Executive Retreat, National Storytelling Festival

A recent trip was a perfect blend of business and pleasure. It started with a retreat in New York state that I led for the Community Health Foundation’s Health Leadership Fellows program. The group is composed of dedicated, caring healthcare executives (and their advisors), who worked hard, enjoyed their time together–and were very eager to learn how to power up their communications with storytelling. An energetic group, they displayed a high level of creativity in the stories they developed and told together as well as in the projects they’ve designed as demonstrations of cross-agency teamwork.

They are the first of three classes under an executive development program aimed at enhancing the effectiveness of healthcare agencies, their interactions with their communities, and their work with one another. They also are the kind of people that make my work extremely rewarding, and I’m excited that the co-leader I had invited, Doug Lipman, and I have been invited to work with the classes in 2007 and 2008 as well. I had the pleasure of working with Doug earlier this year at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and I’ll be joining him and other organizational storytellers next week for a special program expressly for United Way agencies, to be held at the International Storytelling Center in Jonesborough, TN, (http://www.storytellingcenter.net/)

On the way back to the Seattle area last week, I stopped in Jonesborough for the National Storytelling Festival. It was the first time I’d been able to attend the lively celebration of the art of storytelling in its various forms. The event is co-sponsored by the International Storytelling Center and National Storytelling Network (www.storynet.org), and it’s managed by the ISC.

What struck me about the professional performers is that there are so many ways to tell a good story. You don’t need to be dynamic, play an instrument, sing well, be an accomplished actor, or look glamorous. You do need to be authentic, construct a good tale, and be mindful of your audience. It also helps to inject a bit of gentle humor when appropriate.

The same is true for leaders who want to learn to use stories on a regular basis. I’m often asked, “Can storytelling be taught? I see others leaders who are naturals, but I’m not.” My response: “Yes, you are a ‘natural’. Telling stories is the way humans have traditionally communicated with one another. When someone asks you how a project is going, you usually don’t recite stats; instead, you relate a story about something that just happened, something that was surprising or disappointing or frustrating or….” The point is, we tell stories all the time. Corporate storytelling is about learning how to tell them deliberately.

To learn more, you may want to check my web site, www.corpstory.com.

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