You might not realize it, but you are a creature of an imaginative realm called Neverland. Neverland is your home, and before you die, you will spend decades there.
Jonathan Gottschall, The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human
If you say, “The queen died, and the king died,” that is a chronicle.
If you say, “The queen died, and the king died, from grief,” that is a story. (Joe Lambert and Nina Mullen, drawing from E. M. Forster).
Bob Johansen: Get There Early: Sensing the Future to Compete in the Present
I heard Krys Boyd on KERA interview Jonathan Gottschall about his book, The Storytelling Animal. (Krys is a great interviewer). And I remembered the brief description of the difference between a chronicle and a story from Get There Early.
We care about stories. We learn from stories. We place ourselves within stories, because we all know that every story, is, in some way, our own story. Last night I watched House. Wilson has cancer. A very close friend of my wife has cancer. The fictional story is her story – our story. You know…
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.
(John Donne, For Whom the Bell Tolls)
In the interview, Gottschall observed that stories always include two elements: some form of dilemma, and some form of resolution. It is the old “problem-solution” formula for persuasion. And when a story is told well, it always makes us stop and ask: “What is my dilemma? Can I find a way out; a solution; a resolution that works for me, and hopefully for others?”
I read a lot of nonfiction books — but, sadly, too little fiction. Gottschall observed in the interview that people who expose themselves to more fiction have an easier time interacting with others. They are more socially connected; better connected. And, thankfully, he reminded us that stories preceded printed books, so maybe I get almost enough fiction from my favorite television shows. I guarantee that, in House alone, there is enough dilemma and conflict to last a while.
In my own reading, I have come to realize that the best nonfiction writers are, in fact, superior story tellers. I think this explains the popularity of Malcolm Gladwell, and why I have so warmed to The Power of Habit and Imagine just recently. They are both written by superior story tellers (Charles Duhigg and Jonah Lehrer). Books that are principle-rich and story-poor just aren’t quite as engaging or gripping. Or insightful.
And I think it is why I remember some books I read years ago more than others. David Halberstam is always at the top of my list, because he was such a wonderful story teller.
In the realm of organizational culture, story plays a major role. To build corporate culture, to build corporate strength, to build a true community, tell the stories of your organization. Yes, tell the good stories, the stories of success — but tell especially the “struggle” stories. “This is what we faced. This is how we overcame it.” A well-told struggle story can help a current struggle seem not quite so overwhelming.
We love a good story. And, it turns out, we need a steady dose of good stories.
Good stories move us. They touch us, they teach us, and they cause us to remember. They enable the listener to put the behavior in a real context and understand what has to be done in that context to live up to expectations.
…storytelling is the ultimate leadership tool. (Elizabeth Weil).
James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Pozner: Encouraging the Heart — A Leaders Guide to Rewarding and Encouraging Others
We lead by being human. We do not lead by being corporate, professional, or institutional. (Paul G. Hawken, founder, Smith and Hawken)
Quoted by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Pozner — Encouraging the Heart: A Leaders Guide to Rewarding and Encouraging Others
A suggestion – stop what you are doing and listen to this segment on NPR’s Morning Editon by Frank Deford: When There’s More To Winning Than Winning. (audio, plus transcript, available here). (Frank Deford’s commentaries are consistnegly great treasures).
Here’s how he starts:
When last we left the NCAA, it was February madness, colleges were jumping conferences, suing each other, coaches were claiming rivals had cheated in recruiting — the usual nobility of college sports.
And then, in the midst of all this, the men’s basketball team at Washington College of Chestertown, Md., journeyed to Pennsylvania to play Gettysburg College in a Division III Centennial Conference game.
It was senior night, and the loudest cheers went to Cory Weissman, No. 3, 5 feet 11 inches, a team captain — especially when he walked out onto the court as one of Gettysburg’s starting five.
Yes, he was a captain, but it was, you see, the first start of his college career. Cory had played a few minutes on the varsity as a freshman, never even scoring. But then, after that season, although he was only 18 years old, he suffered a major stroke. He was unable to walk for two weeks. His whole left side was paralyzed. He lost his memory, had seizures.
The story is one that will stop you in your tracks. It is a about a basketball coach, and another basketball coach, and a group of players, who remembered that being human was more important than anything else.
Cory had worked so very hard — to walk, to run, to participate in the pre-game drills. But he was far from being a college-level basketball player after his stroke.
On the last game of his last season, the coach started Cory Weissman. He played just a few moments. But what moments!
And then, at the end of the game, with the game fully decided, the coach put him back in the game. The other team’s coach called time out, and asked his players to intentionally foul Cory to give him a shot, a chance to score a point from the free throw line.
Shot number two: The ball left his hand and flew true – swish, all net.
Deford ended with this:
The assistant vice president for athletics at Gettysburg, David Wright, wrote to Washington College: “Your coach, Rob Nugent, along with his staff and student-athletes, displayed a measure of compassion that I have never witnessed in over 30 years of involvement in intercollegiate athletics.”
