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Lead with a Story

A Guide to Crafting Business Narratives That Captivate, Convince, and Inspire

by Paul Smith

Lead with a Story
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TELL YOUR TALE TO GET OTHERS ENERGIZED

In Lead with a Story, Procter & Gamble (P&G) Director of Consumer and Communications Research Paul Smith describes his first presentation to P&G’s Executive Committee, including CEO Alan Lafley. Presenting directly to the committee is a rare privilege and Smith wanted to make the best of his allotted 20 minutes. He carefully prepared slides that would support the recommendation he hoped would get approved.

To Smith’s dismay, Lafley chose a place at the conference table that was directly below the screen. To see the slide show, Lafley would have to turn completely around and look up. Choosing not to tell the CEO of P&G where to sit, Smith pushed forward with his presentation; never once did Lafley turn around and look at the slides flashing above his head, but instead kept his eyes on Smith the entire time. The presentation ended, the recommendation was approved, but Smith left the room confused and disconcerted by the CEO’s reaction. Suddenly he had an epiphany. Lafley "wasn’t looking at my slides because he knew something that I didn’t know until that moment," Smith writes. "He knew if I had anything important to say, I would say it. It would come out of my mouth, not from that screen."

In the age when presentation and communications technology has enabled fancier graphics and flashier "shows," the ancient art of storytelling is making a comeback, even at the highest levels of multinational corporations. From Microsoft, Nike and Motorola to Southwest Airlines, FedEx and, of course, P&G, major corporations are intentionally using storytelling as a key leadership tool, Smith writes. Kimberly-Clark has two-day seminars to teach a 13-step program for crafting stories and building presentations around them. P&G has hired Hollywood directors to teach its senior executives storytelling techniques. The power of a great story can do more than inspire. It can lead to action.

A Manual on Leadership

Lead with a Story offers leaders more than 100 stories that they can borrow or adapt to fit different situations. However, Smith’s book is not just a depository of stories. Far from it. In fact, Lead with a Story is not a book on storytelling, but first and foremost a book on leadership. There are some chapters on how to tell a story — for example, how to use metaphors and analogies and how to recast your audience into a story — but these are the exceptions; and indeed, these seven chapters are specifically labeled "how-to." The core of the book is a manual on leadership built around five E’s: Envision success; create an Environment for winning; Energize the team; Educate people; and Empower others. In the section on "Envisioning Success," for example, are chapters on setting a vision for the future, setting goals and building commitment, leading change, making recommendations stick, and defining customer service success and failure. Smith explains, in detail, how to use stories to achieve each of these steps; these lessons are summarized at the end of each chapter in a "summary and exercises" section.

Take an Imaginary Journey

One of the lessons in the chapter on leading change, for example, is that people aren’t afraid of change, they’re afraid of not being prepared for change. Smith illustrates this point with a story of a 6-year-old boy who was terrified about the fact that the location his school bus would be waiting for him after school would be changing. The night before the big change, the father notices that his worried son can’t sleep. The father gets the boy up, dresses him in his school clothes and then, writes Smith, "they went on an imaginary journey." Pretending he was in school and not at home, the little boy practiced several times, turning right, turning left, going straight, until the boy felt comfortable with the path he was to take. The boy even practiced how he would ask a classmate if he could follow him to the school bus — this was plan B. When preparing others for change, Smith encourages readers to tell the story of the boy and the bus stop so people can take comfort that their trepidation is only because they aren’t prepared yet. After the training, and reinforced by this story, employees know they will be.

Packed with a wide variety of stories and scores of key lessons on leadership, Lead with a Story is an engaging and informative resource for any leader.



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