Stories do more than entertain us. They inspire and guide us. They build trust.
One of my former students, Cole, openly shares his story with nearly everyone he meets. Today he is the president of a profitable consumer products company, and he points to sharing stories as a key ingredient to his success as a business leader.
When Cole arrived in the United States at twenty-one years old, his English was poor and he had no prospects. The only job he could find was cart retriever at a retail establishment in town. Cole told me, “It was all I could get, so I took it. But I am obsessed with learning - always have been. I observe people. I notice how people respond. The more I gave, the more they gave to me.”
Cole took classes at night to improve his English, and he quickly earned more responsibility in the store.
He was a natural, and within five years Cole was promoted to store manager, leading the management team and almost 100 associates. It was a 65 Million Dollar business! He was just 26 years old.
But Cole faced challenges to his leadership. Some of the older employees resented him at first because of his age. Cole explained, “To equalize the difference, I had to find common ground. I had to earn their trust.”
In some cases, Cole was managing people who were twenty, even thirty years older than he was. He came up with a plan:
“First, I decided to share my story wherever I could. Before I would keep quiet about my background, but I decided to let people get to know me and what I stand for.
Second, I invited employees to tell me their stories. They weren't used to that, but I really wanted to listen. Turns out we cared about many of the same things. It really helped us understand and respect each other.”
I asked Cole, who left that store years ago to start his own company, why he still tells his story so often.
“You can’t assume that people will trust you because you are the boss, or they’ve read about you, or because you run a successful company. People are naturally skeptical. For me, the very best way to build trust with employees, customers, vendors, you name it….is to tell and share stories.”
Everyone’s got a story worth telling. Do you tell yours?
P.S. - Do you know what makes a story worth telling and the key ingredients of a good story, well told? That’s what I’ll cover in next week’s blog. Stay tuned!