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So What's Your Story?

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I have been very lucky to have met and talked with some of the best leaders and innovators in North America. It's something I am truly grateful for in my line of work. I often marvel at the incredible wisdom a business leader shares with me during our one-on-one coffees or coaching conversations. I feel honored for having heard their insights and getting a great story that teaches me something value-add. It's at this point that I will say:

"Wow, have you shared this with your team?"

And they usually say no. Why not? The answer is generally:

"Well, because that's probably not what they want to hear. They want to hear about ideas for growth and how the business will succeed."

This is typically when I will ask them about leaders that inspire them. The answers are often very similar and cross a broad range of disciplines from political, social, business and personal.

"My heroes are people like Mandela, Gandhi and Mother Theresa, or Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Sheryl Sandberg or Tony Robbins, John F. Kennedy and Muhammad Ali," said one senior business leader.

Okay, that last list of people was pretty diverse, yet inspirational to many. What about them all is so engaging and unique? It is the story. Every single one of those people listed has a compelling story that connects, engages and makes them so relatable. In many of these cases, the leaders shared both the highs and lows of their story. These stories set them apart and ultimately is the point of difference between a passing fancy and memorable legacy.

"Stories are the creative conversion of life itself into a more powerful, clearer, more meaningful experience. They are the currency of human contact." -- Robert McKee

So what exactly is your story? Your story is the culmination of your entire experience both personal and professional. Within your life story, there are dozens of chapters. Within each chapter are nuggets of wisdom. You may not even know some of these insights because each person who hears your story may walk away learning a different lesson. But they have to hear it! Just as much as you have been inspired by the stories of aspirational leaders, so too will your employees and connections be inspired by yours.

"Because there is a natural storytelling urge and ability in all human beings, even just a little nurturing of this impulse can bring about astonishing and delightful results." -- Nancy Mellon

So where to begin? First, think of the people that you actually do share some of your stories with. They can give you some great feedback on which stories were most powerful, relevant and what in particular resonated with them. Then look at what people know about you in your organization. What has been said in your bio or leadership profile? Look at what other business leaders use on their websites and compare which profiles really connect with you. More importantly, which profiles would connect with your employees? The truth is... it's going to be hard. Perhaps the best start is to think of a story you told your partner on a first date. If you don't have a partner, try a story from your youth because in most cases everyone can forgive the mistakes we made back then.

"There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside of you." -- Maya Angelou

The best stories come from the heart, have lessons for the mind and are relatable to the human experience. So maybe the floor shop worker may not get your story about getting into the top MBA schools. However, they will understand the desire to use education to better your life. They may not understand why you work 60+ hours a week, but they will understand your struggle to find the balance between work and family. Soon you'll find that the sharing makes you more approachable, accessible and authentic. This can only motivate your employees and everyone you engage with professionally and personally.

The best business leaders soon understand that everyone has a story and we should invest in each one, including our own.

At the end of the day, there is more to work than just a paycheck. There is more to life than just work. There is more to you than what your business bio says. You have a leadership story within you. It is aspirational. So share it.

"If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive." -- Barry Lopez