Cory Weissman had made a point. Washington College had made an even larger one.
“We lead by being human.” Yes, we do.
Here are your two choices.
You can set someone up to succeed.
You can set someone up to fail.
The set-up-to-fail syndrome “is self-fulfilling and self-reinforcing – it is the quintessential vicious circle…”
High expectations or low expectations both influence other people’s performance. Only high expectations have a positive impact on actions and on feelings about oneself. Only high expectations can encourage the heart.
“Set-up-to-fail.” Just the phrase itself communicates almost everything you need to know. When you set up someone to fail, you do not provide: resources; coaching; mid-course corrections; basic need-to-know information; simple encouragement. You say to people “go do this,” and then you leave them on their own. If they succeed, you might reward them. If they fail, you blame them.
But you have set them up to fail. And when they fail, shame on you at least as much as shame on them.
But, when you set them up to succeed, you give them clear directions, but only with and after their input. You make sure they have the resources they need. If they do not know how to “do” part of the assignment, you get them training. And then, you check in, not as a policeman looking for violations, but as a coach. And when they succeed, which is now far more likely, you celebrate together even as you reward their success.
The choice really is yours. Are you setting people up to succeed, or to fail? And, by the way, if you are setting them up to fail, you are setting yourself up to fail.
• note – of all the books I have presented over the last 13 years, it is increasingly clear that the one I go back to most often is Encouraging the Heart: A Leaders Guide to Rewarding and Encouraging Others by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner. You can order my synopsis of this great and useful book, with audio + handout, from our companion site, 15minutebusinessbooks.com.
(Note: this is a recording from a web presentation from a few years ago – it was not recorded at our monthly First Friday Book Synopsis gathering. The audio is clearly understandable, but not quite the quality, or the “feel,” of some more recent presentations. – Read the faqs on the 15minutebusinessbooks site to get the scoop on the circumstances behind the recordings through the years).
Honored and not diminished. That’s how we all want to feel.
James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Pozner, Encouraging the Heart: A Leaders Guide to Rewarding and Encouraging Others
I have probably presented my synopsis of Encouraging the Heart by Kouzes and Posner more than any other book synopsis. (I presented this again at a conference this week). It is the “perfect book,” the best book I have read for building people, for knowing what to do to help people get better at their work. The subtitle says it well Encouraging the Heart: A Leaders Guide to Rewarding and Encouraging Others.
There is so much great value in the book, but here is one point that is crystal clear, and critically important — a leader has to notice, to pay attention, to give credit, in order to successfully and effectively encourage others.
Recently, I thought of a scene from one of my all-time favorite tv shows, Sports Night, that reinforces a critical lesson from this book. It was the first television show created by academy award winner Aaron Sorkin (he later created The West Wing and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. He won his academy award for The Social Network). Many still believe that Sports Night was his greatest work.
One of the characters is Casey McCall (Peter Krause), something of a self-absorbed jerk… In this particular clip, you can see his flaws – flaws close to deadly for a man in such a top position on a team:
1) He is totally self-centered.
2) He is oblivious – oblivious to practically all other folks around him He does not see their value; he does not acknowledge their gifts or skills; he does not share the credit.(in fact, he does not give the credit where the credit belongs). In fact, he simply does not see them.
3) And he is “deaf” – he will not listen, and seemingly can not hear.
So how do you solve a problem like Casey? You create a “stasis moment” – you bring him to a standstill, a moment when he is slapped in the face with the reality of his own self-centeredness.
Enter the brave, brilliant, Monica (Janel Moloney). She confronts Casey in an assertive, yet humble, moment as she acts as a champion of others — teaching him a valuable lesson, in just the right way.
If you lead a team, or serve as a leader of manager, this is a great video excerpt to watch. A clip is worth a few thousand words. Take a look. (it is just over 6 and a half minutes. It is worth the look).
• here’s the key moment, from the script (it’s from a truly wonderful episode, The Six Southern Gentlemen of Tennessee):
My name’s Monica. I’m the assistant
wardrobe supervisor for Sports Night
as well as two other shows here at
CSC. I think you hurt the feelings of
the woman I work for. Her name is
Maureen and she’s been working here
since the day you started.
I know Maureen.
Can I ask you another question?
I’m sorry I didn’t know your name.
(HOLDING UP A NECKTIE) Do you know
what color this is?
It’s called gun metal. Grey has more
ivory in it, gun metal has more blue.
Can you tell me which of these shirts
you should wear it with?
I don’t know.
No you don’t. There’s no reason why
you should. You’re not supposed to
know what shirt goes with what suit or
how a color in a necktie can pick up
your eyes. You’re not expected to know
what’s going to clash with what Dan’s
wearing or what pattern’s gonna bleed
when Dave changes the lighting. Mr.
McCall, you get so much attention and
so much praise for what you actually
do, and all of it’s deserved. When you
go on a talk-show and get complimented
on something you didn’t, how hard
would it be to say “That’s not me.
