History Tells The Story, What’s Yours?

by Jay Deragon on 09/19/2013

whats_your_storyWhether in business, politics, non-profits, religion or academia the function of leadership is the same. Leadership has been described as “a process of  “organizing a group of people to meet a common goal. To achieve common goal people have to relate to the goal and believe it will make a difference in people’s lives.

The leader is somebody whom people follow, who guides or influences others to reach towards the objective. Some of the most effective leaders are those that have mastered the art of story telling.

An effective leader uses the art of story telling to influence people through stories that teach and not just tell. The difference is one has a life lesson that the audience can relate to and the other is simply a command to do something.  A life lesson touches the soul while telling people what to do may not connect with their soul.

Today technology has enabled everyone to tell their story. Whether in 140 characters, a 500 word blog post, a YouTube video, a picture or a combination of them all we are the story and the story is us.  But not all stories tell a story. Not all story tellers create stories that audiences will “follow” and most organizational leaders aren’t good at the art of story telling.  Even fewer tell stories that enable people to learn something.

History Tells The Story of Good Leaders

History is a story of past events that shaped the world. In every story there are leaders who influenced the events and the story tells us what they did or didn’t do that influenced history.

One of the oldest string of stories told is contained in the Bible.  There are 66 books in the Bible with each telling a story about the life and times of people, nations and mankind’s relationship with God. Each book presents a narrative which depicts leadership attributes, struggles, faith. doubt, despair and every human emotion contained in our DNA.  With close to 4 billion copies sold the Bible is considered the most read book in the world. Why? Because the stories are lessons in leadership, life, faith and overcoming human weaknesses.

We all know a good story when we read it. We also know a good leader when we “read them”. Reading leaders, good ones, is refreshing, inspiring and motivating because we learn something from them. History has taught us that we can learn from good leaders whose stories teach us. The learning comes from:

  1. the stories they tell
  2. the human experiences they share
  3. the lessons they’ve learned
  4. the things they are creating from 1, 2 & 3
  5. the insights they’ve gained from others who have shared 1,2,3 & 4
  6. the willingness to be open and transparent about what they haven’t learned

We are living in a time where story telling, both in art form and scribble form, is simply part of the human experience for many. Many are doing 1 – 6 above to the benefit of others and these people are leaders not of large businesses but of people. These people are telling stories that inspire others.

More than half the U.S. population has eagerly told stories on Facebook and more than a third are doing the same using Twitter. Yet only 7.6% of Fortune 500 CEOs, those we call leaders, tell their stories using similar tools as we the people.  As a group, 70% of big company CEOs don’t use social technology to tell any story. 

It would seem that leaders, in the traditional sense, don’t seem to have any stories that can teach us anything we want to know. Or at least they don’t think telling their story is a valuable use of their time. Just maybe they should learn from history.

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