Reflections on the power of story telling and how it can open up new doors for connection
Story telling is the most powerful way of putting across ideas, a change or business vision. As a passionate advocate of the power of individual stories, leaders sharing their public narratives and authenticity, I have experienced that learning to share your story can drive extraordinary achievement and change.
Recognizing I had a story and learning to share my story profoundly changed my outlook on my life and work. I trained in community organizing with Marshall Ganz (senior lecturer in public policy at the Kennedy School of Government) including the – public narrative approach. Thisis your public story, or narrative, that contains three pieces – a story of self, a story of us, and a story of now. This combines why you were called to leadership, asking your community to join you and a call to action. This is central to the success of leadership, developing movements and developing what’s important to you. I’ve integrated it in personally coaching others to develop their identity, narrative or their business. I’ve shared my story about my calling to the National Health Service, my first patient Blanche, my crisis in relation to losing my purpose and how when finding purpose againI channelled the new found energy into NHS Change Day – a grassroots movement, and the challenges we were jointly facing as a healthcare community. If as a leader, you do not tell your own story then someone else will.
Whilst delivering a workshop on story telling, Phil Gooden, Service Manager for Minds matter, who had never shared his story, took the plunge and writes about his powerful experience of the impact:
“Stories are powerful ways of engaging people. To say that we will tell our stories is easier than the actual telling of our stories.
In speaking about the nature of art and storytelling, former poet laureate, Ted Hughes once said that telling stories is healing for the person telling the story and medicine for the person listening.
Recently I had the experience of being “voluntold” (this is where – under the guise of volunteering – you are told to do something) to share my story with a group of around 30 people. Of these I knew two or three as work colleagues, a few more less than that and all the rest not at all.
The sensation of telling my story, personal and unrehearsed, began the moment I got up to speak in front of everyone. This was different to standing up and telling people about a project or a specific issue. This was about my life, my journey and what I identified on the spot as the key elements that brought me here.
The first sensations I became aware of were nerves and an unconscious fluttering in my voice. This anxiety moved aside as I started to work my way through childhood to the point of my parents’ separation and the experience of being in a one parent family with mum.
It was then that I felt – somewhere below my throat but not quite as deep as my chest – the choking sensation of grief. At one point I thought tears would inevitably come.
Very soon, in an instant even, this sensation opened up – like a river reaching the coast – into a feeling of assurance from those listening that it was okayand I began to find my voice. It is no exaggeration to say that on some level I felt as though the people listening – strangers in many ways – were carrying me through to a safe clearing. If I was traversing dangerous rapids then they were my canoe.
From this point my recollection is of feeling taller and of being able to take the time to see who was sitting in front of me. Prior to this my vision had an internal focus but now I felt able to breathe and consider what I was saying rather than it rushing forth seemingly unmediated.
Afterwards, I felt relief but also a strange sense of anti-climax.The emotion did not stop there. For the ensuing four or five days I felt a strange sense of vulnerability in particular when considering what I had said and how it might have landed with people with whom I already knew and worked. I wondered if they would look at me in a different, less approving light. This reflection soon changed to an understanding that I was projecting my own judgement, thankfully supported by how those colleagues who heard my story have been with me since.
Since telling my story I have also had conversations with people who listened – not about what I said – but that have been fruitful in making links and working together and across boundaries. This may be coincidence but I have a certainty that this would not have happened had I not shared a part of myself. By nature I am often quite reserved, socially awkward even, and rarely engage in new conversation with people I didn’t know.
To tell my story felt like a risk but it opened up doors for connection that I wouldn’t have noticed had I not taken the plunge. At this point I can’t say if it was healing but it was certainly good medicine.”
Everyone has a story and every story is different and what you choose to share is personal to you. Your story doesn’t have to be dramatic, just meaningful to you. Like Phil, when we recognise we have a story and share it in this way it can cross boundaries, make connections and create hope. The more you share your story is the more you can create power for change.Telling your own personal story or public narrative as a leader also gives others the confidence and courage to tell their stories and it becomes about finding shared values in our stories and co-creation that is immensely powerful. What’s your story?
Jackie Lynton @jackielynton & Phil Gooden@philgooden