Our once-a-month Thursday breakfast conversations – coffee in hand – typically result in making great connections, learning something useful, and still getting off to work in a timely fashion. Plus, it’s a totally inspiring way to start the day!
Yet, this was no ordinary Thursday.
Engaging and attuned, with a keen focus on details, we all sat in rapt attention as Jenny regaled us with her journey into storytelling.
We followed her from the jump seat of their station wagon, Old Brown, as she traced pictures in the clouds while they traveled to their summer vacation destination. Her siblings rumbled together in the back seat as her mom passed out egg salad sandwiches carefully wrapped in tin foil. Her dad, though driving, recited poetry and enlisted them all in his fun, engaging tales.
As listeners this morning, it was clear to us that stories and poetry, laughter and connection filled the airwaves of their long road trip. Later as a college sophomore, with a paper due early the next morning, Jenny adopted her dad’s aphorism, ‘Begin with a story.’ It earned her an A+!
Yet something else, beyond entertainment, was happening this very morning.
As we laughed and nodded, relating to Jenny’s stories as we strengthened our own, we came away with more than just great ideas for our own storytelling.
We came away empowered to lead. Power is the ability to achieve purpose, be influential, and effect change – to lead. The seeds of that hold the source of our power are tucked away in each and every one of us; they’re deep in the heart of what we care most about. The seeds show up in our stories. They’re connected to our sense of purpose, to what inspires us, to what we’re drawn to do.
To tap this power within ourselves is to notice what genuinely motivates us, and to allow ourselves to feel into that experience.
To tap this power requires that we ask what kind of contribution we’re drawn to make and for whom.
To tap this power requires us to stretch and expand our ability to tolerate a bit of discomfort (Jenny admitted to having nerves herself!), while holding a larger picture for what might be possible.
Power of Story
It’s not about power-over, the more conventional form of power that can result in action, though often at the cost of trust. It is about creating power-with others to find our common humanity. It’s where we build on our strengths, acknowledging each person’s unique gifts and skill sets as the contributions they are, and where we tap our collective resources for the greater good.
Seems that her daughter had determined to become a doctor. She scouted around and found Dr. Sanjay who agreed that she could shadow him. At their first meeting they learned that they’d both grown up in the same hometown and attended the same high school. Wow. Well, then, do you happen to know my grandfather, Mr. Wilson, who taught English there?
Dr. Sanjay stopped in disbelief. “He’s your grandfather? Reading poetry one day, he asked me when I was going to step up and be the leader I was meant to be. His question inspired me and stuck with me. Why he’s the reason I became a doctor!”
If we don’t tell our stories, and ask our curious questions like Jenny’s daughter, we may miss the opportunity to influence in ways we could never imagine — like Dr. Sanjay becoming a doctor after being inspired by Mr. Wilson.
Telling our stories makes our power visible to others.
The light of the story, whatever it is, shines out and empowers others to share their story, their power, too. We’ve been socialized and balk at sharing of ourselves too much. We don’t want to be open and vulnerable because after all it’s ‘just work’ and ‘all business.’
Instead we tend to move quickly to guard our hearts against exposure, criticism and potential hurt. Yet, it’s in our work that stories are most needed to humanize our experiences and to empower others as we were empowered on that Thursday morning. It’s in telling of our stories that we’re enabled to step into the fullness of our lived experience of leadership, no matter what we’re called to lead.
And, who knows the impact on others down the road?