Story: It’s on Every Wish List

In May 2014, Barkada Circle held its third Storytelling Jam Session at Street-Level Youth Media. The intimate studio space at Street-Level was the perfect venue for people from
different neighborhoods across Chicagoland to gather. In a darkened room and under one spotlight, six storytellers–filmmaker, writer, realtor, soldier, retiree, educator–seemed to offer up themselves to what became a sacred space that evening. The audience circle,
the presenters, the mic: we had transformed the studio into our own campfire.

When the lights came on at the end of the program, our retiree Frank walked up to me and asked if he could donate money to Barkada Circle. “We’re not a nonprofit,” I said, “but you can support Street-Level in their mission to educate Chicago’s urban youth in media arts for self-expression and social change.”

I thanked Frank for coming to speak at our jam session. “I was looking forward to getting to know you and your volunteer work for suicide prevention,” I said. What I didn’t expect was learning how much it meant to him being able to stand in front of an audience to tell his story. He made it his goal to take every opportunity to share something about himself with others as an important part of his process for healing. This made me realize that the
experience we had that evening was about generosity coming full circle.

Story is a gift that connects giver and receiver in meaningful ways, more memorable and deeper than anything that is just store bought. Story is an experience that fuels our
humanity because it requires us to give something of ourselves in the moment, either as listener or storyteller. The beauty that was revealed to me by Frank’s experience taught me how, as storytellers, we can be both giver and receiver at the same time. This is what
transforms us and makes us fully human.

This holiday season, I encourage you to give the gift of story. And watch it give back to you in ways you’ve never imagined.

Giving the Gift of Story

When you tell someone your story, you give something meaningful of yourself.
Sharing your experiences and your emotions gives value to your life at that
very moment and the listener has something valuable to learn from it.

Storytelling gives a whole new meaning to the word “present” because in order for that person to receive your gift of story, they have to be fully present in the moment.

Listen to two storytellers who believe in the ability of story to give infinitely.

Shonda Rhimes, Dave Isay

Story Helps Leaders Get Everyone in the Groove

In spring 2017, the Association Forum invited Barkada Circle® to conduct a CEO Exchange about organizational storytelling and its role in leading transformative change.
Participants shared how they engage members to tell their own stories and, on the flip side, what challenges they have in explaining their mission to a new audience.

The discussion revealed the following common questions:

  • How do I tell a story that encapsulates everything
    that the association does for its members?
  • How do I communicate my vision in a way that
    prospective members can understand?
  • How do I navigate change with everyone on the same page?

To meet these objectives, a leader must first connect with people on a personal level. Story is an emergent form of communication that taps into people’s unique experiences and into their emotions which hold the triggers for their actions. Story helps people realize their shared experiences and become open to dialogue.

Satisfy a basic human need for connection.

Harvard Business School published an interview with screenwriting coach Robert McKee in 2003 where he describes how leaders can use a storytelling framework to motivate team members to work toward common goals. Why does it make a world of difference to go
beyond rhetoric and present your case in a story? According to McKee:

“A story expresses how and why life changes. You want
to display the struggle between expectation and reality
in all its nastiness. It demands vivid insight and
storytelling skill to present an idea that packs enough
emotional power to be memorable.”

Whether they are aware of it or not, CEOs, directors and managers tell stories every
day–either to others or to themselves. They talk to staff about values, objectives and
procedures. They create scenarios in their minds to help in decision making.
Their biggest challenge is in leading people from different backgrounds and with
different belief systems toward mutual understanding and cohesive action.

Cultivate shared vulnerability.

Brene Brown–author, scholar and research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work–has spent more than ten years studying human connection. During her TED Talk in June 2010 about vulnerability, she concluded by saying:

“Ultimately, by accepting that we don’t always
know and we don’t always have, we start
gaining the courage to take risks and make
truly meaningful connections.”

A great leader tells stories that convey her own personal journey–that she is only one
person, in need of many–to fulfill the mission. Knowing why it matters to one helps
to build understanding for why it matters to many. By embracing vulnerability, a leader
can provide a safe place where story sharing inspires collaboration, builds trust and
empowers individuals to band together and meet the challenge ahead.

Dance with change.

British philosopher Alan Wilson Watts, author of The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety, said it best:

“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge
into it, move with it, and join the dance.”

Treat change like a moving target. Develop the habit of rewriting the organization’s story every now and then. Pooling together the collective imagination of the members, volunteers, staff, board and community partners shapes an environment that allows creativity to thrive and encourages innovation. It’s a culture shift where change seizes to be the enemy and becomes music with a new rhythm. Are you ready to lead everyone in the dance?

The daunting task of telling a compelling organizational story is a common feeling among association CEOs and directors. Let Barkada Circle® help you harness the power of story to lead with courage and compassion. Send us an email or call us at (773) 852-3522.

Leadership and Story: Let emotions be your guide

Value is intrinsic to the culture of an organization, and it is the role of a leader to help its members find meaning in their values. A great leader articulates the organization’s vision in ways that create clarity in carrying out the mission every day.

Story is the best vehicle for illustrating and stewarding this vision so that people can forge deeper meaning in their work by connecting the task to their humanity. Leaders who promote a culture of storytelling help team members form a deeper emotional relationship with the mission and with each other.

What makes a great leader? Listen to three change makers share their stories about how they discovered the true meaning of leadership.

Simon Sinek, Fields Wicker-Miurin, Julian Treasure

Connection, Conversation and Hot Chocolate

Our storytelling theme for this month is on honing and delivering your elevator pitch to
engage a potential donor. The main components for accomplishing these are, essentially,
the same components in effective communication. Be prepared with a personally
compelling message. Be present in the moment. Be interested in what the other person
is saying. Listen.

I invite you to listen to three voices with deep experiences in verbal communication and making connections. One of them even has a way to make your voice feel rich and warm like hot chocolate.

Celeste Headlee, Julian Treasure, Kare Anderson

You can also read my latest blog entry The best elevator pitch is about you.
It forms a good pairing with this podcast. Enjoy!