In this episode of Partnering Leadership, Mahan Tavakoli speaks with Paul Smith, business storytelling coach and bestselling author of Lead with A Story, Sell with A Story, and The 10 Stories. In this episode, Paul Smith shares how leaders can use storytelling as a powerful business tool. Paul Smith also shared specific stories leaders need to tell to improve the clarity of their communications and motivate their teams.
-Paul Smith on why many leaders are not good at telling stories
-Defining a story and what makes a good story
-Paul Smith on clarity of communication objectives
-Understanding the process of compelling storytelling
-What leaders can do to influence their organization through storytelling
-Paul Smith on the importance of storytelling skills
-How you can turn a good story into a great one
Connect with Paul Smith:
Paul Smith on LinkedIn
Connect with Mahan Tavakoli:
More information and resources available at the Partnering Leadership Podcast website:
Welcome to Partnering Leadership. I'm really excited this week to be welcoming Paul Smith. Paul is the best-selling author of Lead with a story, sell with a story and the 10 stories. Great leaders tell I have read Paul's books and have learned so much from him, not only with respect to the importance of storytelling, but specifically the kinds of stories that leaders need to be able to tell in guiding their organizations forward.
So I really enjoyed this conversation and I'm sure you will gain a lot of insights on specifically the kind of stories you need to be able to tell in leading your team and organization. I also enjoy hearing from you. Keep your comments coming, firstname.lastname@example.org There's also a microphone icon on partnering leadership.com, you can leave voice messages for me there.
Don't forget to follow the podcast on your favorite platform. Tuesday conversations with magnificent change makers from the greater Washington DC DMV region and Thursday conversations with brilliant global thought theaters. Now here's my conversation with Paul Smith.
[00:01:12] Mahan Tavakoli: Paul Smith. Welcome to Partnering Leadership, I'm thrilled to have you in this conversation with me,
[00:01:17] Paul Smith: . Thanks for having me. I'm happy to be here.
[00:01:20] Mahan Tavakoli: I'm really excited Paul, you have three best-selling books, including a couple we're going to spend time talking about today, Lead with a story, and the 10 stories great leaders tell. But before we get to that, we'd love to know whereabouts you grew up and how your upbringing impacted who you've become.
[00:01:36] Paul Smith: I live in the Cincinnati Ohio area now, but I was born and raised in the state of Arkansas and I may be the first person you've ever met from that state. It's often the case with people. And I'm quite sure that had something to do with you know, me becoming who I am. You might detect every once in a while, a little Southern drawl in my voice, especially if I'm talking to my dad.
And well it probably also affected my outgoingness or friendliness, the Southern people tend to pride themselves on being friendly and outgoing. And so I hope some of that rubbed off on me.
[00:02:09] Mahan Tavakoli: You still have some of that with you. And also I am in Washington, DC, Paul, so every president that comes to DC from whatever part of the country, whether it's Chicago or Arkansas, they bring a cohort of people with them that ended up staying in DC region. So lots of people from Bill Clinton's time.
[00:02:35] Paul Smith: You probably have met them. Yeah.
[00:02:36] Mahan Tavakoli: Yes, they stayed, in the DC area. Growing up in Arkansas, you ended up getting your Wharton MBA and working at P and G. What was your role at P and G?
[00:02:48] Paul Smith: So I was there for 20 years. So I had a number of roles actually started in finance and accounting roles. I was a finance manager of a number of different departments and you know, had a manufacturing plants in California and sales offices in Seattle. But then after about half of that time there, I switched into consumer research, so market insights.
And I finished my career out there. In my last job I was in charge of our consumer research department for about a $6 billion global business unit a P and G paper businesses, so bounty paper towels, and Sharmane bath tissue and puffs, facial tissue probably recognize those names.
So I was in charge of consumer research for that global business for P and G.
[00:03:27] Mahan Tavakoli: What was it that got you so interested in storytelling, Paul?
[00:03:33] Paul Smith: Yeah. Like it was a little bit of just a personal frustration. So it started because I recognized that the people, the leaders, I admired the most inside the company, the people that I wanted to work for, that I wanted to kind of grow up and be like in the company, we're really good at it. And that frustrated me because A, I didn't think I was, and B nobody ever taught me how to do that.
So here I went off and spent a lot of money getting this Ivy league MBA, nobody taught me that there, they didn't teach me that at P and G when I got there, I spent a couple of years at Accenture as a consultant. They didn't teach me that there. Certainly didn't learn it in undergrad. That was frustrating because it was clearly important. And so I just kind of sat out on my own little personal learning journey. And I started reading all the books I could find on the topic still didn't know how to do it. And then I started interviewing leaders who I, again, who I thought were good at it at first inside the company and then outside the company.
And somewhere along that journey, it stopped being my own little selfish learning journey and became an idea for a book. And I thought, gosh, if I want to know this, that badly, maybe there are other people who do as well. And so it became an idea for a book and that's what became Lead with a story, which was the first book.
[00:04:42] Mahan Tavakoli: Paul, Why is it that we are so bad at telling our own stories?
[00:04:47] Paul Smith: Yeah, well, and especially leaders. And I'll tell you my observation interviewing leaders and I've interviewed probably 300 or so CEOs, executives, leaders, hundreds of companies in 25 countries around the world now as part of the research for these books. , I'll tell you my observation and see if it fits with yours.
