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May 8, 2012

Stories Of Leadership

I always find myself lucky whenever I am running a leadership training. The preparation is always tough and it takes months to get ready for even just a small leadership training. Part of the preparation is to study and research on the topics assigned to me. To make a good preparation I always make sure who the participants are and the objectives of the session. It is important so that I could customize my lecture based on the experiences and backgrounds of the participants and what the entire leadership program would want to achieve for the participants. I always feel that I have so much to share, so much to teach, and being a teacher as well, I always look forward to the moment when I share my own leadership story.

What I usually teach is for other leaders to share their own leadership story. It's not about bragging. It's about inspiring. When a leader shares his or her personal story, he or she shares not only his accomplishments but more importantly his or her struggles and challenges. It is the leadership challenge that makes the leadership story dramatic and attractive to the listeners. What was that one moment in the person's life when he or she experienced his or her biggest obstacle?

Obstacles don't have to be work-related or even tragic events in the person's life. Obstacles may be minor, even mundane and almost trivial. But for that person, that particular struggle, albeit small, would be a life-defining moment for him or her. Faced with a struggle, how would a leader make his choice? Every obstacle carries with it a dilemma which demands from the person a decision to make. It brings the person between a fork in the road. Will the leader go left or right? The choice of the leader will reflect his or her values and beliefs, or maybe even the lack thereof.

Of course, depending on the choice, an outcome follows and leads the person to a new chapter in his or her life, filled with yet another set of challenges and struggles. Whether or not the outcome would be favorable for him or her, a lesson has been learned and a new value or perhaps a reinforcement of the current has taken place.

In this way, the leader shows how others can follow (or not follow) what he or she did. He or she tells his or her story, the story of his life, and then he or she relates his or her story to the story of other people, threading the commonalities between their stories, almost saying, "Look, guys, I am just like you."

A leader then ends his or her story with a challenge posed to his or her listeners (or readers), giving them the same opportunity to learn a new lesson about life.

It basically follows the format of Public Narrative as described by Marshall Ganz of the Harvard Kennedy School. Ganz wrote, "Narrative allows us to communicate the emotional content of our values. Narrative is not talking “about” values; rather narrative embodies and communicates those values. And it is through the shared experience of our values that we can engage with others, motivate one another to act, and find the courage to take risks, explore possibility and face the challenges we must face."

After every leadership seminar or training that I run, I would always end up surprised. Instead of me teaching them, I end up learning from their stories.

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