The Leadership Image

Tell me your story!

Recently, I revisited a classic business book:  The Leadership Engine by Noel M. Tichy. Worth reading and rereading! In it, Tichy shares clues as to what makes a great leader. Leaders, he found, develop more leaders.   In this way, they create a company that can continue to win. Tichy says, “Six characteristics define winning leaders: teaching, learning, ideas, values, energy and edge. The ultimate hallmark of world class, champion leaders is the ability to weave all the other elements together into vibrant stories that lead their organizations into the future.”

Ooooh.  Goosebumps! I love that. Great leaders tell great stories. Tichy describes three kinds of stories that make up a great leader’s storyline.  You can learn the elements of these stories to help you develop your own storyline…and your leadership skills.

  • “Who I Am” Stories. These stories explain who you are, and how you came to be that way.  Often, these are stories from your childhood.  Did you have to walk 6 miles to school each day?  Did you drop out of school to run the family business when your dad got sick?  Did you marry your high school sweetheart 47 years ago, and do you still hold hands at the movies?  These stories illustrate your strengths and values and let folks know what makes you tick.  Are you competitive?  That can be a powerful leadership trait.  Instead of announcing, “I am competitive,” tell a story about winning the 3A High School Wrestling Championship.
  • “Who We Are” Stories. Martin Luther King galvanized the Civil Rights movement by declaring, “If I am stopped, this movement will not stop.  Kill me, but know that if you do, you have 50,000 more to kill.”  Through his speeches, his stories, King created a nation of activists.  He made people understand their role and responsibilities in his dream.  Great leaders understand that significant change takes the energy and talent of other people.  Tell stories that illustrate how your listener fits into the picture.
  • Richard Branson“Future” Stories.  Can you craft a story that describes where you are going, why you are heading in that direction and what it will take to get there?  Richard Branson of Virgin, Inc. is going to space, and for $250,000 you can go, too. He paints the picture for wealthy would-be space travelers.  The employees in turn are inspired and supported in creating the technology to make it happen.  Now this is an audacious goal, and the test runs so far have been marked by tragedy, including a crew member’s death in 2014.  Still, Branson beats the drum.  He has the ability to ignore the criticism and threats of the rest of the world, as others (including Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos) want to beat him to it.  He tells the story, and keeps the focus on the vision.  “My wish is to go up on the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, that’s what we’re working on,” he announced during an event at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.  On July 20, 1969, Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin first landed on the moon.

We are “wired” to learn from stories. Think back to your kindergarten days. Remember when your teacher would read you a story? You would gather with your classmates in a semi-circle at her feet, and prop your chin on your hands. You would listen to the words and look at the pictures when she turned the book around for you to see.  Wasn’t it wonderful?

We haven’t outgrown our love of stories. And telling a story is the best way to make a point, make a sale or teach a lesson.  Wouldn’t it be nice to convince your one employee that you have a bright, exciting future in store for him?  Maybe your wife is resisting the move to higher prices but you really want to make the change.  We are all selling something, and stories can help.

Learn to share your stories…to sell, to teach, and to lead.

xo$, Ellen

PS…What grand dream do you have? Let’s hear your story. Comment below!

“Space has always fascinated me. As a young boy looking up at the stars, I found it impossible to resist thinking what was out there and if I ever would experience space first-hand.”  ~Richard Branson

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