In many cases, the more senior the leader, the worst they are at storytelling, because they default to wanting to give people advice and tell them what to do, because that's their job, once you're the CEO of the company, that's all you do is tell people what to do.
And so when I would sit down to interview these leaders for the book, I had to be very careful in the way I asked the questions, because if I wasn't, they would go back into default, give advice mode, and almost all their advice out of the same after a while it was well, you know what Paul, if you want to be successful in my business there's three things you gotta do.
You gotta develop a great high quality product. You gotta develop a fabulous marketing message to go with it. And you got to surround yourself with great people and a great team to get it done. And after about 15 or 20 CEO's told me that I thought, you know, I think, my 10 year old kid could have figured that out.
I mean, well, of course you want a great product and great marketing and great people. Like that's just not newsworthy, but yet that's what they've come up with. Now, the real genius behind all of their successes is that they figured out exactly how to create that great product and the great marketing message and finding great people, but they tend to want to summarize their work, their years and decades of advice into a few pithy little comments.
And it comes out as something that is so commonsensical that it's just boringly uninteresting. So as soon as they started getting into advice-giving mode, I would literally interrupt and go, let me ask the question a different way, even though I didn't ask them for advice the first time, but I was sure not going to ask the second.
Then I would start a question with these words. Tell me about a time when, and I would finish that with something, because there's only one way to answer that question is for them to tell me a story. Tell me about a time when you made a huge mistake. You can't answer that question by going well, "you know, Paul, the three ways to be successful in my business," you just can't.
You have to tell me about that time, where you really screwed up. Or tell me about one of your biggest successes or tell me about the biggest surprise you ever had at work. Oh, that would've been the time when you know a blob and then the stories come out. So if you want stories, you don't ask for stories by the way, because you'll get something different when you ask for stories.
You have to ask them about a time when something happened, something in particular happened, and that will get them to tell you a story. But if you don't do that, they default to giving you advice. And most of that is boring.
[00:07:28] Mahan Tavakoli: And that's a powerful question that you mentioned Paul, tell me about a time when. I spent many years of my life, almost 25 years with Dale Carnegie training, initially starting out in a training role than sales and running operations in DC, and then internationally. And one of the things we had to consistently, even a Dale Carnegie course work with people on is to think about an incident, a moment in time.
And a lot of times people have a tough time talking about those moments in time. And as you mentioned, the higher up they go in organizations, the more general the view becomes and they communicate in generalities rather than specifics and stories. So before we go deeper into the story, what is your definition of a story?
Is it just a moment in time or what makes for a good story?
[00:08:25] Paul Smith: So what a story is, a moment in time is not a bad definition. I would take that. I generally say, it's a narrative about something that happened to someone.
So notice there's a someone in there it's about a human being, not about some company or some general organization and it's about something that happened to that person. So, that's my general definition. When I get more specific in a training course, I go, well, there are six elements that make up that definition.
There's a time, a place, a main character, that main character has got a goal of some kind there's probably someone or something getting in the way of that goal, a villain, if you will. And there are events that transpire along the way that hopefully resolve themselves in the end. So those are definitions of a story, those are the attributes that I think define a story from a speech or a piece of advice or an email or a presentation or some other form of communication.
But those things don't make it a great story. If you play cards at all or poker that's jacks to open. Those six things, if you don't have those six things, you don't even have a story. So it can't be a good story or a bad story because it's not even a story yet.
You have to have those six things for it to even be a story. Now, to make it a great story, you need to add some things to those six things like a hero that your audience can relate to and a worthy challenge, some emotional engagement, an exciting structure to the story.
I mean, so there are other elements of surprise ending would be great. Those things take something that is a story and makes them a great story. But you got to start with those six things or the thing that you're talking about isn't even a story.
[00:10:08] Mahan Tavakoli: That's part of the challenge Paul I had read Joseph Campbell's work back in business school. One of my professors, Robert Bies, really loved Joseph Campbell. And over the years I understood the hero's journey a lot better, and the role it plays in storytelling and
in movie-making of all kinds, but that's a very complex way of trying to help people understand the arc of a story.
[00:10:36] Paul Smith: I'm glad you said that because I feel the same way. And I can't tell you how many people I run into that when I get to the part of the training course where I'm talking about structure, they go oh, are we going to use Joseph Campbell's hero's journey? And no, I mean, as you know, that's like a 17 step, very complicated call and return and all these, you know, if you're gonna write your first screenplay knock yourself out with Joseph Campbell's hero's journey.
If you're gonna, write your first novel, knock yourself out with that. But if you're going to try and tell a two minute story at work, there is no way you're going to get through all 17 steps. And by the way, two or three minutes is what these business stories should be.
So to me, it's really four steps. Context, challenge, conflict, resolution. And if you really wanted to get it down, even shorter conflict resolution, I mean, that's the heart of a story, conflict and resolution. Now sometimes that's not informative enough for somebody to sit down and craft out a story so I've got these eight questions that I typically teach people. If you answer these eight questions in this order, a story will emerge in the right format. It won't be as complex as the hero's journey, but it'll be good enough for a two or three minute business story. And we can talk about those if you're intetrested.
