You May Hear, But Are You Listening?

When I step out my door for a walk, the next sense I am aware of is sound.

The typical North Carolina summer mornings between 6 and 10 a.m. are anything but quiet – at least where I live. As soon as the door closes, the sounds envelop me. Depending on the time of day, the first think I will hear are the insects: crickets, katydids, and cicadas, mostly. Next come the birds: robins, jays, sparrows, wrens, and more, all greeting the day with their calls. Along with the creatures, I usually hear the sound of wind moving through the trees surrounding our house and lining the sidewalks of my journey.

Then manmade sounds crash in on nature: depending on the direction of the wind and the time of day, I will hear cars zooming up and down I-77, about a mile away. If it’s rush hour, oddly enough, it’s quieter – the cars aren’t traveling at speed limits, but creeping along much slower, and therefore much quieter.

Again, depending on the time of day and the wind pattern, I will hear the sounds of aircraft on approach to Charlotte Douglas International Airport. Though I’m over 16 miles away, there is a landing approach pattern that circles above and to the west of my house, and during busy times I will hear one plane after another slowly cruising north and then turning west over Lake Norman before turning south to make their final approach. Having flown enough, and curious about planes enough, I can often identify the type of plane by its engine sound.

Continuing the walk brings a mixture of these sounds: dogs barking, AC units humming, lawn crews at work, construction machinery working on the foundation of a new house, road crews repaving, splashing water at the neighborhood pool, mountain bikes crashing through the trails behind the house, the infrequent train whistle of freight moving on the rail spur a mile away, and the various human sounds of families beginning their day, from the slamming of doors to music playing to laughter to arguments to silence.

We are able to hear a great deal in our daily lives, but do we know how to listen?

According to the University of Maryland Medical, here is how the ear works normally:

  1. Sound is transmitted as sound waves from the environment. The sound waves are gathered by the outer ear and sent down the ear canal to the eardrum.
  2. The sound waves cause the eardrum to vibrate, which sets the three tiny bones in the middle ear into motion.
  3. The motion of the bones causes the fluid in the inner ear or cochlea to move.
  4. The movement of the inner ear fluid causes the hair cells in the cochlea to bend. The hair cells change the movement into electrical pulses.
  5. These electrical impulses are transmitted to the hearing (auditory) nerve and up to the brain, where they are interpreted as sound.

Hearing is a physical process involving sound waves and the body. We know about it because it is easy to study; listening, the interpretation of those sound waves, is harder to quantify.

To hear is the physical means that enables perception. To listen is to give attention to what is perceived, both acoustically and psychologically.

Composer Pauline Oliveros

If you want to tune up your auditory sense, try the following exercises from Michael J. Gelb’s How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci:

Layered Listening

Once or twice each day, pause for a few moments, enjoy a few deep exhalations, and listen to the sounds around you. First, you’ll hear the loudest, most obvious sounds: the air conditioner, traffic outside, the background noises of people and machinery. Then as that “layer” becomes clarified, begin to notice the next layer down – sounds of your breathing, a gentle breeze, footsteps in the hall, the shifting of your sleeve when you move your hand. Keep moving your awareness deeper into the next layer and then the next until you hear the soft, rhythmic beating of your heart.

Listen for Silence

Practice listening in the spaces between sounds – the pauses in a friend’s conversation or your favorite music, and the silences between the notes in the song of a bluebird. Make silence a theme for a day and record your observations in your notebook. Do you have access to a place of complete silence, away from the humming of machines? Try to find such a place. How does it feel to be in a place of complete quiet?

Taking the above exercises one step further, composer Pauline Oliveros encourages people to “listen to all possible sounds.” When one sound grabs your attention, dwell on it. Does it end? Think about what it reminds you of. Consider sounds from your past, from dreams, from nature, from music.

To walk and listen. To some extent, this would be an exercise in playing close enough attention to name what we hear. Simply giving a name to a sound can change the experience of it: when we see the thing that clatters or moans or sighs, we hear it differently. Naming, though, is not the exclusive reason for listening. Indeed, at times naming a sound aborts the experience of hearing altogether, shutting us off from continued listening and exploring the nature of a sound.