That’s a woman named Maureen who’s
been working for us since the first
day. It’s Maureen who dresses me every
night, and without Maureen, I wouldn’t
know gun metal from a hole in the
ground.” Do you have an idea what it
wouldn’ve meant to her? Do you have any
idea how many times she would’ve
played that tape for her husband and
(BEAT) I know this is when it starts
to get busy for you, and I hope I
didn’t take up too much of your time.
Please don’t tell Maureen I spoke to
you, she’d be pretty mad at me.
You can purchase my synopsis of Encouraging the Heart, with audio + handout, at our companion web site, 15minutebusinessbooks.com.
“We lead by being human. We do not lead by being corporate, professional, or institutional.” (Paul G. Hawken, founder, Smith and Hawken)
James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Pozner, Encouraging the Heart: A Leaders Guide to Rewarding and Encouraging Others
More profoundly than just getting things done, strong connections with others represent a value unto themselves. Relationships lie at the heart of who we are as humans; they give our lives meaning and significance.
Dov Seidman, how: Why HOW we Do Anything Means Everything…In Business (and in Life)
On a drive to a client’s last Thursday, I listened with rapt attention to a great hour on Think, the local NPR program (KERA – 90.1), hosted by Krys Boyd. Krys is a terrific, always thoroughly prepared interviewer, and her guests on Thursday were a Pulitzer and Tony winning playwright, and his high school drama teacher. Here’s the paragraph on Think’s web site:
What makes a writer a writer, and how can a great teacher influence the arc of a writer’s career? We’ll spend this hour with playwright, author, screenwriter, actor, director Doug Wright and Linda Raya, the Highland Park High School Fine Arts director and theatre teacher who instructed Doug when he was a student at the school. Doug Wright will deliver the keynote address at this weekend’s 15th annual Highland Park Literary Festival.
During the interview, this paragraph absolutely gripped me (I transcribed this from the audio):
Art (should be perceived as) a serious subject. I’m very fond of saying that Art, and Drama in particular, is the one discipline that teaches empathy… Because if you’ve got a kid in Anne Frank, then they’re learning what it was like to be Jewish during World War II. Drama is all about slipping into someone’s shoes, and walking their walk…by studying plays and acting in them we learn tolerance.
And the emphasis in schools (athletics): we teach competition; we teach competition really, really well. But we don’t always teach empathy and tolerance. And I think that’s what these disciplines foster. And I think it is shocking and disturbing that they’re the first to meet the chopping block when legislators are looking at the state budget.
I have read a lot of business books over the years, and there is little shortage of discussion of concepts such as “winning,” competition,” “beating the competition,” “being first.”
But this interview reminded me that there is another, I think better, side to this whole endeavor – let’s call it the “human side.” And in the heart of this side is empathy – walking in another’s shoes. Doug Wright reminds us of the simple fact that all business leadership, all business management, all business endeavor begin (and end) with human beings.
Starting by being human might be the best business (and life) counsel of all.
Let’s begin with the obvious. It is possible to treat someone in a belittling manner. Let’s acknowledge that we can speak with a tone, and words, of ridicule.
And let’s acknowledge this: there is nothing positive about these practices. Nothing. It does not build anyone up, it does not bring out the best in people, it does not enhance productivity, it does not nurture community.
And since it is possible to belittle, to ridicule, then we all know someone who is an expert at such practices. In fact, you – yes, you, the one reading this blog post – might be practicing the slimy art of belittling and ridicule yourself.
Those are my thoughts prompted by a short, simple, to the point tweet from Tom Peters. Here is his tweet:
Consultant called in for exec retreat. Enters, goes to white board, writes “DON’T BELITTLE;” turns and walks out. (YES!!!)
Now, I do not know why this slimy art seems to be on the rise (but I think it is). I might point to our toxic attack environment seen especially in talk radio, and overall lack of civility. I do know that some people who are very good at belittling and ridicule are making a lot of money practicing their craft.
In a Slate.com article It’s Not the Job Market: The three real reasons why Americans are more anxious than ever before by Taylor Clark, we find a reminder that we are increasingly more isolated than ever before:
America’s increasing loss of community, what we might call the “Bowling Alone” effect. Human contact and kinship help alleviate anxiety (our evolutionary ancestors, of course, were always safer in numbers), yet as we leave family behind to migrate all over the country, often settling in insular suburbs where our closest pal is our plasma-screen TV, we miss out on this all-important element of in-person connection.
Maybe this isolation makes us more willing to just treat people badly.
But, I think this really does need to be addressed, attacked, stopped. Or, as the management consultant quoted by Peters put it, “DON’T’ BELITTLE!,” maybe we all need to just start walking out of the room, start walking away from the people who do it, until they stop.
Remember this simple and powerful reminder from Kouzes and Pozner:
Honored and not diminished. That’s how we all want to feel.
James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Pozner: Encouraging the Heart: A Leaders Guide to Rewarding and Encouraging Others.