[00:11:48] Mahan Tavakoli: In order to be able to do that Paul it requires for us to also have self-reflection in that, these are not stories, even though they're a couple of minutes long that can just come to us at any moment in time, and we need to give it some thought we need to reflect on the stories that can resonate with other people.
With leaders and as you coach them through the training and your conversations, how do you guide them to try to dig through their past, think about their stories, so they have those two, three minute stories to be able to tell, using a formula you just mentioned.
[00:12:34] Paul Smith: Yeah. Great question, because you don't start the storytelling by figuring out the structure of a story. You start by figuring out what is your communication objective? So I'm a leader in an organization. I've got some problem that I'm trying to solve for my team. And here's the solution and I want to communicate it with a story or something, I want my team to be more creative and innovative, or I need to set a vision for the organization, or I need to lead change or, you know, whatever your leadership challenge is.
As you know, from lead to the story, there's 21 different leadership challenges in there. So you start there, what is my communication objective? And who's my audience. And once you know what those two things are, then you go look for a story that will help communicate that communication objective.
And that could be something from your past, it could be something from somebody else's past or something you saw happen, even though it didn't happen to you, it could be a story you heard somebody else tell it doesn't matter. And in fact, most of the stories you tell shouldn't be about you, you know, otherwise you're going to come across as pretty arrogant, right? If all the stories you tell her about you. So you start with the objective, start with the end in mind.
Then you go look for a story in your past or somebody else's past that will communicate that. And then you start working on the story, putting it together, use the right structure, use the right emotional engagement techniques, all that kind of stuff.
But first you've got to figure out the objective and find a story. And I guess you, let me ask you a more specific question. Yes. How do you find it? So there are three most productive places to look, to find a story once you know what your objective is, what you want people to think, feel or do. That's the way I describe it.
You want people to think, feel, or do something different. Now, go look for a success failure or a moment of clarity around that thing that you want your audience to think, feel or do. And you're likely to find a good story there. So a success as a time, you've seen somebody do that thing really well at a success, a time you've seen somebody do that thing, but really poorly and suffer the consequences.
That's a failure. And then the moment of clarity is. The moment that you realize that's a really important thing to think, feel, or do yourself well, tell people what happened to you, and then they'll realize it as well. So success failure, or a moment of clarity around the thing you want people to do is the best three places to go look to find a good.
[00:14:58] Mahan Tavakoli: And that is such a powerful lesson, Paul. I urge of the listeners to sit down and reflect on that. Those three are a great way for us to understand and come up with the stories that help us make the point that we want to make. The way you structure it and make it accessible , back to Joseph Campbell whose work is brilliant.
And I've referenced that many times with organizational branding and other other areas. It is inaccessible to most people to understand how can I now use this? As you said to tell a two, three minutes story. Which is what leaders have to do, the process you outlined is accessible.
Another point that you make Paul is storytelling is about 10, 15% of the time. It's not as if, as leaders we're walking around needing to be telling stories all the time.
[00:15:59] Paul Smith: Wouldn't that just be that'd be weird. Right? Just walking around, telling stories all day. It might be fun, I'll admit that the 10 to 15%, I don't have a lot of science behind that although that's just been my observation after 30 years of being in the working world, and 10 years of it dedicated to storytelling is, you go to a meeting, let's say it's a one hour meeting. A good leader will tell two or three stories during that one hour, not 10 stories, not zero, and probably more than one. So maybe two or three stories, each of these stories are two or three minutes long. So you do the math, that's six to nine minutes out of an hour that a good leader might be telling a story.
Well, that's 10 to 15% of the 60 minutes. So yeah, that's kind of where I came up with it. I mean, could you be a really effective storyteller on only 7%? Yeah, sure. 20%. Yeah. 50% yeesh. That's getting a really high, you know, so I think it's somewhere south of 50 and the, you know, 10, 15, 20.
[00:16:59] Mahan Tavakoli: The reason I mentioned it is the frustration for leaders on either extreme in that on one end, they feel like they have to constantly be telling stories, and that's not the case. And then on the other end, for many leaders who lack the ability to tell stories, they don't tell any stories. So part of what you're saying is you need to incorporate some stories, call it 10%, call it 15% in order to add power to the points that you're making. And you also referenced Paul, a study that I ended up reading, it's fascinating, done by Rob Walker and Joshua Glenn with the objects they bought on eBay.
[00:17:47] Paul Smith: This study was they went out and bought a hundred items from garage sales and flea markets and stuff, just cheap stuff,ashtray, a Nutcracker, a piggy bank. And then they sold all and by the way, the average price they spent was a dollar and 29 cents.
So they spent $129 on a hundred items. Then they sold all of them on eBay. And you know, eBay works, you've got a picture of the item and a description and then people bid on it. Well, they did that except, and I had the picture, but instead of the description, they just wrote these stories, these just interesting stories and all, and it was clear in the story that it was a fictional story. So they weren't like claiming that these items were any more special than they were, because they weren't special. They were very un-special items. But then they just put a silly little story with it and they ended up selling these items for, I think it was something like a 3000%, you know, markup, whatever that math turned out to be.
It just a, you know, ridiculous return on their investment. And I think the obvious reason is well, because they had interesting stories attached to them and, so people weren't necessarily buying the item , they were buying a story they're either buying an item with an interesting story attached to it, or an interesting story with an item attached to it. But either way, you know, it was the story is what made them special.
