The art of telling a story to make a point, or connect with your audience in a meaningful way is a very effective and valuable tool. Most of the truly great leaders are also pretty good storytellers.
Now, let’s change this sentence: The art of story telling to make a point, or connect with a potential employer can be a powerful tool. The vast majority of the best candidates could be more effective if they combined their experience with some personal anecdotes from their own lives.
The real challenge for most candidates is learning how to effectively use this technique. The opposite of not telling stories is overusing the concept and losing yourself in the narrative, an issue addressed in Thursday’s podcast. War and Peace is not an appropriate length!
Today I want to provide some examples of how to use this technique so that, hopefully, you will find opportunities to combine your list of skills, main accomplishments and a few of your great stories into a powerful, impactful value statement. But, like anything great tool, less is more — use the stories to make the critical points, not four or five times in an interview.
- How do you make decisions? For me it is a process. When I served as a baseball umpire for high schools and community colleges, I learned that sometimes you had to make a decision in a hurry. But even in a situation like baseball you must follow a process to come to the right conclusion, the right decision. You begin by being in a good position to make the call. If you can’t see it, you can’t call it. Secondly, you follow the ball. Sometimes the call is not close but when it is, you usually focus on the ball. When it is a bang-bang play, you want to be sure you to take a moment to process the information. That is why you will see an umpire pointing at the play, he is letting his brain confirm what his eyes just saw. Having to quickly change a decision can earn the ire of those involved. When you make a call at first base, you begin by being in a position to evaluate the facts. Your angle should be one that allows you to see the runner and the ball. When it is going to close, you focus on the bag and “listen” for the sound of the ball hitting the first baseman’s glove. Using a disciplined process will significantly improve your chances of making the right decision. I take these lessons from baseball and apply them in business every day: be in the right position to see the issue, focus on the facts at hand, process the information to be sure you are right and then make the call. And if you find that your view is blocked and you cannot see, asked your colleague(s) for help. There is no shame in seeking their input because, in the end, it is about getting to the right decision. And remember, even when you have plenty of time to make the call, you evoke the same process, the same discipline. It is important to be consistent.
- When you are faced with an overwhelming challenge, or a mess, how do you go about addressing the issues to make progress? Great question. When I was a teenager, I “volunteered” to help my father in his retail bakery. It was a small, but exceedingly busy shop. Things could get hectic during the day and, when the action was done, there was always a huge mess to clean up. During the Fall and winter holidays, the clean-up tasks could be overwhelming. To get the job done it is all about creating a plan, establishing priorities and then execute the plan. I used a two-prong approach: I preferred to attack the most difficult challenges first — usually the ones that I hated to do. Next, I tried to execute geographically — various work areas in the bakery, so that I could see progress. When you take a more disciplined approach in addressing a challenge, whether it is a pile of pots and pans, or a major operational or financial mess, it is always important to evaluate, identify the hardest problem, perhaps the most critical elements, and then break it down in a way so that your team can see the progress. And I am pleased to share that I still use the same approach cleaning our kitchen at home.
- Why did you decide to get into healthcare? (This came from a candidate I interviewed) That is a very important question because it will allow me to speak to the values I have as a leader. My father was a physician. When I was old enough, I was asked to be an orderly at his hospital. As you know, an orderly is on the low end of the chain for patient care/service. You frequently get the jobs no one else wanted — cleaning up after sick patients, wiping bottoms, and emptying bedpans — well, you get the picture. And while there were times I had to muster all my resources to avoid getting sick, or gagging in front of the patient or family members, I found that if I stayed focus on the idea that I was helping someone who, at that moment in time, could not help themselves, I felt this extraordinary rush of satisfaction. That never went away. Those feelings were life-changing for me because I changed my mind about attending law school, something I always thought I wanted to do, and earned a graduate degree in healthcare management instead. Those experiences as an orderly also shaped my leadership style. For me, saying “I want to help people” or ,“We are here for the patients” was real, it is real — not some cliché. I think you will see these values — my values — every day as I make rounds to talk with our employees, as I visit with patients and their family members and as I interact with the physicians, our customers. I think you will see it in my reports to the board in terms of our priorities, and our emphasis, first and foremost in focusing on safety and quality, then service and satisfaction. And finally, I think you will see it in my service to the community.
These three examples reflect what I hear in interviews every day. The difference is that only a few of the candidates I talk with personalized their answers with a story or a quick anecdote, and connected their personal experiences with the values we all should have.