Alexander Horowitz, On Looking

 

inspired by Alexandra Horowitz’s On Looking

and Rob Walker’s The Art of Noticing

 

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The Eyes May Look, But It’s Your Brain That Sees

When I step outside my door, I step into a world of mostly green: trees and grass. In our subdivision, there are trees and grass in everyone’s front yards; there is an undeveloped natural area right across from my house; and to the rear, a 98-acre park, consisting mostly of wooded areas with a three-mile bike trail winding through the trees.

There’s so much green that two of my granddaughters, who have spent most of their lives to this point (6 and 9 years) in New Mexico, always comment about “so much green” when they come to visit Nina and GrandBob.

I see green, but is it really green?

According to the National Institute of Health, the eyes may look, but it’s the brain that sees.

 

How We See

There are many different parts of the eye that help to create vision.

  • Light passes through the cornea, the clear, dome-shaped surface that covers the front of the eye.
  • The cornea bends – or refracts – this incoming light.
  • The iris, the colored part of the eye, regulates the size of the pupil, the opening that controls the amount of light that enters the eye.
  • Behind the pupil is the lens, a clear part of the eye that further focuses light, or an image, onto the retina.
  • The retina is a thin, delicate, photosensitive tissue.
  • This tissue contains the special “photoreceptor” cells that convert light into electrical signals.
  • These electrical signals are processed further, and then travel from the retina of the eye to the brain through the optic nerve, a bundle of about one million nerve fibers.

But even with all that, we “see” with our brains; our eyes “simply” collect visual information and begin this complex process.

According to ScienceNordic, our brain quickly adapts to new surroundings and only sees the most important information captured though our eyes.

Certain objects attract our attention in a particular way. It could be something that is especially ugly or something that we perceive as being rather pretty.

So, what is it that catches and keeps our eye fixed to something “nice”? How does the brain choose what to observe and ignore?

Two Types of Vision

Roughly speaking, we have two systems of vision. One system prevents us from bumping into things and enables us to move around. It’s called “orientation attention,” and it operates quickly, saving energy, as the brain is not required to develop a full understanding of your surroundings.

The other system is called “discover attention.” This operates more slowly, as the brain collects information from our memory to obtain a full understanding of the scene.

An example of the two systems in operation can be seen when you walk down the street. The orientation system allows you to easily move in and out of the path of other people, and stops you from falling over or walking into a lamppost. But when your eye catches sight of something interesting in a shop window, you switch over to the discover system to get the full picture.

The object you’re looking at might seem familiar, but has a different shape or color. How long you spend looking at the object, depends on how much sense it makes to you and the number of other things you’re thinking about at that time.

How to Fix Your Attention

We use these two systems alternatively without even realizing it. Since the orientation system requires less energy, we quickly switch back to it when we have enough information.

In reality, we know that objects with certain characteristics are better at catching our attention, while others are better at holding our attention.

Reflecting on Leonardo da Vinci’s comment that “the average human looks without seeing,” author Michael Gelb invites people to improve our senses – and our minds and experiences along the way – by “seeing” like da Vinci. Saoer vedere (knowing how to see) was one of da Vinci’s mottoes, and the cornerstone of his artistic and scientific work. Use this self-assessment of “vision” to start “seeing” like da Vinci:

  • I am sensitive to color harmonies and clashes
  • I look out into the far horizon and up to the sky at least once a day
  • I am good at describing a scene in detail
  • I like doodling and drawing
  • Friends would describe me as alert
  • I am sensitive to subtle changes in lighting
  • I can picture things clearly in my mind’s eye

How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci, Michael J. Gelb

Spot Something New Every Day

We spend most of our time in familiar places that have lost their inherent novelty. We take these surroundings for granted, and we stop paying close attention. A recurring commute becomes profoundly numbing. Psychologists who study perception call this phenomenon inattentional blindness.