[00:19:06] Mahan Tavakoli: And in every instance, I've mentioned that Paul leaders, I talk to family members, everyone immediately gets it. No one questions why people would pay more for the same item when it has a story associated with it. That's why it is a powerful example showing the value of stories. We make sense of the world around us.
We value things more when there is a powerful story attached to it. So that's why that's a great example to visualize that if we are not telling stories to make our points, then we are valuing that item at the dollar 25, rather than being worth a heck of a lot more.
[00:19:54] Paul Smith: Right. Yeah. I'm glad you asked me about that. love that example.
[00:19:59] Mahan Tavakoli: So part of Paul, what you also mentioned in your 10 stories, great leaders tell is that in addition to understanding the importance of story, how to tell great stories and the power of storytelling. There are certain stories that leaders need to be able to tell. As you mentioned in your lead with storybook, you had more at 17 of them, but you narrowed it down to the 10 stories that are important for leaders to be able to tell.
Why did you narrow to these 10, before we talk about what those 10 stories are.
[00:20:38] Paul Smith: So my kind of starting list was more like 70, by the way. So. I think there are 21 different leadership challenges, leadership type stories, and lead with a story, and then I wrote a parenting with a story book and there's another 25, and my third book was sell with a story. So there's 25 sales and marketing type stories.
So if you add those up at somewhere around 70, and at some point I just got challenged like Paul that's a lot of stories. I mean, I'm new at this, come on. Where do I start? And so that was a fair challenge to me. And sat down to think about, well, if I had to pick 10 let's pick 10, what are the most important 10 for a leader to share?
And my criteria for finding those was first of all, they're the stories that my clients most frequently asked me for help on. So after 10 years of working with senior executives and storytelling, the 10 I wanted to come up with would have to be ones that I knew executives wanted to be able to tell.
So that tells me these are practical or in demand stories. Secondly, I wanted stories that would last a long time, meaning that they would be stories you could tell over and over and over again and get value out of it. So they wouldn't be things that would need to change frequently.
For example the vision story is one of them your company's vision story, your vision shouldn't change more than every five or six years, I mean, you know, it shouldn't stay the same always, but it shouldn't change every few months. So if you come up with a good vision story, you can tell it over and over and over again for a while.
Same for your strategy story strategy shouldn't change every month. But you may be going through some particular change that requires something and that story may be useless in a few days. , and then , Well, guess lastly, I wanted stories that I knew were in areas where leaders needed to exert some influence in an organization.
So there could be stories that met those other two criteria, but they just weren't important areas for senior leaders to engage on. .
[00:22:27] Mahan Tavakoli: I'm glad you narrowed it down to 10 Paul in that for you, you live storytelling. For most leaders, they want to use storytelling as a vehicle for effective communication. So narrowing it down to 10 , makes your concepts, more accessible and easier for them to actually implement in their daily interactions, which is a key part of the value that you bring. It's not the knowledge from the book, but someone reads and says, aha, now I understand if they can't then do something differently as a result of it. . So what are those 10 stories?
[00:23:09] Paul Smith: First of all, let me just recognize that the goal of that book was to be very accessible. In fact, it was designed to be read in about an hour. So the 10, so the first four go together because they're about setting the direction for the organization. So that's where we came from, so that's our founding story. Why we can't stay there, so that's a case for change story. Where we're going, which is a vision story. And how we're going to get there, which is a strategy story, because the strategies about how you're going to get from where you are now to where you want to be.
So imagine you're a leader and you can tell those four stories. You're much more likely to get the organization to go where you want them to go, because you can easily and in a human compelling, visceral manner, explain to them where we came from, why we can't stay there, where we're going and how we're going to get there.
All right, the next four go together as well. But they're more about who we are as an organization. So that's what we believe, so that's a corporate values story, corporate values and ethics story. Who we serve, so that's a customer story, a story about the customer so that everybody at the organization can have a more human understanding of the ultimate boss that you're all working for. What we do for our customers, which is kind of a classical sales story. So a story about what your company does, that's so awesome, people should pay you money to do it. And then number eight is how we're different from our competitors. So I call that a marketing story, because it's often the marketing department's job to differentiate you from your competitors.
Right. So again, if you can tell those four stories, you're much more likely to be able to explain, you know, who your company is, you know, what you believe, who you serve, what you do for those customers and how you're different from your competitors. And by the way, just because I call those last two is sales story in a marketing story doesn't mean that only the sales VP or the marketing director should tell those stories at all.
All of these stories are stories that I think every leader at a company should be able to tell. Now, if you work in the marketing department, you ought to be able to tell lots of marketing stories. If you work in the sales department, you ought to be able to tell lots of sales stories. But if you work in any other departments, you ought to be able to tell one good sales tool and one good marketing story.
And one of all the rest of these two, which by the way, was one of my other criteria that I forgot of how I picked them is I wanted them to be stories that every leader, no matter what functional discipline they come from, that they'd be relevant for them. Right. But if you're keeping track, there's two left.
All right. Number nine, 10. But, and these are more personal to you, the leader. So nine is why I lead the way I do. So that's a personal leadership philosophy story. And number 10 is why you should want to work here now. Not you, but you, whoever you're talking to. Right? So that's obviously a recruiting story.
And those two stories are important because every leader's job is finding talented people and bringing them into the organization and having them stay and follow your leadership. Again, that's not just the job of HR or the recruiting department. Every leader needs to be able to tell at least one of those types of stories as well.
