Tag Archives: competent leadership

Story – It’s Your Secret Sauce

If you’re a foodie like me, you probably have a secret recipe for every occasion that gets people talking. For summer, my grilling ritual is never without a special marinade. Any meat or vegetable gets soaked overnight to absorb the herbs and spices for a tender and savory finish. Works every time!

I wrapped up my summer with a speaking engagement at Forefront HQ where they hosted the 2017 cohort of the YNPN Chicago Leadership Institute. I touched on the importance of integrating storytelling with finance. Prior to my talk, Forefront’s Chief Operating Officer Andreason L. Brown gave a presentation that clarified the difference between financial management and financial leadership. His final talking point provided the perfect setup for my opening:  Are organizational decision making and finance integrated in your nonprofit?

Effective leadership uses a strategic approach to coordinating the decision making process across all managements functions. It requires seeing the organization through a wider lens and understanding more deeply how mission guides every single activity.

It is common practice to start with developing a strategy. Barkada Circle® takes one extra step up. We begin by marinating stakeholders in story.

Immersive Storytelling: Prepping for Strategy

Having participated in several nonprofit board and staff meetings, I’ve observed how many come to the table and advocate for their own agenda. The plan tends to be a watered down list of actions that hopes to appease everyone without getting to a real solution.

At Barkada Circle®, we realize that an organization’s goals and objectives have to be rooted in its identity which is best defined through the foundational narrative. This comes to life during a comprehensive visioning process where stakeholders share their stories that make their personal connections to the mission become vivid for each other. They begin to see their common experiences, aspirations and hopes for the cause.

What began as individual agendas eventually converge into one agenda–ready for effective strategic planning with everyone on the same page.

Sustaining What Works

When we share stories within our organization on a regular basis, we begin to see patterns that tell us what’s working. We also discover gaps that need to be addressed and solved. Storytelling is intrinsic in every organizational function. In finance, particularly, story gives context and meaning to the numbers. Only then will data become valuable for decision making.

Storytelling sparks essential conversations that we otherwise wouldn’t have with our staff, manager, co-worker and volunteers. Engaging in real dialogue that changes the way we see other people and ourselves can create opportunities for taking the human dynamics to a whole new level.

What is transformational is also what sustains us.

Always imagine change because security is an illusion.

The only blog that I subscribe to is that of Seth Godin. Wikipedia describes him as an American entrepreneur, author, and public speaker who has written fourteen bestselling books on topics including the post-industrial revolution, how ideas spread, marketing, quitting, leadership, and changing everything. Seth Godin introduced the concept of “permission marketing.”

What is Permission Marketing? We’re all familiar with traditional advertising on television, radio and now the internet. According to Seth, these are classified as “interruption marketing” which tries to grab the customer’s attention while they are doing something they prefer. The same goes for pop up ads on the internet. An example of Permission Marketing is asking someone if you can include them on your list for receiving your e-newsletters. It’s mostly used by online marketers as well as some who do direct marketing and send a catalog or brochure in response to a request. The point is engaging a customer by providing them something they are anticipating. The transaction becomes personal and relevant. With Permission Marketing, you’re going beyond having a transaction with your customer. Instead, you’re having a meaningful relationship with them.

Seth’s blog is perhaps the most popular in the world written by a single individual. His post on Saturday, Feb 2 talked about a paracosm which Seth defined as an ornate, richly detailed imaginary world. Growing up, I remember creating imaginary worlds with my brother and cousins. Our toys were stashed in my father’s office in the home of my childhood. It was the only room with enough storage for our stuff. We would drag the toys out into the living room and take over the entire first floor. There was a rock garden below the stairway, and this added another dimension of possibilities for our afternoons spent in the fairy kingdom, the village of the future or the lost city under the sea.

