Story-telling brings impact
“I thought I would start by just running through my bio, where I went to school, all that,” Martin said. Martin was the new CEO of a major hospital system in the Midwest. I didn’t say anything. “Wrong answer?” he said. He knows me so well.
Martin and I were planning for his first Town Hall. He had been on the job for 2 weeks, and the Town Hall would be his initial opportunity to introduce himself to everyone.
“Well,” I said, “what’s the goal? To inform them, or to connect with them? To educate them or to inspire them?”
“OK. Let’s start again,” he said. “I want them to come away with a sense of who I am and get excited about where we are going. And I want to come across as authentic. But how am I supposed to do that in a ballroom with over 1,000 people, plus more on the video conference?”
Stories. People who tune out your recitation of your resume will perk right up when you start to tell them stories. Stories resonate.
3 classic stories: the “who I am story”; the “why am I here” story; the “where are we going” story.
Who I am:
If you want people to follow you, you’d better start by letting them know who you are.
This doesn’t mean your career history or where you went to school. It means what you value, what key experiences formed you and made you who you are.
Martin wasn’t so sure about this first story. “What am I supposed to do? Tell them about my commitment to better health care because of my wife’s struggle with breast cancer? I can’t go there.”
Right. A little too authentic. We sought out a spot that is genuine while not being overly revealing.
Martin decided to talk about his commitment to social justice, which was awakened when he went to South Africa after college and worked in an investment bank. During his second week there, he and his colleague were picked up by the police. He was released, but his black colleague was kept for 3 days.
It felt like a cliché, but for him it was visceral and life-changing. He left banking, went to law school, and spent 10 years in consulting helping nations “reinvent” themselves after war and other disruptions. He then worked for companies that were being disrupted to help them make that leap. That’s who he is.
Why I am here
The “why I am here” story builds trust. People have all sorts of motives, and so do you. You are asking for others’ time, commitment, and trust. You’d better give them a sense of why you are asking for it.
Before Martin accepted the top job at the hospital, he had been considering two other offers. “Why did you choose this one?” I asked. A strange coincidence: he had gotten a call from an acquaintance wanting to interview him for an article on new healthcare business models.
Chatting afterwards, the acquaintance asked if Martin had ever heard of a certain hospital – the very one he was considering! Yes, Martin said, cautiously. Why? The
acquaintance said that even though he always hears the dirt, this hospital was well-known for having a transparent and authentic culture, so he wanted to find a contact inside to interview about how they achieve that culture. Martin accepted this job the next day. He wanted to be with a team like that, and he wanted to build off of a culture like that. That’s the story he told. That’s why he is here.
Where are we going?
Now that you’ve shared about yourself, it’s important to talk about the vision for the future.
Talking about the vision was complicated for Martin because he was not a health care insider. He had a lot to learn about the field as well as this hospital system. What he brought to the table was a successful leadership track record and an eclectic background of leading an industry in the middle of disruption.
Martin was inspired by the changing face of health care right now. Technology and government regulation put health care at the perfect moment to be reinvented, and the culture at the hospital – open and risk-taking supported by a focus on systems and accountability – was the perfect foundation to pioneer a new model. He wanted to steer the hospital to make that leap.
When you are a leader, it’s not enough to know facts and figures. You need to engage people’s hearts and imaginations along with their brains to get them behind you. Who I am, why am I here and where we are going are three key stories for you to think about – whether you are new or want to reinvigorate your leadership.