Leadership

Engagement: How To Use One Technique That Many Leaders Forget

Photo by Ildo Frazao/iStock / Getty Images

What is the most under used practice that many leaders forget about?

It's listening. With every leader I coach I find we work on this.  It's not surprising though. Every day I read another post about how leaders need to tell their vision, share corporate values, communicate priorities and strategies, tell about the competition, direct the team, convey their personal brand. It's tell tell tell tell tell tell tell.

The danger is a whole lot of one-directional communication, and there's not a whole lot of listening going on. The danger with this is losing touch with those you serve, losing the hearts of those you lead, losing opportunities to impact change, losing your leadership presence.

What are the financial costs of not listening well and poor communication?

  1. Total estimated costs to companies -- $37 billion/year (misunderstood / misinformed staff on company policies, processes, job function, work priorities, initiatives, or combo of all).
  2. Average cost per company -- $62.4 million/year (400 US/UK companies surveyed with 1000,000 employees)
  3. 60% - 80% of all difficulties in organizations stem from strained relationships due to ineffective communication, which includes listening

Even if you are a leader who does listens a lot (rare), I bet there's a type of listening that even you are either unaware of, or easily forget.

I'm talking about Appreciative Listening. What?? What the heck is that? It's a powerful type of listening that builds greater connection, trust, loyalty and engagement.

Why? Because this is the type of listening that makes people feel heard the most.

Here is an infographic of the 5 types of listening available to us, and when we usually use them.

5 types of listening Infographic.png

Want to add Appreciative Listening into your leadership skill set? Then follow these steps in the next infographic:

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Download both pieces and try out Appreciative Listening. Clients and my MBA students love the results they get. It opens entire worlds for them. They say it's one of the most impactful activities I've shown them and they talk to me about it even years later. 'Gotta love that.

Try it. You'll like it. May you experience far greater engagement, trust, loyalty, better decision making, and deeper more meaningful relationships as a result.


  • Towers Watson, “Capitalizing on Effective Communication,” 2009/2010 Communication ROI Study Report with International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), 2010
  • Brown, A., Duncan, A., and MacDonald, F. (2003). "Proving Communication Impacts Business Performance", Strategic Communication Management, Vol. 7, No.6, pp 28-33
  • SIS International Research for Siemens Communications, “Communications Pain Study: Uncovering the hidden cost of communications barriers and latency,” (2009)

Dr. Karen Dietz has 20 plus years working with Fortune 500 companies, startups, and nonprofits with her unique combination of organizational development, leadership, high performing teams, communication and storytelling expertise.

Karen is an original in the field of business narratives, the author of “Business Storytelling For Dummies” (Wiley), a TEDx and Vistage speaker, and has built the world’s largest library of the best business storytelling articles with over 17k followers at https://www.scoop.it/t/just-story-it.

Karen has recently turned her skills to developing a similar library for technology leaders on data insights, data storytelling, technology leadership, culture, and high performing teams at https://www.scoop.it/t/tech-leaders.

She’s been around technology organizations for years and her favorite groups to work with are engineers and scientists.

The Big Data Divide And One Solution...

...For Moving The Needle Forward in All 5 Areas of The Data Gap

Below is the infographic on the common areas CIOs say is hindering them from gaining bigger results from big data. Yet there is a single skillset common to all five of these critical areas for technology leaders.

That skill set is narrative. Hard to believe, but true. Narrative is the most effective and efficient pull technology to use to bring positive results in the challenges technology leaders face.

Today’s technology leaders need narrative practices and skills more than ever before to reshape their cultures, be more influential across the organization, and build high performing teams in order to survive and thrive.

Narratives are how we make work meaningful, how we communicate, how we learn best, and how we create our future. Stories build trust, credibility, relationships, teams, and influence.

Now who wouldn’t want to know that?

Now who wouldn’t want to use that?

Here are the steps to take (including narrative practices) to get more traction in each of the five most critical areas that are in the data gap:  

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1. Analytics skills

75% of CIOs rate their org’s current analytics skills (quality, access, governance, value) as average or below average – insights that drive biz value and the move to digital are compromised, hindered

Do More Of These Steps:

  1. Train on different types of business value and how to look for these.
  2. Train on actionable insights – the different kinds of insights to seek, and 3 levels of insights that bring different types of business value.
  3. Train on turning data into knowledge through narrative principles (“Oh, that makes sense.”), then understanding about business opportunities with what currently is (“Oh, here’s new savings or revenue opportunity to what we are already doing.”), then transformation into totally new business opportunities (“Ah ha! Here’s a new business model, new revenue stream, new market, or disruptive product/service!”).
  4. Train on the process of connective inquiry to generate even more smart recombinations of data, mashups, and melding of functions.
  5. Train on data storytelling to help make sense of and communicate insights, business value, and opportunities.

