Why Leaders Harness the Power of Story

“I had to give a five-minute devotional on confidentiality. As hard as I tried, at first I could not come up with anything worthwhile to say,” said my wife, Kathy.

Kathy is a Stephen Minister at Church of the Apostles. We just came back from a trip to Anaheim, California. She attended a one-week Stephen Ministry leadership conference. This was the first time I attended a conference as the supporting spouse.

She rushed out of the room for the conference at 8 am and returned at 8 pm. I had to attend a couple “bring your spouse” dinners and be nice.

After we came back, Kathy was asked to give a devotional to the Stephen Ministry team. Leaders are speakers, and Kathy speaks at least two times during the week we are at the Youth Ablaze conference in Uganda.

In preparing this devotional, she was struggling. The topic was assigned to her, but she was asking herself, “What do I say?”

One day she walked into my office and said, “I figured it out!”

“How did you figure it out?” I asked.

“I was looking at myself in the mirror and saw the pin Chuck gave me.”

My friend Chuck served on submarines in the sixties. Those years of service to our country and, especially, the highly selected qualifications of serving on a submarine were the best experiences of his professional life.

He served on the Quillback. The crew still meets up every year in different locations throughout the country. They are all now in their seventies and eighties.

Chuck was visiting us a few months ago, and Kathy admired the submariner pin he was wearing.

It said, “Silent Service.”

This message resonated deeply with Kathy. She told him how much she loved the pin. He said, “I have another one at home. Take this one.” Now she wears this pin often and was wearing it during her struggle on what to say about confidentiality.

She told me, “When I saw the pin in the mirror, I remembered what you tell me whenever I get stuck in preparing for a talk.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“You tell me to tell them a story,” she answered.

After her speech she said, “I told them the story of how I received this wonderful gift of a pin from Chuck. I relayed the experience of how much it means to me and why. This led to another story which highlighted the message of ‘silent service’ and confidentiality,” she explained.

“I am so excited for you. I am proud of you,” I said.

She continued, “You won’t believe how many compliments I received, not only from the audience but also from our leadership. I was overwhelmed. Then, this morning, I even got an email from a friend who was there. She told me what she learned from one of my stories. I didn’t even see that in the story.”

I struggle the same way Kathy struggled.

When she told me the story of what she went through in preparing this talk, I could relate to her. When assigned a topic, I immediately ask myself, “What am I going to say?”

After running in circles for a few days, I always come to the right question. “What story should I tell which relates to this topic?”

People want prescriptions. They want the “Three Secrets,” the “Five Practices of a Successful Salesperson,” the “Best Practices in Studying for a Final Exam,” and “Losing the Belly Fat by Avoiding These Three Foods.” It is like we are wired for easy, quick answers.

But what really makes a difference? What sticks with us? What we remember and repeat to others are stories. Stories of our families. Stories from college. Stories from our first sale, how we landed the first job, how we met our first mentor, where we learned that excellent life lesson.

Stories stay with us.

Our stories are our connection to all the people we meet—even people from other nations and cultures. People are people no matter how old or young or where they were born and raised. Stories connect us.

Whenever you are asked to speak on a topic, ask yourself the question, “What story should I tell which highlights this topic?”

This is what I do when I write an article like this. And it is what I do when I am asked to speak. If it works for Kathy and me, it will work for you, too. Try it!