Sunday, March 29, 2020
10 Stories Great Leaders Tell by Paul Smith is a short book that covers well how to communicate a compelling message and he makes the point early on that it's more important what a story is than how it's told. A story is to be a narrative, and include a time, place, main character, goal, and obstacle to achieving that goal. Smith then provides ten types of stories, with examples of each:
1. Where we came from - a founding story: The story is told of Gary Erickson, living in the Bay Area in the late 1980s and running his own bakery. Erickson was a passionate bicyclist and in 1990 out for a long ride and eating poor tasting and hard to digest energy bars. At the top of Mount Hamilton east of San Jose he had eaten five of the six and was still hungry with 50 miles left to ride. From this, he got the idea to work in his bakery on a recipe for a healthy and tasty alternative, which led six months later to him forming CLIF Bar.
2. Why we can't stay here - a case-for-change story: Smith recounts the tale of a ten-year-old Gainesville, Florida boy diagnosed in 2013 with a rare form of kidney cancer. There were immunotherapy treatments available in clinical trials, but nothing approved for a child to take part in. Then in mid-2014 a new drug was approved for use and he got his first injection in October, over a year and a half after being diagnosed. The drug started working, but the boy died less than a month later. It wasn't that it not effective, it was that he started too late on the drug. Smith in the book writes of how a corporate client of his who produces lifesaving products that take a long time to get to market saw the story as a way to rally their company’s effort to get to market faster, it was putting a human face on the effort.
3. Where we're going - a vision story: Smith notes how "a vision is a picture of the future so compelling people want to go there with you." A particularly effective way to tell a vision story is through one person and describing what things are like for them after a vision has been realized. In the example Smith provides, it's of a sales forecaster who has the information people need, and how that impacts both the results and how she feels about providing them.
4. How we're going to get there - a strategy story: Just as in the vision story, Smith covers how a strategy story can be told as a future look back. The example given was of the manufacturer of a cold medicine detailing all the innovative things they "had done" to achieve a specific success metric, in this case passing competitors. Smith notes it can also be an "imagine if" story rather than future dated one.
5. What we believe - a corporate values story: Smith recounts a story of Sam Walton in a store of his about to meet with a fellow CEO, and having them wait while he was talking with a customer looking at ironing board covers. The fact that he did that conveys through a story how important customers were to Walton.
6. Who we serve - a customer story: Told is the story of a marketing manager meeting in house with a poor mother in Chennai, India, and how the story of this person and their relationship to the product so much more impactful than simply a listing of functions and features.
7. What we do for our customers - a sales story: To illustrate a sales story showing how customers can benefit from an offering, Smith writes of a company that puts on reverse auctions for buyers.
8. How we're different from our competitors - a marketing story: The story told is of a commercial cleaning company and how the effort they put into a new contract impacts the actual people who clean, through making their jobs both easier and more effective. A key part of this story is focusing on new customers and how their experience different than it was with the prior vendor.
9. Why I lead the way I do - a leadership-philosophy story: Smith recounts the story of a U.S. Army tank commander in a training exercise making a quick decision that was the wrong choice. Because the decision made quickly, others that he led learned from his mistake and it resulted in a successful effort in the exercise. Smith shows how this story more effective than simply saying people should make decisions quickly.
10. Why you should want to work here - a recruiting story: The story is told someone about to graduate with an MBA deciding between different corporate offers, including one from Proctor & Gamble. They talked to a recruiter who told them that people he placed there didn't later tell him that they worked with smarter people elsewhere, and that P&G promoted from within, so now as a new grad would be the time to be there. This type of story is more memorable than a listing of employee benefits.
Smith closes by noting that stories told should answer the following questions, preferably in this order:
1. Why should your audience listen? (hook)
2. Where and when did the story take place? (context)
3. Who is the main character and what did that person want? (context)
4. What was the problem or opportunity the main character ran into? (challenge)
5. What did he or she do about it? (conflict or struggle)
6. How did it turn out in the end? (resolution)
7. What did you learn from it? (lesson)
8. What did you think your audience should do now that they've heard it? (recommendation)
Becoming by Michelle Obama was a compelling read from the former First Lady of the United States, with it containing a remarkable amount of detail about her childhood and the experiences that shaped her.
The book also covers well her time in the White House, including her advocacy for healthy food options and active lives for children, and provides a very thorough look at her life.