Storytelling is an asset for leaders – but look beyond your story

May 19, 2021
Leadership Lessons

Stories help us make sense of the world. They act as a way for us to share experiences, to share what we value or to share a connection or a differing viewpoint.

Having a good handle on your story – particularly how your journey has led you to connect to the issues or people you’re passionate about – is important. And, there are other behaviors you can practice that can help build perspective and connection that ultimately bring people together to make a difference.

Ready to explore storytelling as part of your leadership journey? Apply for Catalyze by July 13.

Practicing Openness to Become More Adaptable

As you begin exploring your own story, take a step back to examine the things that have shaped your worldview and your actions.

Valley Leadership’s Leadership Development Manager Michelli Castañeda walks through that process – and understanding where the Principles of Doing – operating with integrity, building trust and having a team mindset – show up as you navigate the world and engage with others.

Have you found yourself at times in a closed loop like a Westworld host? You’re not alone. It’s human nature to seek out the things that confirm what we already believe – and that process has only become easier as technology facilitates our consumption of siloed information. The downside is that when we close that loop, we close the opportunity to learn and grow. That can make us less adaptable – if we’re only focused on what’s in front of us, it becomes challenging to see the big picture.

But we can break out of our closed loop through exploration. When we do, the door remains open for growth and learning. By exploring someone else’s viewpoint, we’re not choosing to change our own, but we are choosing to build trust with others – and that can be returned in kind with respect and authenticity. Not only do we understand them better, but it also gives us the opportunity to enhance our own worldview. When we have that open dialogue and broader perspective, we’re set up to collaborate and find solutions together.

Listen with Intent

When you sit down with someone to explore their story, channel your favorite interviewer by asking thoughtful, genuine questions and taking on an active listening role.

We’re all admittedly a little rusty at making conversation after a year inside with Netflix on autoplay. So, think about questions that can take you beyond small talk (because we all agree, it’s hot in Phoenix right now). When you can, do some research about the person you’re going to be meeting with. And, consider this tip from Tim Ferriss: think about how you’d respond to the question. If the question is too simple (a yes or no answer) the conversation will stagnate. If it’s too broad, like “What’s your favorite band of all time?”, it may be hard to answer and not allow you to explore as deeply. Meet in the middle, with something like, “What band have you shared with people the most during quarantine?”

Now that you’ve got a conversation going, take on an active listening role. You’re not asking questions so you can then add in your take. As Royale Scuderi says, “Active listening is the difference between simply hearing, and listening with the intent to truly understand.” When you practice active listening it allows that person to not only share but also to expand on why or how something shaped their worldview – providing you better perspective to help you connect with them and potentially inform your own worldview.

Exploring Your Story

When you practice openness, people will want to learn more about your story as well. Exploring your own journey is critical to connecting with others about your passions or motivations, because our experiences inform who we are and why we lead.

If you’ve ever journaled, you’re practicing that regularly. Go back and look at the entirety of your year, and you may see some themes emerging. For an even broader perspective, map out your life path – your personal timeline and the events that shaped where you are today. (This is a practice that alumni of VL Institute Class 41 will be familiar with.) When I mapped my life path, it exposed the things that matter most to me. It reminded me why I’m passionate about education and mentorship. I nearly failed the fourth grade after transferring between three schools in three states over two years – and would have but for the help of my mom quizzing me with flash cards every night after school. A life path also puts the sum of your choices into perspective and gives you the space to look back and ask, am I on the path that aligns with my values?

Armed with those answers, you can position yourself to share your connection to your passion. And, if you’ve not found your alignment to that yet, it can serve as a way to start working towards it with intention.

Creating a Third Space

I’ve been thinking a lot about a Ted Talk by Radiolab’s Jad Abumrad about how Dolly Parton changed his view about how he tells stories as a journalist – and it’s applicable here. When we practice openness with each other and explore each other’s stories, it’s not an exchange – it creates something entirely new: a relationship that bridges between our viewpoints.

There’s opportunity in that, particularly as we think about the future of Arizona. We have much more in common than may meet the eye, and when we create space to forge more of those relationships, and build more bridges, we can start to make meaningful headway on the issues we all care about together.

Sara Crocker is the marketing and communications director for Valley Leadership.

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