Paul Smith was nervous the first time he had to make a presentation to Proctor & Gamble CEO A. G. Lafley. His anxiety only increased when Lafley sat down with his back to the slide screen, and didn’t turn around once, ignoring Smith’s carefully crafted slides on the screen the entire 20 minutes of Smith’s talk.
Smith was baffled, but moved on through his program. After the presentation, Lafley agreed to proceed with Smith’s recommendation. But all Smith could do was wonder what had just happened. Later, he wrote:
But then it occurred to me. He wasn’t looking at my slides because he knew something that I didn’t know until that moment. He knew if I had anything important to say, I would say it. It would come out of my mouth, not from that screen. He knew those slides were there more for my benefit than for his.
Smith recalls that only then did he understand that Lafely had chosen his seat so that he could focus on having an engaging conversation with the presenter. The CEO had listened to Smith’s stories, instead of being distracted by his slides.
Stories about Stories
The “sitting backward” story is the first of hundreds in Lead with a Story by Paul Smith. The book is a practical guide to leadership stories for professionals. He makes the point that stories–not charts and slides and official manuals—often help us communicate what we really need to say.
The first chapter answers the question, “Why tell stories?” with the “back to slides” story and some data and theory on the efficacy of story. The rest of the book is devoted to different scenarios and applications for stories in the business world.
Lead with a Story will show you how to use stories to:
- Lead Change
- Define Customer Service Success and Failure
- Build Courage
- Demonstrate Problem Solving
- Delegate Authority and Give Permission
In other words, stories can help us develop the skills that we all need to be leaders. Each chapter explains a particular concept with a story or two from Smith’s experience, his research, or one of the dozens of interviews he personally conducted in preparing for the book. The chapters close with exercises for daily usage.
While some business storytellers spend a lot of time on theory, or chalk storytelling skill up to some magical indefinable quality, Smith breaks it down with pragmatic ways that we all can use story to be better people and better decision makers.
Use These Ideas
Here are just a few of my favorites from the many chapter-end summary and exercises. The first two are interesting ways for marketing to conduct “storymining” for case study and success story candidates.
- Find stories your customers have written about you already on industry websites or customer review blogs.
- Have an eye-opening moment with a customer of your product recently? Write the story, even if it’s only a few sentences long. Share your a-ha moment with others. An example is the choice between shortening and milk.
- Make the facts, numbers, or events relevant to your audience—something they can relate to in their everyday lives, like the snowstorm in the courtroom.
- Use a metaphor to capture the power of your whole story in a single word or phrase, such as the yellow cab.
- Bullet points cannot define company values in any actionable way to an employee. Only a story can. (Think of the train wreck in Wisconsin.)
Get a jump start on developing your own bank of leadership stories and check out Lead with a Story today. You may find yourself referring back to it often.