  The Dr Evils of Leadership communication are corporate jargon (executional excellence anyone?), and mojo destroying PowerPoint slides, dense with data.

So how can you as a leader restore your communication mojo, if it’s lost or destroyed? Today’s leadership literature states that people crave connection & authenticity in their leaders.   Where better to show this than in your communication & let your communication mojo shine.

A skill that can help you build connections is storytelling.  This is story shared by a leader that does just that.

“I grew up in England with two brothers.  One of my brothers was learning to ride a bicycle and every Saturday my father would take him up to a nearby hill and he would pedal down, while all us kids watched and cheered.  He used to do this with a bike that had training wheels and after many Saturdays of this my father took the training wheels off.

I was determined to repeat his feat and persuaded my father to let me ride down the hill too, on my bike with no training wheels.  My father very very reluctantly agreed.  I was very excited when we walked to the top of the hill.  I could see my brothers and friends at the bottom of the hill looking on.  I got on to my bike and shot off down the hill and to my shock the bike started hurtling down the hill faster and faster, almost out of control – I could see the stunned faces of the children waiting below and before the bike hit the ground I hurled myself off onto the grass and rolled down laughing, much to everyone’s shock!

On that day I learnt two important life lessons.  If someone can do something so can I, and no matter what you are trying in life always have an exit plan.”

Ann Burns, Accenture

This kind of storytelling because it is a true personal experience, has a healthy level of self-disclosure & humility helps people connect with you.  It’s refreshing and packed with mojo!

But how do you get authenticity from communication like this?  People can immediately sense authenticity. For any storytelling to work it has be authentic.  People will immediately sense if it is or not.

Imagine this story used in a presentation or woven into a team meeting at an appropriate point of course.  So much more mojo laden than the usual clichés of  “Believe in yourself”, or even worse some turgid jargon fest intended to convey the same message.

The Austin Powers film has a happy ending as Austin finds even though Dr Evil destroyed his mojo, he had his mojo inside him all along!  He simply had to be encouraged to find it.   So there’s hope for all of us as leaders – we have our communication mojo in us already, and just have to have the courage and confidence to set it free.

Bruce Springsteen and Customer Service?


Business StorytellingEarlier this month we conducted a workshop in Melbourne and this is where Matt Ritchie, National Manager, Sales Strategy & Delivery at MLC Advice Product shared this story:
 

‘I was recently reading a magazine that featured an interview with Bruce  Springsteen.  Bruce Springsteen has been a musician and performer for over 20 years and has a tremendous reputation as a live act.  The interviewer asked him how he kept up his motivation to deliver night after night.  To which Springsteen replied “It was when I realised that, while for me, every night is a “Bruce Springsteen concert night” there are 1000’s of people in the audience, who have spent their money to see a Bruce Springsteen concert maybe for the first and only time in their lives.   They may only come to one Bruce Springsteen concert in their life and I want to give them the best ever Bruce Springsteen experience. And thats what keeps me going night after night”.  

Reading that reminded me of  us at work every day.  While we might take hundreds of calls, for  a customer who rings us, that might be the only contact they have with MLC, this might be the only “Bruce Springsteen concert” they go to.  Imagine the difference we can make if every time  our customers got the full Bruce Springsteen experience…’

The story struck a chord with everyone in the group and what a powerful and memorable frame for thinking about, and delivering customer service – the  Bruce Springsteen experience.

We are sharing this with you to illustrate that telling a personal story (and as you can see from this one it does not have to be the most revealing personal moment in your life) and linking it back to a business message can be really refreshing and powerful in business.

What is Business Storytelling? The Results


Business StorytellingAs you might be aware we define Business Storytelling as ‘storytelling with a business purpose and for business results’. So what results can a purposeful business story deliver?

Take for example a client of ours, Michael Brandt, who is a Regional Branch Manager at a bank.  Michael was responsible for 20 branches and at every branch, he had the same problem. His staff never seemed to meet their weekly targets of referring quality sales leads to the sales department.

He continuously talked to his team, and every time, they told him they knew what their targets were, and the importance of referring leads to the sales department. In fact, their targets were even linked to their annual performance bonus!

His staff told him that it was the one task they hated doing.  For two years, Michael had this problem, and by his own admission, had tried everything. His frustration was tangible and you can imagine how frustrating it must have been for his staff as well.

During one of our workshops, Michael constructed the following story:

When I was a kid, I hated Brussels sprouts. Every time Brussels sprouts was served at dinner, I always left the Brussels sprouts till the end (of course I always hoped I could get away without eating them).   My mother would never let me leave the table until I ate them.

One day, when Brussels sprouts was on the menu (yet again), I decided to eat them straight away so I could sit back and enjoy the rest of my meal. Do you think we could approach our quality sales leads targets like Brussels sprouts? We all know we can’t leave the table without eating them. Do you think we could get them out of the way early in the week and then sit back and enjoy the rest of our week?’

