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

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.


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.

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