In 1959, the police were called to a segregated library in South Carolina when a 9 year old boy refused to leave. He later got a PhD in physics from MIT and became an astronaut and the library that refused to lend him books is now named after him – Dr Ronald McNair life history centre.
Another 9 year old boy’s life changed in the year 1982 -9000 miles away. He was the only boy, in a huge auditorium listening to Ronald McNair. His father had whisked him away from his school and he was still in his uniform. He was the only kid in the entire auditorium. The boy was enthralled by the possibilities in front of him.. that boy was me!
My father isn’t around anymore and neither is Dr. McNair, but stories are so powerful, they stay with us long after the storytellers move on. Talking about stories, this is mine –
It was a rainy Mumbai day in the month of July 6 years ago and I was driving to work and that was the day, the world shifted on its axis…
The sky was drab, just like my mood, the constant drizzle added to the chaos already in my head!
I was stuck in a traffic jam at the vegetable market near Dadar- Mumbai Monsoons meets Dadar vegetable market. Not a great place to be stuck in.
There were people from different walks of life who seemingly joined at the hip for a few moments! Lots of honking, motorists desperately inching forward, hand carriage pullers with the day produce, a BMTC bus.. commuters from Dadar station were piling into cabs
It was then, some questions started bubbling in my head
“What was my purpose in life? Where was the meaning? What does success mean to me?
These didn’t quite smack me on my head as I had been thinking on these lines for a while. But, to feel it with such clarity – it was something else.
At this time, I was a successful leader at a Fortune 500 media organization. I was heading sales and business development for a brand that I really loved and believed in. (So much so that I seriously considered, getting tattooed with that logo, but that story’s for another day.)
A great career, a great address and salary (more than what I thought I was worth). It was all good, or so, it seemed.
I had a great thing going at work, I was producing results, but somewhere along the line, I had adopted a series of unhealthy leadership habits (both for myself and my extended team). In the process of getting there, I was damaged goods, I was not in a happy place. I had become a leader not worth following, a dysfunctional one, the blunt edge of the instrument.
I had to find my purpose, my meaning!
Baaaaaaammmmm! A car horn honked loudly and snapped me back to reality and I drove to work!
I quit, a week later!
In my journey down my own rabbit hole, I realized that maybe my meaning would arise when I help other leaders find theirs.
8 years down the line, I have coached more than 100 CXO’s across the globe and I am filled with gratitude every single day. As the famous psychologist Roy Baumeister remarked “It is the turns we take that adds meaning to our journey.”
Why do you need to get better at storytelling?
How we show up at work, with our teams is connected very strongly with the way we show up in life and vice versa. We don’t wear a coat that says “person” on the back only to remove it from the doorway of our office and wear another coat that says “professional”. We bring our whole selves to work every single day
Let’s try a fun exercise:
“If you squeeze on orange when you stand on the street, what do you get on your hands? “When you squeeze an orange in your kitchen, what do you get?”
No matter where we are, whether at work or at play – when a certain stimuli is applied — stress, uncertainty, empathy, joy etc., whatever is inside is what will come out.
Here’s the thing, smart people are smart not because they have all the answers, but because they ask for help.
I got myself credentialed and became an executive coach. There was this amusing instance 5 years ago, this one time, I was facilitating a coaching conversation with senior leaders at an organization. The HR manager who was curating the program invited a senior leader to say a few words.
The senior leader said,“all this leadership development stuff is okay, what’s the big deal? In my career, I didn’t have a coach and I did okay”…and there was a hush in the audience.
My friend told him gently, “sure, you can be a leader without investing in a coach. After all, no one teaches us how to breathe and we just breathe…Then, why do some people seek out Art of Living course courses or learn Pranayama? If we can get better at breathing.”
Can’t we get better at leading people better? Can’t we get better at telling stories that move, influence and impact the world around us?
Effective storytelling by business leaders is the answer.