Seth also wrote in his post that “whether you’re a three-year old with imaginary playmates, or a passionate inventor imagining how your insight will change just about everything, a paracosm gives you the opportunity to hypothesize, to try out big ideas and see where they take you.” This is used widely by managers and teams at established organizations when they try to come up with new strategies to keep moving their organizations forward. However, more often than not, their behaviors reflect that of a rigid institution when challenged to envision the future without the key components that made them successful in the first place. They feel they have to remain loyal to what Seth calls “their founding precepts.”

Is it really about loyalty? Or is it about feeling insecure about abandoning what has always been perceived as the pillars of the organization? Could it be about fear of not having a safety net? Seth gives the example of the publishing industry. Imagine a world without books published on paper. To a major player in that industry ten or fifteen years ago, not having printed books was inconceivable. But as you all know, a new business model has since emerged which changed the entire world of books.

At this point, my question is — What does your paracosm look like? Who are the major players? What do they care about? What must you take away from your current reality? What can be added? What emotional responses ensue? Why is it important to imagine this world where new challenges and new opportunities converge?

My message has always been consistent. An organization must have a compelling story behind its mission to stay relevant and valuable to the community. What is also consistent throughout our lives is change. And in order to stay relevant to the lives of the people in our community — the people we serve, the volunteers, the board members, the advocates, the donors, the people who care about the work you do — in order for your organization to continue doing the work that matters to them, you must always anticipate change and imagine its impact on your organization and your community. Change must always be part of your story. If you’re able to re-invent your story and live it, you will be able to empower your organization to remain at the helm directing your future and the future of the community you serve.

Which Story Will You Vote For?

As we head to the polls, I’m reminded of the Huffington Post article in July 2012 written by Arianna Huffington where she mentions President Obama’s interview with Charlie Rose. According to Huffington, the interview got really interesting when the conversation turned to what the president considered the biggest mistake of his first term. He said, “…it was thinking that this job was just about getting the policy right. The nature of this office is also to tell a story to the American people that gives them a sense of unity and purpose and optimism, especially during tough times.”

Without labeling all the rhetoric we’ve heard during this presidential campaign, storytelling is essential in communicating ideas and values, and in leading a country.

“Stories are the creative conversion of life itself to a more powerful, clearer, more meaningful experience,” says screenwriting guru Robert McKee. They are “the currency of human contact.” Or, as film producer Peter Guber, says in his book Tell to Win: Connect, Persuade, and Triumph with the Hidden Power of Story, “Telling purposeful stories is certainly the most efficient means of persuasion in everyday life, the most effective way of translating ideas into action. The stories our leaders tell us matter probably almost as much as the stories our parents tell us as children, because they orient us to what is, what could be, and what should be. Their stories help us to understand how they view the world and the values they hold sacred.”

Scientific research has shown that humans are naturally wired for stories. We can best understand and remember information if it is wrapped in a story. Story gives it human context, meaning and purpose. Only then can we translate this into action. And competent leadership is about ultimately mobilizing people into action.

As you cast your ballot, ask yourself: Which candidate placed the issues in a narrative that helped me to better understand how they can be resolved? Which candidate told a compelling story about their vision for the future and made me feel optimistic about being a part of it?

The choices are overwhelming but if you were to see it only one way, I hope you will vote for the story that will provide the best opportunity for our children to realize their dreams so that down the road, they can tell their own stories of trust, hope, unity and peace.

Coming up next week:

November 13: Write Your Story for Video
5:30 pm – 8:30 pm
Fine Arts Building
410 S. Michigan Avenue
Chicago, IL 60605

November 15: Engage Your Donors with a Compelling Story
8:30 am – 10:00 am
Mayslake Peabody Estate
1717 W. 31st Street
Oak Brook, IL 60523
Host: West Suburban Philanthropic Network

November 16: Create Your Compelling & Memorable Elevator Pitch
11:30 am – 1:00 pm
Letizia’s Fiore Ristorante
2456 N. California Avenue
Chicago, IL 60647