2. Talent

65% of CIOs struggle with attracting & retaining talent; only 17% have the talent they need – a more compelling culture plus tech vision engaging Millennials is lacking

Do More Of These Steps:

  1. Build a talent magnet. Stories are a pull technology, bringing people into your sphere of influence. Stories of your organization/work/culture are repeated and spread outside of your presence.
  2. To have this happen, craft and broadcast your 7 Signature Stories that create word-of-mouth marketing:
  • Your Origin story (the story of how your org got started) 
  • People & Results stories (the extraordinary accomplishment your customers achieved because you helped them; how staff saved the day; the extraordinary ways your vendors contribute to your company)
  • Product/Service stories (the backstory of why and how a product/service was created)
  • Why I story (what keeps you/group motivated when the chips are down) Values in Action stories (experiences of how your group lives the company’s values)
  • Lessons Learned stories (Mistakes made, challenges overcome, lessons learned that have made you better, stronger, etc.)
  • The Vision story (stories of when you/group lived your technology or business vision) Leverage your People & Results stories first. Then your Vision story. Follow up with your Values In Action stories.

3. High performance teams/culture

67% of CIOs?say they are NOT effective in creating a high-performance culture – difficulty in meeting the demands for speed and performance with less budget

Do More Of These Steps:

  1. Create more psychological safety by learning to deliberately evoke stories from others, while using story listening behaviors. This creates deeper connections and builds trust.
  2. Focus more the different stories and communication topics a team will tell at each stage of Forming, Norming, Storming, Performing. High performing teams and cultures tell lots more stories at a higher frequency than lower performing teams, particularly Lessons Learned stories.
  3. Pay attention and guide storytelling about projects to stoke and keep momentum. This keeps work meaningful.
  4. Share more stories about the impact of people’s work on larger projects, initiatives, goals, corporate values and vision so staff know the impact they are having. This builds pride and engagement.

4. Communication

60% of CIOs say they are NOT effectively communicating the financial impact of IT – once insights are gained, there’s trouble getting funded

Do More Of These Steps:

  1. Drop the old “tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, tell them what you told them” model. It’s ineffective. Keep audiences engaged and share memorable material that stick with effective storytelling.
  2. Design presentations using narrative patterns & influence techniques. Make sure your presentations include real people, a common enemy, the opportunity/the threat, a key message, concrete action steps to take today for realizing tomorrow, an inspiring close.
  3. Lay out the opportunities, along with the consequences of not taking action. Contrast today’s reality with future opportunity, at least 2-3 times during your presentation.
  4. Drop the data dumps. Neuroscience shows that data dumps keep audiences asking for more information, debates are common, and indecision the rule. Learn to weave data and narrative together for maximum impact.

5. Influence

53% of CIOs?say they have trouble influencing stakeholders across the org – difficulty gaining alignment, buy-in, and support

Do More Of These Steps:

  1. See #3 – High performing teams/culture
  2. See #4 -- Communication

If you want to know more about any of these steps, here's how to take action:

  1. Book: “Business Storytelling For Dummies” (Wiley)
  2. Event: Tech Leaders workshop on data insights and connective inquiry
  3. Send me a question

Dr. Karen Dietz has 20 plus years working with Fortune 500 companies, startups, and nonprofits with her unique combination of organizational development, leadership, high performing teams, communication and storytelling expertise.

Karen is an original in the field of business narratives, the author of “Business Storytelling For Dummies” (Wiley), a TEDx and Vistage speaker, and has built the world’s largest library of the best business storytelling articles with over 17k followers at https://www.scoop.it/t/just-story-it.

Karen has recently turned her skills to developing a similar library for technology leaders on data insights, data storytelling, technology leadership, culture, and high performing teams at https://www.scoop.it/t/tech-leaders.

She’s been around technology organizations for years and her favorite groups to work with are engineers and scientists.

The 7 Mind Shifts You Need To Make To Be An Incredible Storyteller and Achieve The Results You Desire

No kidding, story crafting is important. You absolutely do need to know how to craft a compelling story.

But if you don't have your head on straight about business storytelling from the start, all the crafting in the world is not going to make a difference.

So let's talk about the essential mindshifts everyone needs to make about storytelling -- so you CAN craft amazing memorable inspiring stories, so you can knock it out of the park in delivering them, and so you can truly understand how to work with stories in your business to increase engagement, sales, loyalty, trust, and alignment.