You can fight inattentional blindness by resolving to notice something different every day on your regular walks or commutes.

The Art of Noticing, Rob Walker

As for my daily walks, this week I’ve been looking at all that green, specifically the trees in my neighborhood. I’m mentally cataloging all the different species, and then noticing how they fit into their immediate environment, and to what purpose.

In other words, I’m walking with “discover attention.”

What about you? Which ‘”attention” will you use most today?

inspired by Alexandra Horowitz’s On Looking

and Rob Walker’s The Art of Noticing

 

How to Work Smarter: Do Less, Then Obsess

We all have days during which we feel as though we are running at full speed from the moment the alarm goes off in the morning till the time we stumble into bed late that night. These are the days of deadlines to meet, tasks to accomplish, meetings to lead, and … the list goes on and on.

Do we ever stop to think that our busyness might actually be dangerous?

Busyness can be dangerous, because it causes us to focus on pressing problems rather than on priorities. When that happens, we can miss strategic, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities – like developing the leaders on our teams toward their highest potential.

THE QUICK SUMMARY

From the New York Times bestselling coauthor of Great by Choice comes an authoritative, practical guide to individual performance—based on analysis from an exhaustive, groundbreaking study.

Why do some people perform better at work than others? This deceptively simple question continues to confound professionals in all sectors of the workforce. Now, after a unique, five-year study of more than 5,000 managers and employees, Morten Hansen reveals the answers in his “Seven Work Smarter Practices” that can be applied by anyone looking to maximize their time and performance.

Each of Hansen’s seven practices is highlighted by inspiring stories from individuals in his comprehensive study. You’ll meet a high school principal who engineered a dramatic turnaround of his failing high school; a rural Indian farmer determined to establish a better way of life for women in his village; and a sushi chef, whose simple preparation has led to his restaurant (tucked away under a Tokyo subway station underpass) being awarded the maximum of three Michelin stars. Hansen also explains how the way Alfred Hitchcock filmed Psycho and the 1911 race to become the first explorer to reach the South Pole both illustrate the use of his seven practices (even before they were identified).

Each chapter contains questions and key insights to allow you to assess your own performance and figure out your work strengths, as well as your weaknesses. Once you understand your individual style, there are mini-quizzes, questionnaires, and clear tips to assist you focus on a strategy to become a more productive worker. Extensive, accessible, and friendly, Great at Work will help you achieve more by working less, backed by unprecedented statistical analysis.

A SIMPLE SOLUTION

We all know the feeling of not enough hours in the day to accomplish all the tasks in front of us. The platitude, “work smarter, not harder” often rings hollow in our ears. Yes, we must work smarter, but work oftentimes is hard, and there’s no way around that fact.

Conventional wisdom states that people who work harder and take on more responsibilities accomplish more and perform better. Countering this view, management experts recommend that people focus by choosing just a few areas of work.

“Doing more” is usually a flawed strategy. The same goes for being asked to “focus harder.” Focus isn’t simply about choosing to concentrate on a few areas, as most people think.

The smart way to work is to first do less, then obsess.

People in our study who chose a few key priorities and then made huge efforts to do terrific work in those areas scored on average 25 percentage points higher in their performance than those who pursued many priorities. “Do less, then obsess” was the most powerful practice among the seven discussed in this book.

“Doing more” creates two traps. In the spread-too-thin trap, people take on many tasks, but can’t allocate enough attention to each. In the complexity trap, the energy required to manage the interrelationship between tasks leads people to waste time and execute poorly.

Here are the three ways you can implement the “do less, then obsess” principle:

  1. Wield the razor: Shave away unnecessary tasks, priorities, committees, steps metrics, and procedures. Channel all your effort into excelling in the remaining activities. Ask: How many tasks can I remove, given what I must do to excel? Remember: As few as you can, as many as you must.
  2. Tie yourself to the mast: Set clear rules ahead of time to fend off temptation and distraction. Create a rule as trivial as not allowing yourself to check email for an hour.
  3. Say “no” to your boss: Explain to your boss that adding more to your to-do list will hurt your performance. The path to greatness isn’t pleasing your boss all the time. It’s saying “no” so that you can apply intense effort to excel in a few chosen areas.

