As I prepare to meet my biological half-sister this weekend, I’ve been thinking a lot about stories.
Stories play a crucial role in our lives from the time we are born. If we’re lucky, we have nurturing parents who read bedtime stories to us at night. My parents did, and I can trace my lifelong love of reading to those early days.
If we’re lucky, our parents also tell us stories about our birth, our childhood, our heritage. My parents did, and I can still hear my mother’s cadence and her words as she recounted the snowy night she and my father and older brother took the train to fetch me from the upstate New York orphanage where I spent the first three months of my life. I have been gifted with stories of my first steps, of both sets of grandparents and their arduous journeys from the “old country” to Ohio, of villages and cousins back in Eastern Europe.
And if we’re lucky, those stories help shape the narrative of who we grow to be – we build on their foundations as we choose a path uniquely ours, nurtured by the past, by those stories but charted by our own compasses.
This is the “who” I will bring with me when I drive to Ohio on Saturday to meet my older sister, Mary Margaret, the first of the children my birth mother gave up for adoption oh so many decades ago. In thinking about what stories I will share during this first lunch, I got to thinking about the counsel we give to clients about telling their own stories.
Every business, every nonprofit, every school, every church, every foundation, every organization has stories. Each has a narrative as unique as the fingerprints of its chief executive – no two are alike, no two go to the space they occupy currently along the same path, with the same opportunities or the same challenges. No two reach the same audiences or have the same employees, team members or volunteers.
10 Truths of Storytelling
So when we begin a new engagement, we like to start by framing the narrative and begin to identify who’s important (stakeholders), what we want to say (key messages) about who we are (brand, mission, social contract) and who we aspire to be (vision) as an organization. In that spirit, I want to offer 10 truths about the power of owning your narrative (they “why it matters”).
- It allows you to be open, honest and transparent.
- It invites you to shape your own destiny.
- It gives you a platform to tell your story your way.
- It ensures consistency in all communications.
- It encourages you to think big picture about your organization, not the fracture of departments, products or services.
- It affords new opportunities each day through every interaction you have to help build – or to tear down.
- It arms your friends with the truth.
- It lessens the sting of your foes.
- It makes managing crisis situations less of a headache.
- If you don’t, someone else will.
I’m sure more stories will arise from this weekend with my sister – and the next weekend and the next. That’s the beauty of storytelling, it doesn’t have to stop at the end of one story.