That's My Story And I'm Sticking To It!

Let me tell you a story. Imagine you're out walking and you come upon a construction site. You ask the first person you encounter, "What are you doing?" He says, "I'm making $12 an hour." You continue on, stop at the next person, and again ask, "What are you doing?" This worker says, "I'm a stone mason. I'm building a wall." You walk on and pause beside a third individual. You ask the same question, "What are you doing?" He looks up, smiles and replies, "I'm building a cathedral to the greater glory of God."

Each of these workers is doing the same job but they have very different visions of the work. Which vision of police work do the recruits or officers you lead or train have? Are they earning a paycheck, feeling pride as a professional, or do they see the importance of their work in something that has greater and lasting meaning than even their career? Do you think their vision influences how they do their job? Do you think it might influence how they respond to your leadership or training?

How might you help the recruits or officers you lead and train see themselves as building a cathedral to the greater glory of protecting and serving others? What if you told them this story? What if you asked them which vision they had regarding policing? Regarding the training? Did they ever feel that policing was "building a cathedral?" When? If they don't still feel that way, when did they start to change? What caused the change? What if you continued and asked them who is responsible for how they view their job? The training? Who can change their view? Do they think their view of their job might impact anyone else? Who? How? Do they want to impact these people this way? How might they regain the vision of building a cathedral in their work?

NOW--let me ask you, what is your vision of your job? Are you earning a paycheck, taking pride as a professional? Or are you building cathedrals? If you're not building cathedrals, put yourself through the rest of the questions you might pose to officers.

What just happened here? You were told a story. And then you were debriefed on the story with questions intended to pull you in, to have you connect the story to your life and work experience, to help you see how you might apply the story in your law enforcement leadership or training. If you had been in a meeting or training where this story was told, as soon as you heard, "Let me tell you a story," you likely would have put your pen down, relaxed in your chair and opened up your body posture, you would've taken the words in.

When was the last time you overheard anyone leave a meeting or training and talk animatedly about a bulleted PowerPoint slide? Great leaders have always understood that storytelling, when done well and appropriately, is a powerful tool.

To tell stories well, you must learn them and practice aloud. There is no quicker way to extinguish the light of a story than to drone on and read it verbatim. You must get off the page. Explore the dramatic range and possibility of your voice and body in the story. Are there multiple characters? Vary your voice to express that. Use movement to portray the action of the story, including bringing the story out into the audience or pulling them into it by proximity, touch and gesture.

To tell stories appropriately, you must know why you are telling them. There is nothing that gives storytelling a worse rap than leaders and trainers who go on and on with "war stories," especially ones in which they star, as a substitute for content and meaning. Regardless of the purpose of your story, it must serve your topic and mission. Information, insights and applications that are self-discovered through a story and its debriefing not only develop critical thinking skills--essential to modern policing--they stick with us.

To maximize the punch of stories, they should be debriefed with officers or recruits. Stories can be debriefed through questions, as was done with "Building a Cathedral," above. Questions invite the listener to engage with the story and create something new and meaningful with the speaker. If you're not doing this after a story, perhaps it's because the story is all about you, or not really relevant to the topic.

Stories motivate. Merely to announce what ought to be done without motivating people to do it is of little value. Enveloped in a cloud of dust, a county agricultural agent drove into a farmyard and bounced onto the old farmer's porch. The farm looked pretty much run down, and the farmer sitting in the creaking rocker did, too. The agent, a picture of enthusiasm, began sharing what he thought were exciting ideas for improving the farm, but the old man stopped him in mid-sentence. "Simmer down, sonny; I know how to farm twice as good as I'm farmin' already." Most people are not living even half the talent and truth they already possess. They don't so much need to know more as they need to be motivated more. Stories, especially when used to draw listeners in and engage them to share their own life stories help listeners feel the truth. And people mostly do what they feel like doing.

Corporate America is turning big time to storytelling as a leadership and training tool. Plug "storytelling" "leadership" "training" into an internet search and you will find a plethora of business journal articles, books and storytelling workshops, seminars and training--all recognizing that effective storytelling can accomplish something that issues of task and structure fail to do in the work place: In the Harvard Business Review, Stephen Denning said storytelling :

"...offers a route to the heart. And that's where we must go if we are to motivate people not only to take action but to do so with energy and enthusiasm. At a time when [work] survival often requires disruptive change, leadership involves inspiring people to act in unfamiliar, and often unwelcome, ways. Mind-numbing cascades of numbers or daze-inducing PowerPoint slides won't achieve this goal. But effective storytelling often does...Storytelling can translate dry and abstract numbers into compelling pictures of leader's goals."
One of the greatest football coaches was Lou Little. President Eisenhower included Lou Little as one of the greatest leaders he ever knew. When Little was a coach at Georgetown University he had a reserve end named Dennis Flaherty, who came into scrimmage every afternoon with an older man. On the day of their big game with rival, Holy Cross, Flaherty asked, "Mr. Little, can I start in today's game?

"Son," replied Little, "you're too small. I know you give your heart out in scrimmage. That's why I sometimes put you in at the end of the game when it doesn't matter."

"Well, Mr. Little. I've prayed. If I don't do everything an end should do, pull me out after the first 5 minutes."

Coach Little let Flaherty start and the young man played all 60 minutes that day. He blocked a kick, sacked the quarterback twice, intercepted one pass and caught another for a touchdown.

After the game, Little asked, "Flaherty, how did you know you could even play such a game?"

"Well, Mr. Little, that was my Dad that came with me every day."

"I gathered that," said Little.

"Dad was blind," explained Flaherty, "and last night he died. So you see, Coach Little, today was the first time Dad could ever see me play."

Do you have someone you love and respect watching you play? Play the game for them. Share your own personal stories and invite officers to share theirs. As a leader, followers won't buy what you're saying unless they buy you. Personal stories can build the trust between you and your officers necessary for the department to accomplish great things. Search for stories that will motivate and inspire officers about the greater glory of their work. Work hard to tell such stories well, much as you would practice being an honor guard. Invite your officers and recruits into the stories. Help them tell their own stories. Make them feel their importance and the meaning of the work they do. Why? Because, in the end, that is the story your life will tell.