Morten Hansen, Great at Work

A NEXT STEP

Set aside a two-four hour time block when you can work on the principle outlined above by Morten Hansen: First do less, then obsess.

Create three chart tablets, listing each of the three phrases above on a page.

Review the activities listed under each phrase, and brainstorm how you can accomplish each.

After you have completed the task, schedule a time to review the results with your supervisor, and work toward a mutually-agreed upon plan of action.

Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 96-1, issued July 2018.


 

Part of a weekly series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader

Regular daily reading of books is an important part of my life. It even extends to my vocation, where as Vision Room Curator for Auxano I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix, a biweekly book “excerpt” for church leaders. Each Wednesday on 27gen I will be taking a look back at previous issues of SUMS Remix and publishing an excerpt.

>>Purchase SUMS Remix here<<

How to Take a Walk With All Your Senses

Welcome to the age of white noise.

We live our lives in a constant tether to phones, to apps, and to social media – mostly acquiescing to FOMO.

In this age of distraction, the ability to experience and be present is often lost, as is our capacity to think and to see and to listen.

Rob Walker, The Art of Noticing

In an effort to battle this, I’m inviting you to join me in taking a walk – with all your senses.

In short, I want you to pay attention.

At a basic level, paying attention is simply making a selection among all the stimuli bombarding you at any moment.

Even if we ignore most of what is going on around us, we can only take in so much of the world at a time. Our sensory system has a limited capacity, both in range and in speed of processing.

The sensory system I’m referring to are your five classical senses: sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell.

Limited capacity aside, many times we unfortunately ignore the parts that are available to us. Leonardo da Vinci reflected sadly that the average human:

“looks without seeing, listens without hearing, touches without feeling, eats without tasting, moves without physical awareness, inhales without awareness of odor or fragrance, and talks without thinking.”

A Brief Primer on How Our Senses Work

Sound The outer ear catches and channels sound waves to the middle ear, which contains three tiny bones. These bones vibrate, transmitting the sound the inner ear, where thousands of hair cells are stimulated by the movement of the fluid within the inner ear. An electrical impulse is transmitted along the hearing nerve to the brain creating the sensation of hearing.

Sight The experience of sight begins when photons from the world hit the lens of our eye, and get focused onto over 130 million receptor cells on the retina. These receptor cells convert incoming light into electrical signals to be sent to the brain, making sight possible.

Smell Every day we are confronted with a smorgasbord of smells. Our five million olfactory cells can sniff out one molecule of odor-causing substance in one part per trillion of air. We take about 23,000 breaths per day processing about 440 cubic feet of scent-laden air.

Touch Our bodies have more than 500,000 touch detectors and 200,000 temperature sensors. Each of these sensors gathers sensory information and relay it through specific nerve bundles back to the central nervous system for processing and possible reaction

Taste The complex process of tasting begins when tiny molecules released by the substances around us stimulate special cells in the nose, mouth, or throat. These special sensory cells transmit messages through nerves to the brain, where specific tastes are identified.

Enough of the science lab! God designed our bodies to sense, interpret, and react to the millions of stimuli that occur around us every day.

What do you miss, every day, right in front of you, while walking around the block?

I was paying so little attention to most of what was right before me that I had become a sleepwalker on the sidewalk. What I saw and attended to was exactly what I expected to see. That attention invited attention’s companion: inattention to everything else.

Alexandra Horowitz, On Looking

 

inspired by Alexandra Horowitz’s On Looking

and Rob Walker’s The Art of Noticing

 

photo credit: João Loureio

You Can’t Lead Well Without Serving

It takes leaders to make more leaders.

As a leader, you are not out to create followers, but to discover, disciple, and distribute more and better leaders throughout your organization.

Let’s take the simple but accurate path of dividing people into two groups – leaders and followers. Followers don’t develop leaders – they follow them. Only leaders can develop more leaders.

