Meetings Canada


Leadership - What's Your Story?


The story is one of the most basic tools invented by the human mind for the purpose of understanding. There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories.” – Ursula K. Le Guin, Author

Doug Keeley, CEO, The Mark of a LeaderWhat are the stories that define you? What are the stories that define your organization? When we ask new clients these questions, few can answer. When we dig into their past and their culture, we usually find story gold, buried beneath mountains of data and decks of (usually bad) PowerPoint.

FedEx will tell you its commitment to “absolutely positively on time” was defined by the driver who rented a helicopter to get a package through an avalanche. Nordstrom might tell you it was giving a full refund to a customer who returned a set of tires—a product it does not sell. Apple’s 1983 MacIntosh team will tell you it was the ritual of hanging a pirate flag off the top of the developer building, a symbol of who they were.

All organizations have these stories. The great startup stories. The “going above and beyond” stories. The incredible teamwork stories. The “winning against all odds” stories. If you aren’t finding, crafting and telling them, over and over, you are doing your people and organization a huge disservice.

When I started The Mark of a Leader 10 years ago, our whole approach to leadership being based in stories, some CEOs thought it was woo woo. “What, you want us to sit around the fire, sing Kumbaya and tell a few stories? Ha ha ha.”

Those same CEOs today, their people’s imaginations and hearts bludgeoned into submission by too much data and endless presentation snoozefests, are singing a different song. In fact, they’re asking for help in creating a culture where stories play a critical role. As well they should.

Stories in any culture—a company, a family, a community, a team—define the behavior of that group. Those behaviours collectively form its culture. That culture drives performance.

No siree bub, stories are not woo woo. Stories have a direct impact on the bottom line. The story of the Federal Express driver and the avalanche was in every newspaper in the land, and in no small way helped the company become one of the world’s greatest brands.
And what does that have to do with meetings and incentive travel? Absolutely everything.

When people come together, as they do at meetings, they should be sharing stories. Their stories. Each other’s stories. The team-back-home’s stories. The competition’s stories. Their craziest clients’ stories. All the stories. They should dig them out and share them as much as they can. Tell stories on the main stage, in the breakouts, in the bar, at dinner, in the hospitality suite and the hot tub. Make it a competitive activity if you want!

If you are a leader, I believe one of the most important tasks you have is to create a culture founded on and bound by stories. Take your instantly forgettable data (which most of it is) and turn it into stories. Craft the stories. Capture the stories. And then tell them to new recruits, clients, potential clients, the media—darn well anyone who will listen.

Steve Jobs was one of the best CEO storytellers of all time. His famous “and one more thing” line was like magic fairy dust for an audience. Winston Churchill spent an hour working on every finished minute of speech. And he saved the world as a direct result.

I am not asking you to save the world. But on behalf of audiences everywhere, I am asking you to become better storytellers. It might save your audience’s souls. It will definitely impact your bottom line if you do it right.

Doug Keeley is CEO & Chief Storyteller of The Mark of a Leader,

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