June 27, 2016
Best advice – ‘tell a better story’
One of my mentors over the years has been Bruce Dreyfus. He taught me to tell a better story. This was one of the most valuable skills I have ever acquired. Not only for use in my own life, but for helping others re-frame their stories and in helping companies position for success.
The art and science of creating, telling and owning your narrative is one of the most powerful things you can learn.
Originally my relationship with Bruce started in the 90’s when he was a recruiter. He placed me at least once with a new position. More importantly we hit it off, became friends and stayed close. I felt he was someone I could trust. Trust is important when you are making career decisions.
In the recruiting business, like many other businesses, it’s refreshing to find individuals who actually care about the impact the transaction is going to have on the candidate. Too many times you know the recruiter is just looking to ‘move’ the candidate and make a quick buck. The bad recruiters make you feel ‘icky’ – like you’re not a human, just another used car on the lot to be hustled.
Bad recruiters look at your history and latch onto what you are doing today or have done successfully in the past. They don’t consider you aspirations, your journey and the meta-narrative of your career. It’s not their fault. We do a bad job of telling our stories. We’re too close to it. We need help.
Good recruiters coach. They look at your story and tease out the good and great.
Bruce and I stayed in touch over the years. We both played out our career trajectories. I transformed myself into an executive, founder and owner. Bruce transitioned from recruiting to career coaching.
We found each other in these new roles once again as I was transitioning. I had sold a company and was looking for my next thing. By that time Bruce had become a career coach only working with specific clients. This is where he taught me how to tell my story.
Log into most profiles on LinkedIn and you’ll see the same old thing. You’ll see a chronological resume. Joe had role A at company B where he performed tasks and duties and had XYZ responsibilities. Salt in a few dozen keywords and acronyms and you’re good to go.
The standard resume destroys your story. It removes everything that is you and replaces it with commodity bric-a-brac. The standard resume reduces the colorful, wonderful, brilliant and messy human that you are to a grainy black and white photo of a clerk.
What Bruce taught me is that every one of us has a special story to tell. Every one of us can create, tell and own a compelling, interesting and valuable story. This story will provide a much better picture of who we are and what we are capable of than the dead chronology of responsibilities in a resume.
How do you drag this compelling story out of yourself and own it?
It takes work.
- The first step is to capture your life and career in narrative form. Have your coach or someone you trust interview you. Have them walk through your career starting in school. Ask these questions at each stage or role and write them down. You may find it easier to have an audio recorder running so you can keep up. I have gine through this process with many people including my kids when they were applying to schools. It can have an amazing transformative effect on how they understand, own and tell their narrative.
- How did you get into this role?
- What did you like about it? What did you not like?
- What are you most proud of from this role?
- What challenges did you have? How did you overcome them?
- What were the significant accomplishments you had in the role? Can you quantify those?
- Who did you work with/for in this role? What would they say about you?
- Why did you leave?
- Edit the captured story into a narrative.
As you read back through the responses you will see patterns emerge that speak to your strengths – to your unique value. This then can become your theme. Now you are able to retell your story as a powerful narrative wrapped around a value premise – your unique value.
- Share and continue to edit your narrative.
As you continue to work with your narrative and share it with others you will refine it and internalize it. Now when someone asks you ‘what do you do?’ or ‘Why should I work with you?’ you have a ready story to tell in answer.
The ownership and self-awareness that this creates in an individual can be transformative.
Taking the metaphor of narrative further.
Capturing and owning your personal narrative is a powerful tool, but the concept of telling a better story is also broadly applicable to individuals and companies. There are many situations where you can use this toolset effectively. Bruce taught me how to tell a better story and I have in turn been able to help others.
For example, recently a professional friend of mine was up for a big promotion in his firm. He was worried about it. He was talking about how he didn’t have the education or the pedigree for such a lofty position. I immediately realized he was telling the wrong story.
I counseled him that there were reasons he was being considered for this position. He needed to find those reasons, become comfortable with them and tell a better story. He crafted an amazing story for his oral presentation to the executives that was filled with his success at facing challenges and his unbounded energy and leadership.
He got that position. He owned his story. He told a better story.
Companies tell stories too.
At the company level we still suffer from too much feature-function technobabble. We don’t tell our company stories. Every company has a soul that goes beyond the feature-function of the product. In that soul of the company lies much of the real value that the clients are buying.
How do you tell that story? How do you get an organization to create and own a narrative that rings true? Because if you can do that you clearly differentiate from the rest of your competition.
Culture trumps functionality every time. Stories are what makes a culture come alive.
The best advice I ever got. The best advice I can give you. “Tell a better Story”.
Bruce Dreyfus still dabbles in career coaching and can be reached at http://www.get-that-next-job.net/
SupplyChainCrunch is the personal blog of Chris Russell. Any similarities to persons or companies alive or dead is purely coincidental.
Chris is a supply chain professional with eons of experience and the scars to prove it. You can connect to Chris professionally at his LinkedIn account – www.linkedin.com/pub/christopher-russell/0/726/119/
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