The odds are high that you have someone on your team that is now only a follower – but you recognize potential in them. You want them to become the leader you already see in them.

THE QUICK SUMMARY – The Secret: What Great Leaders Know and Do by Mark Miller and Ken Blanchard

In this new edition of their classic business fable, Ken Blanchard and Mark Miller get at the heart of what makes a leader successful. Newly promoted but struggling young executive Debbie Brewster asks her mentor the one question she desperately needs answered: “What is the secret of great leaders?” His reply—“great leaders serve”—flummoxes her, but over time he reveals the five fundamental ways that leaders succeed through service. Along the way she learns:

• Why great leaders seem preoccupied with the future
• How people on the team ultimately determine your success or failure
• What three arenas require continuous improvement
• Why true success in leadership has two essential components
• How to knowingly strengthen—or unwittingly destroy—leadership credibility

The tenth anniversary edition includes a leadership self-assessment so readers can measure to what extent they lead by serving and where they can improve. The authors also have added answers to the most frequently asked questions about how to apply the SERVE model in the real world.

As practical as it is uplifting, The Secret shares Blanchard’s and Miller’s wisdom about leadership in a form that anyone can easily understand and implement. This book will benefit not only those who read it but also the people who look to them for guidance and the organizations they serve.

A SIMPLE SOLUTION

If you are looking for the latest techniques to help you coerce people to do what you say, you will not find any such techniques in the broad category of servant leadership.

Servant leadership is not a strategy or shortcut to success. Servant leadership is a long journey, leading with people as you add value to them by putting their interests ahead of your own.

Creating culture always starts with the organization leader, and it is no different in your church. If you are going to create a culture in which leaders SERVE, you are going to have to demonstrate these five principles first.

A person can serve without leading, but a leader can’t lead well without serving.

Five Strategic Ways Great Leaders SERVE

See and shape the future. Leadership always begins with a picture of the future. Leaders who cannot paint a compelling picture of a preferred future are in jeopardy of forfeiting their leadership. Clarity will often come in the midst of activity. If you are stuck, get moving. When the vision is clear and compelling, it will create life, energy, and momentum.

Engage and develop others. Engagement is about creating the context for people to thrive. Low engagement of your teams is not an indictment of the workers; it is the leaders who need to make a change. We believe leaders who are not proactively developing others are missing a vital aspect of their role.

Reinvent continuously. To make progress, to move forward, to accomplish bigger and better, something has to change. There are three arenas of change:

  • Self – How are you reinventing yourself?
  • Systems – Which work processes need to change to generate better results?
  • Structure – What structural changes could you make to better enable the accomplishments of your goals?

Value results and relationships. Virtual every leader has a natural bias toward one or the other of these. While not bad, that bias can limit your effectiveness. The best leaders value both and manage the tension between them.

Embody the values. People watch leaders, looking for clues regarding what’s important to the leaders. They are also trying to determine if the leader is trustworthy.

Mark Miller and Ken Blanchard, The Secret: What Great Leaders Know and Do

A NEXT STEP

At your next team meeting, write the five SERVE statements on separate chart tablets.

On a scale of 1 (I don’t do this at all) to 5 (I consistently do this), ask your team to individually (and privately) to rate themselves.

Next, have a group discussion, asking for a consensus rating using the same scale above on how your team is taking these actions.

Next, list as many specific and concrete actions that demonstrate each particular action. After you have completed this action, ask the group for a consensus decision on the top three in each category, and circle them.

Finally, ask what actions are missing from each list. Discuss how these actions can become a part of your team’s regular practices.

Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 95-3, released June 2018.


 

Part of a weekly series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader

Regular daily reading of books is an important part of my life. It even extends to my vocation, where as Vision Room Curator for Auxano I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix, a biweekly book “excerpt” for church leaders. Each Wednesday on 27gen I will be taking a look back at previous issues of SUMS Remix and publishing an excerpt.

>>Purchase SUMS Remix here<<

Leadership Lessons from the Sidewalk

In a recent post on walking unplugged, I mentioned that I would be walking the next day with my feet.

