The Power of the Leader as Storyteller
The Power of the Leader as Storyteller

Most of us don’t understand the power of our greatest natural talents.   Each of us has something that comes very easily to us, so it feels unremarkable, yet others are in awe of us because that talent is difficult for almost everyone else. Few people recognize this, and so our greatest talents often remain underutilized. Recognizing your power as a leader as storyteller is key.

I was reminded of this during an executive coaching session this week at a large medical group in the Midwest. The president of the group is a primary care physician who has been in a leadership position for many years, and has proven his leadership ability by bringing together a number of groups of different specialties to form one of the larger groups in the country.

He is passionate about quality and service. Everyone in his organization knows this. They know this because for the past 10 years he has communicated his passion by telling a story. The story is of his son, who developed a serious illness while away at college. As a physician leader, a PCP, and a father, he witnessed firsthand the challenges our patients and their families deal with every day while facing life and death decisions.

The depth of this experience led him to a personal commitment to do his part to ensure that no other patients would be subjected to the frustrations that he and his family faced.

Leader as Storyteller

Turns out, he is a powerful storyteller. When he tells his story to care givers, they immediately understand why he is committed to changing health care, and they are inspired to follow his lead. Many people in his organization readily share with me their commitment to supporting him.

Interestingly, he is a humble and quiet leader, and is somewhat taken aback at the thought that his words carry such power.

His group is relatively early in their journey of lean transformation. They have had some struggles and some successes. As is often the case in large multi-specialty groups, they have been challenged to get physicians engaged, and in creating pull to spread their improved standard work across the organization.

Last month the gemba in which they developed their first model cell had a landmark event. While they had steadily improved, on one special day they saw 50% more patients than usual. Such a day would normally have been chaos with long waits for patients, frustrations for support staff, and physicians going home many hours after clinic had ended. On this day, they followed their standard work, and it paid off. Waits were minimal, the staff worked
like a team, and the physicians got home on time. There were high-5’s all around at the end of that day!

The group’s leader wrote about this in his regular newsletter last week. Soon physicians in other specialties and locations were asking the group administrators to have lean come to their clinic next. To my surprise, the group president was not aware of the pull his story had created. He received little direct feedback on the letter and thought no one really noticed.

We tell our story in many ways

As leaders at all levels, we are being listened to and watched, whether or not we are aware of it. Our words have powerful impact. When we are open, honest, and willing to share our own stories and those of our teams, when we recognize the power of leader as storyteller, we can inspire others and accelerate change more than we realize.

What is your natural talent?

Are you conscious of the impact that your storytelling has on others?

How will you harness that power to accelerate your lean transformation?

I’d love to hear from you…

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