And that I think is a pretty good starting place for a leader to start to develop some storytelling skills.
[00:26:15] Mahan Tavakoli: And then every one of those 10 are essential stories that leaders at all levels of the organization should be able to tell. I would love to touch on a couple of them, Paul based on the leaders I interact with some of the senior leadership teams that I coach and guide, many are pretty good at the, where we came from story.
They understand and have been telling that over and over again, sometimes help by their PR departments and others, but still those stories are really good. One of the areas that I find they have difficulty with is why we can't stay there in that in many instances, they're celebrating so much that where we have come from and a heritage of success that we've had, the why we can't stay there is where they face some difficulty.
And with respect to that, I had a conversation with John Kotter. He talks about the mistake leaders making change, and talking about the burning platform.
So what are some of your thoughts with respect to how leaders can better tell the why we tend to stay here stories?
[00:27:29] Paul Smith: I agree. It's often difficult for them to tell most leaders reasons and justification for doing anything, often comes down to some financial metrics. Well, this is going to increase our sales, or it's going to increase our profit margins, or it's going to increase the stock price, or it's going to be a net, you know, high net present value project or high ROI or whatever.
And you need those in business. And those are great decision-making criteria and planning criteria, but when it comes time to inform and motivate the organization, those things are often not very effective. And some of that's because oftentimes the employees whom you have to motivate and have to internalize the reason for these change, the changes are not, the shareholders of the company.
They're not the ones who are going to benefit from a higher sales and higher profits and better ROI and higher stock price and all that kind of stuff. So it's not very motivating to them. And even for people who do have a financial stake in the company, it's still, it's not the most motivating thing to say, oh, I want to, I really can't wait to get up and go to work tomorrow so that I can improve our quarterly profits by 3% this quarter. You know what I mean? It just, that's not the kind of thing that gets most people out of bed in the morning. The kind of thing that gets most people out of bed in the morning is being able to make a difference in somebody's life, whether it's theirs or our other peoples. And so that's why, I think the example that I used in the book was, you know, for a pharmaceutical company, it might be the story of one person whose life you saved and or the, or whose life you might save. If you finish working on this project, and invent this new drug or whatever. Now, most of us don't work at places where we make a life saving product. So that's a little bit unfair. I know, I understand that.
But everybody works at a company who does something that helps people, there's no company in the world that doesn't do something that helps somebody do something. And so to find these case for change stories, what you're looking for is one of those human beings, whether it's one of your customers or your employees, or somebody else's customers, or somebody else's employees, or your family, or somebody, somewhere is benefiting personally from the use of your product and would benefit from the change that you're trying to make in your organization, because it'll make your product or service better or more affordable, or make the world a better place or something. Find out who that person is. And tell a story about them, tell a story about their life before you make this change, and then how their life is going to be after you make this change.
And like I said, it could be the employees of the company. The change we're going through is really just to make your jobs easier. So I'm going to tell a story about Sally and accounts payable, who works 60 hours a week to get her job done. And we're going to put in this new accounts payable software, so she can go home at the end of the day at five o'clock instead of nine o'clock at night. So she can see her kids and, spend time with her husband and, have a weekend to herself instead of having to work all weekend. Now it's going to take a lot of work to put in this new software.
It's going to be two or three months of a lot of work, but the payoff is for you and people like Sally and tell her story. So those case for change stories are stories about the people who will benefit from making the change that you're recommending. Not about financials, not no numbers, no dollar signs, you already have that. And you're probably already using that. This is the people side of the equation.
[00:31:04] Mahan Tavakoli: And I wonder Paul, how this relates to the purpose of the organization and the numbers reached, be a part of this. I'm trying to understand this process. So someone working in a financial institution that is trying to provide funding to people in the community, they would give an example of an individual who has benefited from this funding and started their business . Would "we can do a lot more of this", be part of their story?
[00:31:43] Paul Smith: I think a more effective way would be to tell a story of somebody who did not get that funding or whatever that they were providing. So this is where it would be a failure story, let me tell you about somebody who, quit their company.
They had a passion to start this new business, or they've, dropped out of school just to go start this company. And they got, six months into it and ran out of cash. And they had a fabulous idea and a wonderful product, and everybody was pulling for them. And they went bankrupt in the first six months.
And so they went back to school and went back to the real crummy, old job with a crummy old boss and their crummy old office. And they never started a business ever again. We could have changed that we could have helped that woman, today be a successful CEO entrepreneur, but we didn't. And we didn't because of these five reasons.
And I want to change all five of those reasons. So that she, where people like her can be successful. So a failure stories are probably more effective in the case for change than success stories.
[00:32:43] Mahan Tavakoli: I love that Paul, because it's also focused on the users on the community, on others rather than being self focused. So it's not, we can't stay there because we want to grow. It's we can't stay there because of the impact on the community and the lack of impact if we stay there.
[00:33:11] Paul Smith: Being other focused, focused on other people is almost always more motivating than being me-focused. In fact, there's a number of studies that show this. And I, think I put this in one of my recent books, but if somebody had done a study where they, it was a telemarketing company and they tried some tests where they brought every, before their shift, before their telemarketing shifts, they brought everybody into a room 10 minutes before, and one group, they read them stories about how their job that they have in telemarketing is going to help them be more successful in the future when they get different jobs and they get out of college someday and they, you know, go become a boss somewhere. They're going to be much better at it. Well, that was one group.