Here's the list of the 7 essential mindshifts you need to make:

  1. Storytelling is an experience, not a paint by numbers/fill in the template exercise
  2. Storytelling is pull technology, not a technology pushing messages to folks
  3. Storytelling is about connection, relationships, and transformation and not only about transactions
  4. Story listening is more powerful than storytelling
  5. Storytelling persuades and influences; data and information leads to debates
  6. Storytelling is about conveying images, not memorizing texts
  7. Storytelling is about authentic communication, not about bragging

In this blog, we need to start with #1 -- storytelling is an experience, not a paint by numbers exercise.

I know, I know -- I can hear all my engineers and analytical folks right now saying, "Please please, just give me the structure of a story so I can always craft a good one!" I will. Yet the question that begs to be answered is...what do you want to happen when someone hears your story?

"Oh, I want to inspire someone to make a change, take an action, enroll in my project, etc."

"Oh, I want more engagement and alignment among and between people in my company."

"Oh, I want to attract the perfect clients and talent to my business."

Well, if you want any of that to happen then you need to do a slight pivot away from "give me the story formula" to "help me create a great story experience ". And a formula won't guarantee a fabulous experience for your audience that spurs them to action.

To deliver an experience figure out how you want your audience when you are done.

What's the message you want to deliver at the end?

What experiences can you share with them. Because you see, if you can relive the experience your audience will experience it with you -- in real time while you are telling it.

Don't share about the story -- get back into the actual memory and you'll be golden. You will have delivered an experience, not an artificially engineered story. Yay!

Only after you've laid out the experience you had, then do a few upgrades using story structure and essential elements tools -- just to make sure you didn't leave anything out or missed a weak spot.

Want to get better at storytelling? Always share experiences first. That's the best way to figure out what's working in your stories and what's not because you'll get better reactions from your audience.

Karen Dietz is a veteran in business storytelling, creating stories that inspire, influence and impact the bottom line. She coaches and trains leaders through her Transformational Storytelling System. Wiley published her Business Storytelling for Dummies and she opened the 2013 TEDx Conference San Diego. Clients include: Disney, Princess Cruises, Citrix, nonprofits, and entrepreneurs

Interview with Nike's Chief Storyteller Nelson Farris

Storytelling  in marketing/branding is all the rage. And Nike does a fabulous job at that.

But how else do they work with stories internally to ensure success? Well, my 30 minute podcast with Nike's Chief Storyteller and Sr. Director of Global HR Talent Development brings to light some of their practices and story philosophy.

If you are an entrepreneur, manager, corporate exec, or nonprofit, Farris' insights can apply to you.

Grab this podcast and continue to leverage the heck out of storytelling for your business.

LISTEN HERE

Finding Common Ground From The World Of Storytelling

Finding Common Ground From The World Of Storytelling

"As I pondered these questions for my own best response to the current conflicts we face, I looked at the JIT Core Values on the wall in my office; values that lie at the foundation of how we strive to engage with each other, connect with our diverse volunteers, and create partnerships with the young people we serve."

Amazing Interview With Rich Sheridan, CEO & Chief Storyteller

Here's the link to the interview

I recently had a great time interviewing Rich Sheridan, CEO and Chief Storyteller of Menlo Innovations based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Rich is the author of the wildly popular book Joy, Inc.

With Five Inc. magazine revenue growth awards, invites to the White House, speaking engagements around the nation, numerous articles and culture awards and so much interest the company is doing a tour a day of the Menlo Software Factory™. Something is going right and Rich shares with us that that is.

During this interview Rich talks about the role of storytelling in building a strong corporate culture that beats the competition. We chat about why this happens. I love Rich's story of the Viking helmets, along with his thoughts on corporate culture, and about storytelling being a critical part of his CEO duties. And the results for Menlo have been amazing. 

Listen to this podcast or download it for later this weekend. There are solid tips here and our conversation was both fun and enlightening. Enjoy this gem.

Listen here

What Makes Great Leaders

5 Important Ways To Be Storytelling 

I'm sure you've heard this expression: "People leave managers, not companies."  Substitute "leaders" for "managers" and the result is the same. When you combine this piece of wisdom with the latest research showing 70% of US workers are either not engaged or actively disengaged at work, all I can say is "Yikes!"

So how do you make certain you are not chipping in to the 70% club?

I always say that storytelling is not the answer to every problem, but when it comes to leadership it's a critical core competency. Especially if you understand story dynamics. We tend to think the focus is on storytelling. But the twin to storytelling is story listening. Story listening embodies specific behaviors and attitudes to gain the maximum value out of the experience. It's like 2 halves of the same coin. Story listening is one part of story dynamics. Story dynamics covers the entire spectrum of storyteller and audience experiences when caught up in a story.

