We are all storytellers, constantly telling ourselves stories about every aspect of our personal and business lives, says Claire Taylor from The Story Mill.
The quality of our lives and our businesses is greatly influenced by the way we tell our stories, i.e. how we frame our experiences.
When we tell ourselves empowering stories that support our success then all's well. The trouble is when we're telling ourselves negative stories, we wind-up feeling stuck with a problem.
Claire Taylor co-founder of The Story Mill and author of 'The Tao of Storytelling', recommends five steps we need to take to shift any business story from being stuck to being successful:
1. Recognise that your frustration is coming from a story that you're telling yourself
It is easy to see our stories as the truth about a situation. However they are not the truth – they're just our perspective. What creates frustration is not the 'facts' that we see, but the meaning that we've give them or they story that we tell. In businesses, these stories often become a collective perspective and so everyone in the company believes them.
So the first step is to recognise that we're simply telling a story – we're framing our experience with meaning. Next we need to ask if our story is keeping us and others stuck in frustration, fear, stress and other disempowering emotions.
Now is the time to let go of the disempowering story and start creating a new story about our business.
2. Redefine your difficult problem story into an inspiring challenge story
If you frame problem stories as difficult, impossible or insurmountable you are actually portraying yourself and your business as victims of circumstance. This is demotivating and depletes people's energy and enthusiasm.
So what can you do instead? Start by redefining the problem story into one that is empowering. That begins with taking responsibility – so if the market or the economy has changed, how are you going to respond to it? How can you anticipate change and surf the waves of it? See yourself and your business as the heroes of the piece. Reframing the problem from this perspective will help people feel more enthusiastic, and even excited, about tackling a challenge as they see themselves as heroic wave surfers.
3. See your problem story as an opportunity for growth within your business and yourself
Resolving these business challenges calls for innovation, creativity and processes to implement your ideas. Innovation is about creating value from what you have right now.
Begin by creating a vision of what your business success looks like and be sure to include how you'll know that you have arrived. Tell the story of having arrived – what would you see, hear, feel? Who would be there? What would you be doing?
4. Consider your stakeholders as your allies along the journey.
It is easy to get into blaming others for your business problems. If you find yourself doing this remember that you're telling yourself a negative story about them and your business.
These people can be demons and devils or warriors, guides and guardians. The latter is definitely more useful because your stakeholders can be your greatest allies in achieving success. When you see them as warriors, guides and guardians you'll look for their strengths, open up to their ideas, ask for their help, trust them and innovate together.
5. Remember that successful teams comprise ordinary people inspired by great leadership to achieve extraordinary things
You may be projecting your own fears and feelings of vulnerability on to them. If you're doing that, then don't be surprised when you get your story mirrored back to you by the way that people behave.
Taking the opportunity to learn how to empower, trust and learn from the people in your team, would enhance your self-image as a leader. Investing in your people begins with believing in them and telling yourself positive stories about them, even if they're not like you.
In summary, we tell ourselves stories all the time. Mostly these stories are kept to ourselves and often we don't even acknowledge that we're carrying them. However we live by our stories and they drive our behaviour.
Stories can be changed once we acknowledge them, recognise them as stories and make the choice to create new and more empowering business narratives.
Your new inspiring stories create shifts in attitude and motivate you and your stakeholders into doing the activity it takes to produce the business success that you desire.