The second group. They read them stories about people who benefited from the thing that there were telemarketing. I think they were raising money for some charity or whatever. So they read them stories about the people who were on the receiving end of the benefits of these charitable donations and what a difference it made in their lives.
So, and then the third group was a control group that they brought them in there just to, you know, have a cup of coffee for 10 minutes and then go start your work. Then they didn't do anything to it now, other than the coffee. And so this first group was again, was telling them stories about how you, the employee are going to benefit so much from the work you're about to go do.
And the other one was other people are going to benefit from the work that you are about to go do. And it should be no surprise to you that the control group that just drank the coffee, their sales didn't change because they didn't do anything different. The first group, their sales actually went up.
Okay. The group that was told how much you are going to benefit personally, not just the money we pay you, but you're going to benefit from having this kind of experience. So there sales went up. The third group though, that got told stories about other people doubled from that number, even stronger sales growth. So that turns out to be more motivating , to most people learning how their work is benefiting others, not just themselves.
[00:35:07] Mahan Tavakoli: That's a powerful example of how the, why we can't stay there can work, most especially when focused on the other people. But another one of the stories Paul, where I see a lot of leaders having difficulty with is the why I lead the way I do in that it requires a certain level of authenticity.
It requires going beyond the standard press releases and standard PR coaching than some of the leaders have gotten. So how would you guide leaders to effectively tell their own story? Why I lead the way I do.
[00:35:50] Paul Smith: I think here, I've just got to give you an example, that's the best way to learn this. So, this one came from a guy named Mike and his first leadership experience, so he went to west point. So he's a military guy, US army or was at that age. So his first real leadership opportunity was in the military and it was in a training exercise where he was going to be commanding a platoon of a tank with several other army soldiers in the tank.
And the exercise was, friendly fire kind of thing, where they were going to have. It was just a training exercise it's out in California, they're on a 10 mile long, five mile wide training field, 400 tanks lined up on this side of the field, 400 tanks lined up on that side and they're going to go into battle together, but they're not going to shoot live ordinances at each other. Their gun turrets have been outfitted with laser pointers with some receivers on the tank so that they know when they got, virtually shot. So anyway, he happens to be assigned to be the leader of the first tank that's going to go into battle on his side of the field with 399 other tanks behind it.
So of course, the night before the exercise, he sits down with the commanding officer and they look at a map of the terrain and figure out where the high ground is. So you can have the best odds of winning the exercise.
Well, the next morning the exercise starts and he's in his tank and racing out onto the field at 40 miles an hour, however fast those tanks go. And he gets to the first place where he's got to make a decision to turn left or turn, right. And he just doesn't know what to do. Like he, I guess, a battlefield looks different when you're looking at it through the crack, in that patch of a tank bouncing up and down at 40 miles an hour, then it does on a map in a conference room. So he's got a decision to make. He can either stop the tank, turn the light on, get the map out, figure out the right thing to do, which might take, I don't know, 30 seconds or option two is he could just guess.
Well, Mike chose option two he yells out drivers turn left, even though he has no idea if that's the right thing to do. So the driver turns left, a few seconds later, the light inside of his tank starts flashing, which means you just got shot by laser you're dead. So, they gotta stop the tank and pop the hat. So those guys are done for the day.
Well, a few seconds later, tank number two turns left right behind them because that's their job. Follow the leader. Right? Well then there's light starts flashing there. They're done well, tank number three, turns left and their lights starts flashing well. But the guys in tank number four, saw three tanks turn left and get virtually shot and killed.
So they realized that was a mistake. So tank number four, turned right and then 396 other tanks turned, right. They took the high ground and won the exercise. Now Mike made a mistake that day. He turned left when he should have turned right. Leadership mistake, but he learned a valuable leadership lesson from that.
And as this, sometimes it's better to make the wrong decision quickly, then make the right decision slowly, because just imagine what would have happened if he had chosen option one, stop the tank, turn the light on and got the map out. There'd have been 400 tanks lined up, getting picked off one of the time.
But because he turned left and things went wrong, people realized it and they can monitor and adjust. And the same thing happens in business all the time. We get, so paralyzed with, analysis paralysis. We'll be analyzing a situation for months before we decide what to do. And that whole time our competition is still moving forward.
So sometimes it's better to make the, just make a decision, make an informed decision and educated guess and if you're wrong, you'll find out. Life like war, like business has a way of letting you know that you made a bad decision and you can change it. So that is an example of a leadership philosophy story, because it explains why Mike is a decisive leader today.
It explains why he has become the leader in that. Why that is one of his leadership philosophies is that it's better sometimes to make , the wrong decision quickly than the right decisions slowly. And now he could explain that to you by just saying, look I'm a decisive leader. And I got that way because I believe that sometimes making the wrong decision quickly is better than making the right decisions slowly.
And that sounds like a nice little bumper stickers. But like, what does that mean? And why should I believe that? And what does that even mean? Like, what's an example went out. Like it just, it raises more questions than it answers, but by telling you the story, which is his leadership philosophy story, not his leadership philosophy, it's easy for anybody to understand.
