I am a firm believer in the power of storytelling to help us make sense of organizations, people and communities. Here is one story that has stuck with me for years.
I was a science teacher in the early stages of my career. I taught prekindergarten through eighth grade science in Friends (Quaker) schools in Philadelphia area. My second graders had worked for months on a science project and we were now ready to share the results with the parents. Invitations were sent out and we planned a big celebration on the school stage for all the parents to attend. The children had written a play to share their science journey as they loved to perform. They were proud, confident and eager to share their story with their parents.
The day of the event arrived. The parents gathered in a big semi-circle on the stage. Next, the students came on the stage. I’m not sure what happened but all of the sudden they went from organized, practiced and clear to absolutely out of control. They had that same explosive energy kids have when you first let them out on the playground. The entire event was going from a rehearsed presentation to the cliff of a disaster. I still can see these three little boys just running in circles around the stage screaming and me watching with shock. All the practice of our dress rehearsals had evaporated. Things were going bad fast.
The parents sat silent and in awe of a wave of increasingly crazy behavior. I vividly remember stepping into the swirl of 40 wild second graders and asking them to stop and sit down. They looked at me with shock yet ever so gently, they sat down. I didn’t yell, I just used gentle arm movements to encourage them to be quiet and still. I then said to them….”I believe in you and I know you can do better than this”. I then asked them…”would you like to try again?”
In an instant, they nodded their heads knowing they really did want to be more successful. They started over and delivered a remarkable science presentation full of energy and pride. After the event, a parent came up to me and said…”I could not believe you got them to settle and restart just by telling them you believed in them.”
I am often reminded of this story when I am coaching leaders. Sometimes telling our people that we believe in them can be the most empowering words a leader can deliver. Telling our employees that not only do we believe in them but we also know they can rise to their greatest potential is a powerful motivator.
What stories do you carry that help ground you and support others to bring their best selves to their home, work, and community. I’d love to hear your story
How can you use the power of story?