Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Great Leadership Requires Inspiration, V

WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 15: Chris McCumb...Image by Getty Images via @daylifeBy Michael Hume

Storytelling: A Great Way To Harvest Inspiration

Are you inspired? If you are not an inspired person, with a wealth of experiences and perspectives which have served to ignite your passion for what you do, you will never be an inspirational leader.

Great leadership - the sort of leadership others see as inspirational - requires the leader to be personally inspired. That's why you hear the most inspirational leaders tell stories from time to time: it's a great way to "harvest" the inspiration they've developed in themselves and offer it to others.

In this series, I've talked about ways to plant the seeds for personal inspiration (starting with appreciation), ways to cultivate your inner inspiration (by emphasizing uplifting messages in your brain's "diet"), and places to look for inspiration (your own past, present, and future). I've also pointed out that there's something divine in inspiration, and that a closed-minded person who worships only her own logic and reason is unlikely to become passionately inspired.

So suppose you've received that blessing - you are turned on, you're fired-up for your personal mission, you're inspired to drive your business (or, in some cases, to strike out on your own by starting a business). How do you "infect" others with that passionate inspiration?

First, remember that it's going to happen for them the way it happened for you: they have to be open to inspiration, they must plant their own seeds, and they must cultivate their own "garden." But you can help in the same way others helped you.

You can supply some of those "uplifting messages" that serve as the best nutrition for another person's "inner Entrepreneur" (and that leave his "inner Victim" starving). That's where storytelling comes in.

Inspirational leaders are excellent storytellers - though they do it in a very different way from the ways used by novelists, playwrights, grandpas, or the old guy who volunteers his time to tell stories to the kids at the local library. Like everything else they do, inspirational leaders and entrepreneurs make their stories powerful, practical, and time-efficient.

Powerful stories originate in truth ... and they aren't always stories of how the storyteller was a hero who saved the day. Some of the most powerful stories are of the mistakes a leader made earlier in her career, and the lessons she learned from those mistakes.

Often, a powerful story is about a major life- or career-changing decision ... but stories about little learnings can be powerful, too, if they're matched appropriately to the situation.

One powerful story I heard started like this: "When I was new at this sort of project, I started the same way - makes sense, right? - but, though it took me a long time, I learned a better way ...". Bottom line: whether they tell of events big or small, powerful stories are usually bold. They're something the listener is not likely to have heard before.

You know you're telling a practical story when the listener stops what he's doing and hangs on every word. If he rolls his eyes and seems to listen only because he doesn't want to be rude, you might have chosen the wrong story. Inspirational leaders become masters at matching the story to the situation.

This starts by being empathetic - getting good at reading people and understanding what they're really feeling. I had a boss once who made the wrong inferences about people who were chronically late for work ... she would tell them stories about how she had overcome her laziness.

When I got her job, I tried to relate to folks who had to drop kids off at school, relied on unreliable carpool partners, or had to trust our city's erratic public bus system. I'd personally been through all these challenges. As a consequence, the stories I told my teammates, about tricks of the commuting trade, seemed more practical to them ... and the tardiness was reduced, almost as if by magic.

See what I did there? I just told a true story from my own life. Was it powerful? Was it practical? You be the judge. But I know the story in the preceding paragraph does enjoy perhaps the most important virtue of the inspirational story - it's brief.

The best storytellers in the business world tell quick, punchy stories. Many of them practice these stories with a coach (me, in some cases) and ensure they are making good choices about what to leave in, and what to leave out. Let's face it: business happens at the speed of life, which these days feels like the speed of light.

If you find yourself talking for more than about ninety seconds, you might want to tighten-up your stories. Try actually writing them down - keep an inventory - and edit-out the stuff your listener doesn't really need to hear (by the way: the stuff you cut out will almost always be the self-serving "heroism" that you'd be telling more from your own needs - and which tends to deplete the inspiration from the story).

Yes, great inspirational leaders tell great stories. But emerging and potential leaders, though their stories might not be as punchy and powerful, still get in there and take their shots at storytelling. That's one of the ways emerging leaders practice enough to become great leaders. And it all starts by being willing to share your inspiration with others.

Michael Hume is a speaker, writer, and consultant specializing in helping people maximize their potential and enjoy inspiring lives. As part of his inspirational leadership mission, he coaches executives and leaders in growing their personal sense of well-being through wealth creation and management, along with personal vitality.

Michael and his wife, Kathryn, divide their time between homes in California and Colorado. They are very proud of their offspring, who grew up to include a homemaker, a rock star, a service talent, and a television expert. Two grandchildren also warm their hearts! Visit Michael's web site at http://michaelhume.net

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