I wasn’t trying to be flippant – I was merely stating that your feet can tell you a lot about where you’re walking, and what you’re walking on, and in the process, you can learn a lot.

It brought to mind this post on my other website: Sometimes the Best Part of the Story is Under Your Feet.

With that going through my head, I began my walk – and it wasn’t long before I realized Leadership Lessons the sidewalk could teach me.

In a short, two-mile walk through my neighborhood, I felt and observed the following:

  • Raised Sidewalk – visible, growing tree roots: Leaders should always be looking for things that will help them grow and lift their capabilities.
  • Sunken Sidewalk – hidden sources of water: Leaders should be cautious of hidden things that will bring them down and stunt their capabilities.
  • New Sidewalk Section – replacing to make it functional again: As your leadership grows and matures, you can count on learning new ways to do some things better.
  • Clean Sidewalk – appearances matter: Leaders must present themselves in the best manner possible, which instills confidence.
  • Dirty, Stained Sidewalk – see above: Conversely, sloppy appearances give others pause.
  • Cracked Sidewalk – too heavy a load: Leaders aren’t super heroes, and must balance the “load” they carry.
  • Grass in Sidewalk – maybe lazy, but at least distracted: Leaders who allow interruptions won’t be able to focus.
  • Grass growing over the Sidewalk – know your boundaries: Leaders know that boundaries help focus attention and align teams.
  • Sidewalks – take you somewhere: Leaders don’t fly solo; they must take others with them.
  • Sidewalks – make your journey easier: Well-prepared leaders are in a better position to help others on the journey.
  • Sidewalks – make your journey safer: Leaders watch out for the safety and welfare of others.
  • Sidewalks – lift you above the road: Leaders must rise above their surroundings.

In their civic role, sidewalks play a vital purpose in city, town, and suburban life. As conduits for pedestrian movement and access, they enhance connectivity and promote walking.  Safe, accessible, and well-maintained sidewalks are a fundamental and necessary investment.

But for me, they provide great leadership lessons.

And of course, I couldn’t resist sharing Shel Silverstein’s most appropriate poem:

“There is a place where the sidewalk ends
And before the street begins,
And there the grass grows soft and white,
And there the sun burns crimson bright,
And there the moon-bird rests from his flight
To cool in the peppermint wind.

Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black
And the dark street winds and bends.
Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow
We shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And watch where the chalk-white arrows go
To the place where the sidewalk ends.

Yes we’ll walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And we’ll go where the chalk-white arrows go,
For the children, they mark, and the children, they know
The place where the sidewalk ends.”

― Shel Silverstein, Where the Sidewalk Ends

 

How to Lead Your Organization with the Power of Storytelling

Storytelling embodies an approach that is well adapted to meet the deep challenges of leadership. Situations in which story impacts people across an organization include:

  • Persuading them to adopt an unfamiliar new idea
  • Charting a future course
  • Attracting the best talent
  • Instilling passion and discipline
  • Aligning individuals to work together
  • Calling everyone to continue believing in leadership through the unpredictable ups and downs

The underlying reason for the affinity between leadership and storytelling is simple: narrative, unlike abstraction and analysis, is inherently collaborative.

Storytelling helps leaders work with other individuals as co-participants, not merely as objects or underlings. Storytelling helps strengthen leaders’ connections with the world.

After all, isn’t this what all leaders need – a connection with people they are seeking to lead?

“The mistake people make is thinking the story is just about marketing. No, the story is the strategy. If you make your story better you make the strategy better.”

– Ben Horowitz

 

THE QUICK SUMMARY – The Storytelling Edge by Joe Lazauskas and Shane Snow

Content strategists Joe Lazauskas and Shane Snow offer an insider’s guide to transforming your business—and all the relationships that matter to it—through the art and science of telling great stories.

Smart businesses today understand the need to use stories to better connect with the people they care about. But few know how to do it well. In The Storytelling Edge, the strategy minds behind Contently, the world renowned content marketing technology company, reveal their secrets that have helped award-winning brands to build relationships with millions of advocates and customers.

