How to Get the Story Learner’s Edge
By Steve Farber
never met anyone who said they left a company because they were
recognized too much, and, I would guess, neither have you. We crave
for others to notice our work, appreciate our accomplishments and
recognize our contributions. Leaders
make a practice of doing just that.
impressive leaders—the Extreme Leaders—go way beyond recognizing
and rewarding others. What
they have, in fact, is a boundless fascination with and gratitude for
the people around them—colleagues and customers alike. They notice
others' accomplishments, to be sure, but they also learn their
stories, understand their challenges, and absorb their hopes, dreams
Because they love the human drama (and comedy) and are driven
by a desire to help, to make a difference, and to hold on to the very
things that make us human. Extreme Leaders are awake, attentive, and
observant to and about the lives of others while they simultaneously
strive to make the business more productive and profitable.
And, most important, they understand that a fulfilling life and
a thriving business are not mutually exclusive ideas.
Dick, a mid-level vice president at a formidable national bank.
He ran the check processing operation in the bank’s corporate
facility. It was the
closest thing a bank has to a manufacturing operation and it had an
ethnically diverse, primarily blue-collar employee base.
Dick beamed with pride and enthusiasm whenever he would tell
story after story of unprecedented productivity increases and
skyrocketing employee morale.
rarely used the pronoun, “I,” as in, “I’ve done this; I’ve
accomplished that.” He
also rarely used the word “we.”
Instead, he told story after story about individual people and
how they’d risen to conquer one enormous challenge after another.
And he told many of those stories with the hero standing right
there. Some appeared
embarrassed by the spotlight, but every one of them, without
exception, expressed some variation of a glowing “thank you”
before scurrying back to work.
as though Dick didn’t have an ego.
He could puff out his chest along with the best of them.
But he always brought it back to one central theme: his deep
gratitude for his employees’ spunk, imagination, personalities and
drive. Simply put, Dick loved the individuals on his team—even
the ones he eventually had to let go.
years later, after his promotion to Sr. Vice President (which was
essentially deity status at the bank) surviving a merger and moving to
another division, Dick was charged with conducting what some
euphemistically call a “reduction in force.”
Over a 12-month period, he culled his division from 1500 people
down to 175—mostly through outsourcing.
During that same period, however, employee satisfaction
percentages went from the mid 70’s to the high 80’s, raising
steadily all throughout the process.
That was—to put it mildly—counter-intuitive.
And it wasn’t because the survivors where happy to still have
a job (which they were), but anyone who’s ever been through a
lay-off will tell you that the event is usually characterized by
increased stress, cynicism and even paranoia.
That was not the case in Dick’s domain.
him how he accounted for the amazing spirit and morale even as people
were jetting out the door, he said, “Two things: I kept everyone
involved, and I continued to let them know I cared—every day.”
that’s really the whole point: he knew their stories because
he cared about them, and they knew he cared because he knew their
stories; consequently, even through the most difficult of times, his
team put their full effort into everything they did.
say the same about your team? The good news is that Dick’s
“story-learner” ability wasn’t genetically encoded in his DNA.
He learned how to do it by making a practice of fascination and
gratitude and so can you by following these steps:
Write down the names of
one or two key people internal to your business (colleagues,
employees, staff, managers, partners, associates, etc.) and one or
two key external people (customers, vendors, suppliers, etc.)
List everything you
know about each person—beyond the “function” he or she
serves. Assess how much you know or don’t know about each as a
Ask each person to tell
you one important story or event from his or her life. Or look for
an opportunity to find out more during your next conversation. Ask
each to share with you his or her number one business challenge.
Ask if there’s some
way you can be of service—something you can do to help with each
person’s challenge. Even if that person declines your offer, he
or she will always appreciate your asking.
Pick one or two more
people and do it again.
Repeat until you run
out of people—for the rest of your life, in other words.
this practice may be awkward—even difficult—at first.
Like anything else, however, being a “story learner”
becomes easier with practice. And
the payoff you’ll receive in your employees’ morale, engagement
and productivity will be well worth the price of any initial
discomfort you may have to invest.
Read other articles and learn more
about Steve Farber.
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