And by the way, that's just one, like every leader probably has multiple principles that they follow in leadership and they probably learned all of them from something that happened. And so you might need four or five or six of these leadership philosophy stories to really fully kind of articulate why you became the leader you became and what your leadership philosophy is. But guaranteed for your audience, listening, things like that have happened to them that have shaped who they are as a leader and how they lead. And those are the stories you need to get back in touch with so that you can tell them that.
[00:40:48] Mahan Tavakoli: Thinking about those leadership philosophy stories, Paul, is it best to focus on leadership philosophies that the story is an example of a setback or a failure or an example of success. How do you guide leaders as they're reflecting on leadership philosophies? Because I imagine you can come up with different kinds of stories that communicate the same leadership philosophy.
Is it dependent on the leader's style or do you have guidance with respect to the type of stories leaders should seek in being able to tell their leadership philosophy story?
[00:41:30] Paul Smith: Yeah I think you need a mix of them. think these kinds of leadership, philosophy stories like case for change stories often work better from as failure stories than a success stories, but you definitely need a mix. What you don't want to have for sure. Is all of them be success stories.
Because again, that just sounds like you're bragging, right? And most people don't want to work for a braggadocious, you know, self-absorbed leader. And if all you do is walk around telling success stories, that really is going to be how you come across. The other reason why failure stories work particularly well for leaders in general is that it's humanizing and show some vulnerability. And most importantly, it shows your organization that you're more interested in nurturing their growth and development than you are about protecting your own ego, because you're willing to share your failures specifically so that the people who work for you don't have to make the same mistakes you made. Insecure, in gracious leaders, hide their failure stories.
They don't want anybody to know that they've ever made a mistake. They want the people to think they're perfect. And that's the kind of leader nobody wants to work for. They'd rather work for the leader that will say, oh, of course I'm human. I make mistakes all the time. Let me tell you the three biggest mistakes I ever made. One of them got me fired. Okay. Like who everybody wants to hear those stories, right? Because they want to avoid making those three big mistakes and avoid getting fired. So please leaders, please tell your failure stories. , your people will appreciate it.
[00:43:08] Mahan Tavakoli: Part of this is Paul, once you go through this and read the , 10 stories, great leaders tell once you go through it, and think about a couple of stories for each one of the elements that you mentioned, then you have your stories. It's not as if every single day you wake up and you have to come up with new stories to tell.
There are instances where you can use new stories and come up with new stories. But in most instances, whether it's where we came from why we are, or how we are different from our competitors, why I lead the way I do these are stories that leaders can incorporate after they have a good sense of what that story is, can incorporate in their communication repeatedly, whether communicating internally, representing that future for the organization and their team members or communicating externally.
[00:44:06] Paul Smith: These stores are good, both inside and outside the company. And it's kind of obvious, I think when you look through them, which is which. Like your strategy story, that's typically an inside thing, right? You typically don't go out telling your strategy to the world. But you will tell a recruiting story obviously is almost always an external story, not an internal story.
So there's a mix of both of those in this list.
[00:44:27] Mahan Tavakoli: Leaders are telling their stories, Paul, how can they make their stories more memorable and more impactful?
[00:44:36] Paul Smith: First of all, being more memorable will make it more impactful because if people don't remember your story, obviously it's not going to have any future impact on them. So one of those things is a big avenue to get the other one. And the main thing that makes stories more memorable, believe it or not is a surprise. Surprises in a story, often a surprise ending in a story. So like, you know, you love a surprise ending in the movies you watch and in the books you're reading. But a surprise plays an even more important role in leadership stories. And that is that it makes it more memorable for a very physiological reason.
And that is that when humans are surprised, it triggers a release of adrenaline in their system. And adrenaline is shown to make the, what psychologists call the memory consolidation process faster and more efficient. So literally when somebody is surprised, everything that happens for the next 30 seconds, minute, two minutes, three minutes, as long as that adrenaline is still kind of coursing through their body, their memory is heightened. They're going to remember what happens during those few moments better than when they did not have a rush of adrenaline.
So having a surprise in your story triggers that adrenaline release, which makes everything else that's about to happen in your story up to, and including the end of the story and the lesson and the recommended action that you want them to take.
So it serves a very practical purpose to put a surprise in your story because it'll make it more memorable and that will make it more impactful.
[00:46:07] Mahan Tavakoli: Paul, every story can have an element of surprise. It's not as if this needs to be something that is drastically different than your regular storytelling. You can change the structure of the story to have an element of surprise in it.
[00:46:22] Paul Smith: In fact, all of these techniques to improve story their techniques, and you can apply them to almost any story. You don't have to pick. Oh, I need to pick a story that's got a surprise in it. Well, no, just make any story, but then make it surprising, but just by using these techniques. So just by way of example. So imagine there's a, and there was at one point a nine year old boy named James. So James is nine-year-old. James is in the kitchen with his mom and his mom's sister while mom and auntie are sitting at the kitchen table, having a cup of tea, James is standing at the stove, watching the teakettle boil, and he's just fascinated with it, he's watching the jet of steam come out of the cattle and he's got a spoonie, holds it up there into the jet of steam and watches as little drops of water condensed on the spoon. They trickle down into a cup that he's got sitting there. So it doesn't make a mess in his mom's kitchen. And he's just watching that cycle go over and over and over again.