Two weeks later, we saw Michael at a follow up session where he told us he had been to 11 of his 20 Branches, and narrated his Brussels sprouts story. Michael advised us that in all 11 Branches, for the first time in two years, they had achieved their quality sales leads targets. We asked Michael if he had done anything different in those 11 branches (apart from telling the story) to which he replied ‘No, the story was the only thing I did differently’. He then told us that the term ‘Brussels sprouts’ had also become short-hand within the team for their sales leads: ‘How many Brussels sprouts have you eaten?’ ‘I have already eaten 3 today and it’s not even lunch time!’

Being consultants we took full credit of course for Michael’s success!  His story worked because everyone can relate to it, it taps into a universal human experience of being forced to eat your vegetables by your mother.  At a subtler level Michaels’ story carries a layer of empathy in it.  Through the story he is saying it is OK to hate stuff in life but that doesn’t mean you can get out of doing it.

Michael used ‘Brussels sprouts’ for 6 months as every time he did it gave him powerful results. This is an example of how storytelling can work for you, if done purposefully.  Here is another case study across an organisation of the results purposeful storytelling achieved.

Leadership lessons from life: It’s OK to be out of control, sometimes


Business StorytellingRecently we facilitated a business storytelling workshop when Candice Lance, Communications and Events Officer shared this story.  Business storytelling that  had us on the edge of our seats, was funny and had a simple yet powerful message.  It also took only about a minute or so to tell and demonstrates how you can use personal experiences as the basis for your stories.  Ticks all our boxes for business storytelling.

The plane had just reached 12,000 feet – I was sitting on the edge of the open door. The time had come, it was my turn.  In just a split second my mind raced – what was I thinking, what did I have to do, what did they tell me, was the guy behind me having a good day, was this such a good idea?

Didn’t really matter what the answer was to any of those questions – I was out the door, no turning back. I was bending like a banana, holding on like I was told, remembering my training and plummeting towards the ground – I was tandem sky diving!  

What a rush. I was flying. I was free. As we continued to fall I remembered the videos of this moment as people landed safely on the ground crying and hugging their instructor I thought, ‘what saps I would never do that’.  Moments later my feet touched the ground I was jumping up and down,  hugging my instructor, crying – yes what a sap!  

I am not sure if I would go sky diving again, but I did learn a lesson or two. Sometimes it is OK to let go, some times it’s OK to be out of control. And it is definitely OK to trust your training and the people who are the trained experts.

You got to love it – personal experiences as the basis for your stories! Where else have you seen this done well?  Please comment below and share your experiences with us.  Thanks.

Business Storytelling – The Myth of the Natural Born Storyteller


In the work we do with business leaders on organsiational storytelling, we are often asked about ‘natural’ storytellers.  Granted some people are better at it than others, just like some people are better at tennis or singing than others……but everyone can get better at it with preparation and practice.

In this our first video blog, Yamini Naidu explodes the myth of the natural born storyteller. ..and shares their success secrets with you.

Business Storytelling for Leaders – What do you stand for?


Business StorytellingRecently we facilitated a storytelling workshop for Accenture in Melbourne when Ann Burns shared this story. The story gave us an insight into some of  her values.  Sharing a story like this (Annette Simmons story expert calls these ‘Who am I Stories’ ) lets people know what you stand for.

Very powerful in leadership, where people crave to know who you are and what you stand for.   Here is Anne’s story…..

“I grew up in England with two brothers.  One of my brothers was learning to ride a bicycle and every Saturday my father would take him up to a nearby hill and he would pedal down,  while all us kids watched and cheered.  He used to do this with a bike that had training wheels and after many Saturdays of this my father took the training wheels off. 

I was determined to repeat his feat and persuaded my father to let me ride down the hill too, on my bike with no training wheels.  My father very very reluctantly agreed.  I was very excited when we walked to the top of the hill.  I could see my brothers and friends at the bottom of the hill looking on.  I got on to my bike and shot off down the hill and to my shock the bike started hurtling down  the hill faster and faster, almost out of control – I could see the stunned faces of the children waiting below and before the bike hit the ground I hurled myself off onto the grass and rolled down laughing, much to everyone’s shock! 

On that day I learnt two important life lessons.  If someone can do something so can I , and no matter what you are trying in life always have an exit plan.”

Business storytelling for leaders – Interview with Noel Turnbull


Business StorytellingYamini Naidu interviews Noel Turnbull former journalist, public relations consultant and adjunct professor in communications at Melbourne’s RMIT university.

 Yamini Naidu: What is your definition of business storytelling?