Join as they dive into the neuroscience of storytelling, the elements of powerful stories, and methodologies to grow businesses through engaging and accountable content.

With The Storytelling Edge you will discover how leaders and workers can craft the powerful stories that not only build brands and engage customers, but also build relationships and make people care—in work and in life.

A SIMPLE SOLUTION – Transform your organization through the power of storytelling.

When Thomas Davenport and John Beck wrote the book The Attention Economy, they brought a very important message to church leaders. The book argues that information and talent are no longer your most important resource, but rather attention itself. People cannot hear the vision unless we cut through the clutter.

The principle of attention requires church leaders to be bold and relevant as they integrate vision into the internal communication of the church. According to Davenport and Beck, these are the most important characteristics to get attention:

  • The communication is personalized.
  • The communication comes from a trustworthy source.
  • The communication is brief.
  • The communication is emotional.

Imagine the implications of these attributes for your church’s communications. Are you sending targeted, HTML e-mails to supplement snail mail and print communication? Are you delivering your most important sound bites via podcast? Finally, it is important to keep good communications people close to the core leadership. They shouldn’t have to guess about your church’s DNA. Rather, allow them to be privy to all the conversations and dialogue that surround development and articulation of your vision.

Harness the power of storytelling, and organizations and their leaders will win advocates and customers at a larger scale than ever before.

Stories Make Products and Services Better

Stories have a huge impact on the way people decide what products to buy. We’ll do a lot because of a good story. We’ll change our minds about a product if it incorporates a good story. We’ll change our minds about a product if it incorporates a good story. We’ll pay a little extra for a product that has an inspirational backstory. And we’ll give something a second chance because of a redemption story.

Stories Make Advertising Better

Corporations are realizing that the most effective way to find a hit is to strategically create content (story), test how it will connect with audiences, and then optimize the approach based on what they learned.

Stories Make Your Hiring Process Better

There are no real boundaries between internal and external marketing anymore. When you tell a great story that inspires the outside world, it also inspires the people inside your four walls.

Stories Build Your Brand

Brands that embrace great storytelling can achieve an incredible advantage over their competition.

Joe Lazauskas and Shane Snow, The Storytelling Edge

A NEXT STEP

How do you effectively invite people to take an active part in your vision? This is a constant challenge for leaders of every organization I work with. The answer? Vision-soaked communication. Get clear about your vision, develop a palette of tools to communicate it, and then let it soak into and through every way you communicate.

This is what the best organizations in the world do so well. Apple. Tesla. Amazon. Every piece of communication or interaction you have with these organizations is absolutely soaked in their vision, mission, and values. Just when you read the names of those organizations, colors and feelings were evoked inside of you, weren’t they? That’s the power of vision-soaked communication.

All ministry is communication intensive. It follows that story telling and understanding the nuances of story will help any leader in the daily ebb and flow of communication. Use these story types as described by Auxano Founder Will Mancini to do an inventory on your own “range” of utilizing of stories as a leader.

CREATION STORY

This does not refer to the first book of Scripture but to the genesis of the organization itself. If you are a pastor, you should know more about the creation story of your church than anyone on the planet. What are the circumstances—passions, problems, and people—surrounding how the church got started to begin with? Mastering the richness of the creation story will help in two major ways. First, it will hold insight into the unique culture of the church and therefore future decision-making and vision. Second, your mastery of the story itself will bring tremendous credibility with people when initiating change.

> ACTION STEP: Write a one-page, two-minute creation story talk. If you have any gaps in your knowledge interview people in your church until you know more than anyone else.

SIGNATURE STORY

A signature story relates to any milestones or hand-of-God moments after the creation story. Obviously a church with more history will have more signature stories. These accounts show off strengths of the church and God’s hand in its history. Look for signature stories when discerning a church’s Kingdom Concept (What can your church do better than 10,000 others?). These stories reveal the values and mark the high-water line of God’s activity and unique journey for each church. Use the signature stories the same way as the creation story: celebrating God’s goodness, explaining decision-making and guiding change.

