How Powerful Story Telling Can Help You Manage Your Team

Girl Storytelling to Dog
CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 by Scottish Libraries

As professional communicators, we always have stories to tell. Whether it be stories of our clients, or stories about us, but have you ever used stories to lead your team? I have many times and it works. I tell stories that inspire me and keep me going.

One day after a big client event battling many technology challenges, we were in the de-briefing meeting. We were still riding on the high of euphoria from the success of the day before.  I hooked up my computer to the LCD screen in the meeting room, and was waiting for the display to light up. My computer has it’s challenges – it’s like an old lady in the early morning – it takes a little more time than usual to wake up. That’s when one of my team members said, “Yu Yu, you have the worst computer in the digital team,” everyone in the room agreed – they all know I battle with my touch pad at times, and it has a hard time ‘waking up’. Even the lightest of browsers crashes every couple of hours – we all experience it 5-7 times a day because we use a lot of computing power.

I didn’t know what to reply to my team mates. I’ve heard this comment so many times, I had no answer as a leader because I’ve done everything in my power to get new laptops. I looked up at my team, battle worn, tired, and eyes surrounded by dark circles – we hadn’t slept much for the past two days. Then I got one of those “Patton moments,” and I told them the story of my dad that I tell myself whenever I was faced with a major hardware challenge.

When I was a kid, my dad was the personal assistant to the Foreign Minister of Myanmar in the 1990s. They gave him a car so old that he could barely operate it. It was a car so small, it would fit in one of our small meeting rooms. The mechanics were so archaic that he had to literally stand up in the car to move the gas pedal. No one could drive that little dinosaur except him. His brothers, who were car buffs always told him to get the Ministry to change the car. But my dad drove that stubborn thing until his next assignment abroad. And I told my team, “If my dad can handle all that challenge, being the PA of the Foreign Minister, I can handle glitches on my computer every now and then.”

The room was silent. “Wow, what a story,” one of my team members said. There was a sense of respect, and a sense of ownership in the atmosphere. If the generations ahead of us could struggle and be successful, why not us? My team understood – they know they’d do their best and they have no matter what the challenge is so no one points figures at us saying we didn’t do our job. We’d rather face challenges and be successful then be a couple of 20 something-year-olds who demanded things all the time. The dots where there – all I had to do was tell a story to connect them.

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