“I don’t want her/him/them to make the same mistakes I made!”
“I hope you learn from my experience!”
“See what happened to him/them?!”
“If you knew what I’ve been through, you wouldn’t do that!”
“We tried that once and it didn’t work.”
When this sage advice is unappreciated or ignored, it’s followed closely by, “I guess everyone has to make his/her own mistakes.” Or the dreaded rebuke,“I told you so!”
Trying to save others from the discomfort we’ve experienced is a worthy impulse. When the pain we are trying to help them avoid is embarrassment, physical harm, disappointment or a lot of wasted effort, we mean well. However, too often we communicate the message in a way that is difficult to hear.
In spite of our warnings, they touch the stove, play in traffic, avoid giving necessary feedback, or engage in some other behavior we anticipated would result in pain.
I want to propose a different way. Instead of admonishing, tell your story. Throughout the existence of humans, we have learned from stories. Don’t give advice. Tell the story of the time you tried and floundered or the story of when you tried something else and succeeded. Give the story richness and depth. Make it a rollicking good story.
As for when to tell stories, almost anytime is a good time. Look for a readiness to learn. Stories are best delivered in the moment. One-on-one meetings with team members are good times for stories that illustrate a point. Planning meetings provide fertile ground. Retrospectives offer a great opportunity for telling our iteration or project stories in such a way that others may learn from them and benefit.
When is not a good time for stories? Keep stories out of daily stand up meetings. Just ask and answer the three questions. Thank you very much.
If you don’t know how to tell a story, find a resource. A friend recently recommended The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling: Mastering the Art and Discipline of Business Narrative a book by Stephen Denning. I’ve gleaned a few highpoints so far. Denning says there are four key elements to telling a story well: style, truth, preparation and delivery. He goes on to offer patterns for narratives to fit eight common expectations for leaders.
The last chapter is titled “A Different Kind of Leader: Using Narrative to Become an Interactive Leader.” Denning says, “The interactive leader is someone who participates, who connects, who communicates with people on a plane of equality and relatively free of ego.” Sounds like a collaborative Agile leader to me.