Noel Turnbull: I think it’s narrative and making sense of things. I suppose what a story does in a corporate sense is to construct stories about the culture. I think stories construct a narrative that people can relate to but stories construct people themselves as well – their personalities and their lives are really an on going story and whenever you talk to someone you are constructing part of your personality

YN: Where have you seen business leaders use business storytelling well?

NT: James Strong when he was younger and first at TAA used storytelling very well – he used a story about customer service.  The thing that depresses me is that, and this is partly the fault of the public relations industry, there is not a lot of good examples these days of people telling stories, partly because of the way language is debased in its use.  Don Argus is good at storytelling and John McFarlane at ANZ told stories and his successor, who seems to be totally different in personality, is telling different sorts of stories about Asia and opportunities.  John McFarlane was telling stories about discovering yourself and by discovering yourself you will be better at customer service, while Mike Smith is presenting stories about Australia’s engagement with Asia and creating a different narrative for the bank which conveys the strategy as a story.

YN: What did you mean when you said PR people are responsible?

Don Watson is quite right in what he says about the debasement of language, but there have been a lot of people before him, like George Orwell.  I think what happens is business people, scientists, academics get so hung up the jargon that they set out to ‘obscure reality’.  Whenever a PR person, whether inside or outside a company, sits down to write something on change management or financial results they start digging into that obtuse ugly language, instead of telling the story.  I actually think people, when they see or hear that language, can see through it and that it is bs.  I don’t think you have to write in a terribly stylish way but you have to have spare simplicity and colour things with anecdotes.  As the world gets more complicated we lose our sense of anchoring.  Stories help us not only make sense of the world but also teach things – parables are good examples.  Harold Evans of the Sunday Times taught people to do simple headlines with this story.  He told of a man who was going to set up a fish shop and tells a friend ‘I am going to set up a fish shop and want some advice on the sign I need.  I’ve got this terrific idea of a big sign that says ‘Fresh Fish Sold here’.  The friend said are you sure that is the sign you want because you don’t need the word ‘here’ as it is this shop, you don’t need the word ‘fresh’ as you won’t be selling old fish, you don’t have to say ‘sold’ as it is obviously a shop, so all you need on the sign is ‘Fish’.  When you try to teach someone about writing a compact headline and go through all the stuff they need to know it’s very complicated but when you tell them that simple anecdote, you begin to see how you can communicate something simply.

YN: People get storytelling intellectually, it’s works so why the fear? What is holding business leaders back?

NT: I think a couple of things.  Firstly they are frightened of showing a bit of themselves, as when you start telling stories you are inevitably revealing something of yourself and business leaders are taught to be very controlled.  Also while a lot of business leaders are very smart they lead quite isolated lives, they travel at the front of the plane, work out of big offices rarely get on trains and trams so don’t experience the sorts of things that ordinary people do.  There is a wonderful cartoon from Bruce Petty in the 1960’s that illustrates this.  He drew a group of businessmen sitting around in a luxurious club and one of them is smoking a cigar, this is obviously a 60’s type thing.  One of them turns to the other and said ‘I don’t know how we can waste billons of dollars sending a man to the moon when the entire world is crying out for company tax relief’.   If I say CEO’s are out of touch and they say how do you know.  I tell the anecdote of the cartoon and they get it.

YN: When business leaders use storytelling they want to know what success looks like?  How do I know it worked?

NT: Success looks likes two things – when other people start to repeat the stories and when people smile sincerely.   That’s why you tell a story.  It’s much better to tell a story then tell a joke.  How many business leaders you see begin with a joke that some one writes for them.  It’s become axiomatic that you never begin a speech without a joke.  The success is do people enjoy listening to the stories, do they keep it going by repeating it?    Where I worked many years ago a story was told over and over again where one of the managers at one of the plants was giving a talk to the staff about the bleak outlook and tough times, with advice like work harder and smarter and finished with asking for any questions.  One of the staff members said ‘I am surprised you said that as the CEO was reported in last week’s Financial Review as saying we are headed for a record profit’.  That story stayed in the company as an example of, if you are going to share information, be honest as people have other sources of information.

YN: Some final words of advice for business leaders and what are some pitfalls to avoid?

NT: I think the first thing is to make sure the stories are relevant because if they are not relevant they fall down with a terrible great clang.  You need some trusted advisors and trusted counsellors to try them out on.  The second thing is to try them at home – your kids and partner are not a bad judge of whether it’s authentic and makes sense.  Another thing I think is that people should write their stories down.  I know there is a difference between the oral and the written, but writing it down in the simplest way as possible imprints it on the brain better.  Most people can’t tell if something makes sense unless it’s on a piece of paper.  You need to practise it – it’s a bit like acting.  Clive James, in the latest volume of his memoirs talks about the difficulty many people had being spontaneous on his TV show. He remarked on the exception of Joanne Lumly who has always fantastic. As he says: It takes a great actor to be spontaneous.