Pausing to Tell a Story

Story: It’s how we have communicated for years. Thousands of years ago, stories were told through pictures which evolved into spoken and finally written word. The Gutenberg Printing Press changed everything by allowing stories to be reproduced rapidly, replacing hand-written books. Today, stories are told almost instantly on social media. Many are not even true, even though they seem true to the person who reads them. 

Several years ago, I used the quote below in a keynote presentation:

Photo of Albert Einstein with quote: I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.

Every time I shared this, I observed people in the audience reacting in agreement, often taking pictures with their phones. They were visibly moved and the point hit home. The quote certainly seems true in today’s world. However, there was one problem: Albert Einstein never said that. Someone I knew and trusted posted the quote and the accompanying graphic on Facebook (and if it’s on Facebook, we know it must be true!). I started using the graphic in my presentation, but it wasn’t until someone in the audience brought it to my attention, and a quick check online verified what they told me, that I discovered Al was not the author. There was no way to retract my mistake. It had been shared with thousands of audience members who had heard me speak.

While storytelling is vital in today’s world, it is more important than ever to tell the truth. That’s why telling your organization’s story is critical.

Recently, I had breakfast with my friend Gina Evans, AVP of HR and Talent Development at Credit Union of America. Somehow, we began talking about story and how it shaped CUA’s culture. Their CEO sought to simplify CUA’s mission statement, which was so long and convoluted that no one could say it by memory. Ultimately, the company replaced it with this purpose statement:

Purpose:

“We come to work every day inspired to make a difference in our members’ lives.”

At every Credit Union of America meeting, the person in charge of the meeting shares the purpose statement and asks someone to tell a story about how they implemented the company purpose that day. They simply ask, “Who has a story?” The employees at Credit Union of America are sold on the power of story, and you should be too.

Make it short and simple—shorter than this post!—and share it every day.


This is the second in a series of six posts based on my Six by Six Principles of Leadership. Click here to read the first article “Read to Succeed“.

2 thoughts on “Pausing to Tell a Story”

  1. Tim,
    Very nice, thank you for sharing your thoughts. Stories have shaped our culture throughout history (Job, Iliad/Odyssey, Beowulf…). I’ve had many instances where years after students have taken my courses they remember the stories but not necessarily the principle behind the story.
    Take care my friend, Alan

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