Here are 5 ways story dynamics moves you to the exclusive 30% club of engaged employees:

1. Increase your openness and transparency to build collaboration. Don't converse like a talking head in boring business speak. Drop the jargon.

  • Are you using the dynamics of story sharing to connect, build relationships, and collaboration in order to achieve something extraordinary?
  • Are you willing to be vulnerable, and are you willing to be changed by the stories you hear?

2. Speak to current reality. It's a relationship, social, and experiential economy these days, and you need to attract, focus, and keep talented employees.

  • Have you shared the "why" stories about their work and what's expected of them?
  • Do you leverage the behaviors and attitudes of story listening to convey your recognition and praise for doing good work?

3. Trust is a keystone your leadership needs to stand on.

  • Are you sharing a story and then modeling the positive behaviors the story is about? You move from storytelling to story doing when you walk the talk.
  • Are you being authentic and transparent in your stories and habits?
  • But even more importantly, are you story listening? Story listening come first for any trust to be built at all.

4. A sustainable culture creates an environment of learning and growth.

  • Are you repeatedly sharing stories about how employees are reaching their potential?
  • Are you sharing stories demonstrating that growing people is one of your priorities?
  • Are you sharing stories about experiencing organizational values in action?
  • Or stories about being best-in-class?
  • Or stories about incredible mentors/mentorship in your company?

5. And last but not least -- in fact, it should probably be #1 -- is self development. Storytelling is an inside-out job. A self-aware leader is a resilient leader. Are you asking yourself questions like:

  • What's the story I'm telling myself (about my beliefs, attitudes, values), or what's the story I'm telling about others -- and are these still valid?
  • Where did my stories about power, anger, fear, withdrawal, optimism, openness and assertiveness come from? Are these still valid?
  • How do I rewrite the story to live into a new or revised narrative?
  • What role models do I admire, and what are their stories that I can use to help guide me?

These 5 ways to be are the heart of leadership. Because as the famous author Salman Rushdie says,

"Those who do not have power over the story that dominates their lives -- the power to retell it, rethink it, deconstruct it, joke about it, and change it as times change -- truly are powerless, because they cannot think new thoughts."

Find your stories. Listen well. Story on and flourish!

For coaching or workshops on Storytelling For Influence (for alignment and better decision making), Transformational Leadership (for transforming self and others; leaving a lasting legacy), Data Storytelling (for finding knowledge, understanding, or transformative insights), and Inspiring Presentations (to enroll others in your vision), contact Karen.

How To Rock Fractal Storytelling To Save You Tons Of Time

Healthy Adaptive Organizations Have More Fractal Storytelling

David Hutchens is a long-time friend and fellow business storytelling colleague. I was interviewing him yesterday for the Storied Powered radio show, normally hosted by another colleague, Lianne Picot. As the guest host I asked David to join me to talk about his recent book where he talks about Fractal Storytelling.

I know you are wondering, "What the heck is Fractal Storytelling!?" It's the basic idea that stories people tell in organizations do not exist in isolation, they are always part of a larger shared story. Stories in an organization are linked together, parts of a greater whole.

The more Fractal Storytelling you have reflecting the themes and truths that define the company's bigger story, the healthier your organization is.

As David says in his book Circle Of The 9 Muses: A Storytelling Field Guide For Innovators And Meaning Makers, "Imagine the power and adaptability of an organization in which everyone is creating aligned -- though wonderfully varied -- stories."

I love the notion of Fractal Storytelling. There are two whole sections of the book devoted to it, where David shares activities you can do to get at this fast, and create your organization's metanarrative. 'Gotta love that!

The activities he shares in the book include using Story Circles to surface Values In Action stories from people in your company. Then there's a great process for articulating your company's institutional memory and journey over time. He moves on to give us simple activities to do to work with the Hero's Journey that combined with the previous activities lead to the figuring out your metanarrative.

This will save you tons of time and is fun to do. No more bumping around in the dark wondering how to tap the multitude of stories within your company and understand the overall metanarrative they are telling you.

But that's not the only topic David and I chatted about yesterday during the interview! 

We started off the conversation talking about how our storytelling has changed over the years, why David felt the need to write Circle Of The 9 Muses, what processes in the book excite him the most, and why Fractal Storytelling is so important.

You can listen to our 50-minute conversation here. Go grab the book (it's my current favorite in my library), check out other interviews by Lianne on the Story Powered radio show, learn more about Lianne's Story Powered Institute, and if you are looking for tons of free resources, check out my Just Story It business storytelling curation on Scoop.it where I've reviewed over 2000 quality articles on the topic.

Have fun and story on!