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Storytelling Is Your Key To Leading Through Transformation

Written by: Andrea Sampson, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 

These past few years have been challenging for me both professionally and personally. As a Founder and CEO of Talk Boutique, I found myself in a very difficult situation as the Covid-19 pandemic was declared in March of 2020. I was in the midst of purchasing the company from my then-business partner.


In fact, we were in the final stages of a highly sensitive and confidential transaction when suddenly every client project and engagement we were scheduled to begin or were working on, suddenly cancelled. Revenue and engagements that we had worked for months to secure and would help our business thrive, disappeared within the space of 3 days.

I’m not going to sugarcoat this, I was shocked and terrified, I mean what was I purchasing and how would the business survive without any revenue on the books?


It was a small comfort that my business wasn’t alone in this situation, the reality is, for anyone in the event or event support business, March 2020 onwards was incredibly difficult. To provide context, my business, Talk Boutique is focused on developing and representing deep subject matter experts who want to share their message more widely. We have a Speakers Bureau of Thought Leaders and a speaker/communication coaching business focused on corporate and academic clients who want and need to help their experts communicate better. We were very event-driven given the nature of our business.


And remember, I was in the middle of a confidential purchase transaction which of course intensified the worry and the impact. I needed to keep my team motivated through the change in management; shift direction to support our clients and to focus on revenue generation through the development and introduction of new products that supported a new virtual reality.


I think you will agree that we are truly living in, and leading through challenging times. As leaders, we have the opportunity to step up, to communicate from our hearts by courageously telling our stories and in doing so, demonstrate effective leadership techniques for our teams and for those who will lead in the future so that we can create the impact we envision for our lives and our work.


Leaders need to create a cohesive message and plan during challenges

Our stories and our truths come first from our lives and second from our experience as leaders. The story I shared above is a personal story, my story of stepping into my own leadership, choosing to continue to create change in the face of the unknown and trusting that my team will come along with me, following my lead.


As I took over the leadership of Talk Boutique, my company, it was important that I have a plan, a plan that could be actioned inside of a global pandemic. The only thing I knew for certain was that I couldn’t predict anything, I could only plan for short-term actions, so that is what I did.


Using our resources, we created virtual events and offerings for clients who were challenged in a changing world. We gave and didn’t ask, we showed up every day and stayed on track for a vision of helping the world transform and we offered support using our roster of experts.


From deciphering the weak signals from the future through our work with futurists to learning how to self soothe during difficult days from our mental health experts to unravelling the mysteries of our bodies with our life and health science experts, our “Sense Making Conversations” provided windows of understanding that we offered to anyone who needed support.


This was an awareness and interest strategy to keep Talk Boutique top of mind, and to demonstrate our commitment to creating a better future and our genuine care and concern for our clients. We also developed a new product suite to support a world gone virtual through online live and recorded training programs with the introduction of the Thought Leader Academy.


As the business morphed; so did my focus as a leader. I had to become more visible, more comfortable in the public eye and more clear with my team. Planning became a regular part of my work, what did we keep and what did we allow to fall away, sometimes I asked myself this daily.


Planning, communicating, and decision-making are the most important parts of leadership and often the most difficult. While leaders are pulled in many directions and asked to participate in many things, I have learned that these are often just distractions from the important. My true job, as the leader, is to carve out the time to review my plan, communicate my vision and make the decisions that keep me on strategy everything else is optional.


Vulnerability and emotions amplify the message and create deep connections.

The reality is, storytelling is a way for us to demonstrate our own humanity and to show that even though challenges happen, there are always ways to successfully navigate. Often when challenging times hit, new or inexperienced leaders freeze, not knowing how to react, how much to disclose or who to trust. This is where your stories, as a leader, are essential. Not just the facts of the story, but the emotions as well.


Above, I mentioned my own fear as I faced the reality of the situation in my business in March 2020. What I knew of my team was we were resilient, and even though I couldn’t share all of the details with my team, what I did share were the successes I knew we could have. I reminded them of the success stories we had achieved that demonstrated the importance of supporting our clients, and from these we created new offerings.


Our “Sense Making Conversations” demonstrated our capabilities while providing much needed support to our communities. What we did was to create a new story about our company, one that included a deep commitment to community support.


This commitment drove us to create another offering during the height of racial injustice in the US, to become allies in developing a world where equity and inclusion are the standards, allowing us to live equality in plural societies. This offering was called “Courageous Conversations” and featured people of colour engaged in conversations that created a deeper understanding of the issues and the potential solutions.


We were telling stories to ourselves and to others about the world we wanted to live in. From Sense-Making Conversations to Courageous Conversations to our work on teaching storytelling, we knew that if we could create a common and agreed upon view of our world, together we could create it.


Why do stories create change?

I deeply believe in the power of story as a leadership tool and I’m not alone. There is plenty of evidence-backed research on how it enhances memory, creates deep engagement, and increases understanding. I have included some additional reading below if you are interested to learn more about this. In a nutshell, what these articles and research tell us is that the brain is predictive and associative. Our brains need a vision of what we want to create (predictive); and, cross brain meridian interaction (associative) in order to take action and create long-term memory.


Stories engage the sensory areas of the brain, they fire up to 7 regions and drive neural coupling (cross brain meridian engagement), emotional transportation (visionary experiences) and trigger our brains to release dopamine, oxytocin and endorphins, creating a deeply experiential environment that leaves us in an emotionally charged state ready for action. Storytelling can be used as an intentional tool and it enables the listener to turn the story they’ve just heard, into their own idea and experience. We align to and adopt stories that move us emotionally and rationally. Stories are the catalyst for change through deep understanding.


The global pandemic is finally beginning to recede after two long years, and the business I purchased is now very different. We have created a new story for ourselves, we see the company differently and I, as the leader, am different. I have lived with and benefited from the power of story and I can see the impact that we, as a company have made, and continue to make, for our clients, our community and to some degree on the world.


What I know is that the work we do in helping experts and changemakers transform into thought leaders using the power of story, we are helping to shape a new vision of what’s possible.


If you are interested in learning more about how we can help you or your business use a story to create the impact you want to make, reach out, we would love to hear from you!


Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and visit my website for more info!


 

Andrea Sampson, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Andrea helps her clients craft stories from facts and deliver talks that are compelling and engaging. As the CEO and Founder of Talk Boutique, Andrea leads a team of coaches and provides her expertise as an Executive Communication Coach to senior leaders and professional speakers worldwide. Her experience as a TED trained Speakers Coach, with a special skill in understanding technical and science-based disciplines, Andrea helps her clients make their work accessible while maintaining its credibility and uniqueness. As part of the team to bring Singularity University to Canada, Andrea has worked with and trained Singularity University faculty worldwide. Andrea also holds a TEDx license (TEDxCorktown).

 

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