> ACTION STEP: Make a list of 3-5 possible signatures stories in your church. Ask key leaders to do the same and make a master list of the top five.

FOLKLORE

Folklore stories are simply ones that are worth being told and retold. While there may be overlap between the first two on the list, folklore often focuses on the life change journey of individuals. Even though everyone has special stories of God’s transforming work in their lives, folklore shows off, in brilliant detail, the mission or strategy, a value or life mark, from the church’s articulated. Folklore often embeds a moment of modeling—like repeated prayer, gospel conversation or invitation toward an unchurched friend—that reflects “the win” we are striving for as a congregation. Imagine a church planter who sees a convert grow with unusual intentionality to become a key leader in the church. This story could model the pattern that we hope to see repeated over and over.

> ACTION STEP: Identify three stories from individuals in your church that you know could never be shared too muchAsk another leader in your church to capture all of the details of the story in a two-page, five-minute summary.

HORIZON STORY

Now turn your attention of story-telling to the future. Think of the horizon story as a time-machine window where you tell people what God is going to do. It may have a lead in like, “What if…” or “Imagine…” Tell a story of what the church will be like in one year. How about three years? When crafting this vision-casting story, it’s important not to be presumptuous. To guard against that make sure you show what we call the “God smile,” that is, remind people that this is God’s idea not yours.

> ACTION STEP: Prepare a two-minute story to tell someone what your church will look like in one year. To give yourself freedom, don’t worry about sharing it with anyone— you may or may not. But practice thinking about the future feel of a story.

THE GOSPEL

The centerpiece of all story telling is the gospel. It is important to define every other story in relationship to the grand news of God’s intervention in our world and our lives through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. You may wonder, “This is a given, so why would you mention this as an organizational story?” First, many congregations are stuck in a shallow appreciation for the gospel’s ongoing presence and power in daily life. Second, as you master story as a leader, you won’t want to develop and practice the other story types to the neglect of the gospel. Rather, let the gospel develop you as you integrate it into all story telling. 

> ACTION STEP: Grab a copy of Center Church by Tim Keller and study the section on “Atonement Grammars.” This is one of the most helpful summaries available.

TEACHABLE POINT OF VIEW

The last two kinds of stories have to do more with the personal life of the leader. A teachable point of view, a term coined by Noel Tichy in The Leadership Engine, is the story that surrounds personal leadership learning. Informal leadership development happens best when an experienced leader, in relationship with other leaders can unpacks stories of why they do what they do. Where did this conviction come from? What led me to develop this skill? Why did I make what seemed to be a counter-intuitive decision? The more that you have thought about your leadership’s teachable point of views, the more often and intentional will be the transference of wisdom in your leadership culture.

> ACTION STEP: Take 20 minutes and write down your top 10 learnings as a leader. Write down a few bullet points and begin to flesh out the story behind the learning.

CONVERSION STORY

The last story is the perhaps the most obvious, but should not go unstated. In many leader’s lives, there is a failure to acknowledge the story of the personal journey with God at its very beginning. Maybe that’s because it happened when the leader was young, which seems pretty distant from the “important” leadership work of today. How many people on your leadership team know the details of how you trusted Jesus and how you grew in affection for the gospel? Using your own conversation story as a leader is important for at least three reasons. First, it will keep you humble. Second, it’s a personal help to keep the gospel at the center of all stories. Third, it will model for people the importance of sharing a personal testimony.

> ACTION STEP: Create a one-page, two-minute conversion story testimony. Practice sharing it with one other person a week, asking the other person to share their conversion story.

 

Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 94-2, released June 2018.


 

Part of a weekly series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader

Regular daily reading of books is an important part of my life. It even extends to my vocation, where as Vision Room Curator for Auxano I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix, a biweekly book “excerpt” for church leaders. Each Wednesday on 27gen I will be taking a look back at previous issues of SUMS Remix and publishing an excerpt.

>>Purchase SUMS Remix here<<