Just fascinated with it. Well, eventually his mother gets tired of him just hanging out in the kitchen and she kind of barks at him. She's like, James! Go do your homework, read a book, ride your bike. You know, I want you to shame yourself, just staring at the tea kettle boiling for an hour now. Well, fortunately young James was undaunted by his mother's admonition because 20 years later at the age of 29, of course, and in the year, 1765, James Watt reinvented the steam engine ushering in the industrial revolution that we of course all benefit from today and all based on that fascination with steam that he developed at the age of nine in his mother's kitchen.
Now I know you read that story, so you knew it already, but most of your audience they're listening to us today unless they happen to be a history buff. We're probably surprised at the end of that story that it turned out to be, oh, that was James Watt, the guy who invented the steam engine. Oh yeah. You know now but ask yourself why was that a surprise and the reason it was a surprise because that story, I didn't just make up that story that I read that story in a book title, James Watt it was written in 1905 by Andrew Carnegie, who was, it was a biography of the inventor of the steam engine.
So of course it was no surprise to me at all that the story in chapter one about nine-year-old James was about the guy who was going to grow up to invent the steam engine. The whole book was about James Watt, but again, your, to your audience, unless they're history buff, they probably were surprised because I didn't tell you his last name.
And I didn't tell you the year either. So two of the things that I coach my audience in that structure, those eight questions you have to answer in a story. Two of the early questions are when did it happen to where and when did it happen and who was the main character. Okay. And I answered them, but only partly I told you where it happened, mom's kitchen, but I didn't tell you when it happened. And I told you his, name told you his first name, but it didn't tell you his last name. So that's the technique. You withhold a part of the information that you're supposed to give the audience that they're expecting to get at the beginning of the story.
And don't give it to them to the end that until the end, and it creates a surprise ending just magically. And you really can't do it with almost any story.
[00:49:30] Mahan Tavakoli: And it makes it really powerful. I love that story because as you say, Paul, It shows that by slightly rearranging some of the information you make what can seem like a normal sounding story. If you had started out by saying James Watt, the founder of the steam engine was in his mother's kitchen that wouldn't have had the same excitement, same surprise ending wouldn't have been as memorable.
So when leaders think about the stories they tell, it's the same story at times, it's leaving out a couple of elements until the very end that makes it a surprise. So they don't need to be script writers, movie writers with the 10 stories that you share in your book, leaders can with some reflection and a little thought put into it, become great storytellers of memorable stories and get much more engagement.
[00:50:34] Paul Smith: Yeah, that's the goal for sure.
[00:50:36] Mahan Tavakoli: Paul, in addition to your own book, are there any leadership resources you typically find yourself recommending to leaders as they want to understand the process of storytelling and how to do it more effectively?
[00:50:49] Paul Smith: Well, there, there are a lot of books out there. Like I said I've read almost all of them. That's not true because people write more every year. So, at one point I'd read almost all of them. And that's a great place to start if you're somebody who likes to learn by reading by some books on the topic and I've just written some of them, there are lots of others, and there, there are some very good ones. But people learn a lot of different ways these days. And thank goodness that we have a lot of options, you know? So w watch, you know, watch a YouTube video, you know, take a training online training course go to an in-person training course hire a coach.
The analogy I use is if you woke up one day and decided you wanted to learn how to play the guitar. What would you do? Would you just go buy a guitar and put it under your bed and hope that by osmosis you'd just, you'd learn, wake up one morning knowing how to play the guitar.
Well, of course not. Now you'd go take guitar lessons from somebody who knew how to play the guitar. Was the same with storytelling. It's an art, not a science. But you can learn it, you know, just like you may not be musically inclined. Like I'm not musically inclined, but I'll bet if I wanted to learn to play the guitar, I probably could.
I mean, I might not ever be great at it, but I could probably get good at it by following a proven method for learning it and getting somebody who knew how so it's the same as storytelling. If you treat it like any other business skill that you want to acquire. Then you will acquire it, which means reading some books, taking some classes, emulating somebody who does it well, and all three of the above.
So that's the main advice it gets treated, treat it like a real serious leadership skill and invest some time and resources into learning it.
[00:52:22] Mahan Tavakoli: That's why while it's important to watch great speakers until those great stories, I think we need a structure. And what you've done in your books is provide a structure. So leaders can find a way to tell these stories effectively because , their role is not storytelling.
They need to be able to use storytelling in their roles. So how can the audience find out more about what you do, Paul connect with you, and also find out more about your books.
[00:52:55] Paul Smith: Yeah, thanks. But probably the best place to do all of those things is on my website. So there the links to the books and the training courses and things are there. So that's a leadwithastory.com. So just the name of my first book, and I never got more creative after that with website naming. So it just stuck so lead with a story..
[00:53:15] Mahan Tavakoli: I really appreciate the conversation Paul, most especially the fact that , you've gone beyond just talking about why storytelling is important, and how to do it. Well, you've broken a down to make it accessible. And that's really important in your book. You also say stories, move us, they engage us, they inspire us. Stories give us examples of how to act and how not to act the best ones. Stay with us for forever.
Thank you Paul Smith for helping leaders that listen to this podcast, be able to tell stories that will stay with their team members, organizations, and the community .
Thank you so much for joining the conversation. Paul Smith.
[00:54:07] Paul Smith: . This was fun. Thanks for having me.