Storytelling might be a marketing buzzword, but it also remains an important skill that everyone needs to learn. Much of what we do as leaders, managers and employees is to tell stories to clients, teams and our bosses. Stories convey emotion and can persuade people across cultures and generations.
At work, your “purpose story” is the intersection of your values and strengths—how you impact the organization. Learning how to tell a well-crafted purpose story takes time. It starts with self-exploration. It is a balance between what’s going on inside and what’s happening externally at your organization. It’s not about slides, a tagline, nor a pitch document. A well-crafted story is told with an authentic voice that engenders trust.
Some of us are reluctant to talk about ourselves. In workshops I’ve facilitated with multicultural groups, participants offered insights on the difficulties of talking about ourselves, particularly strengths and achievements. A participant in the workshop preferred to downplay achievements rather than sound like they were boasting. With social sharing on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram, we walk a fine line between self-promotion and making connections with others. There’s a balance between over-selling yourself and sharing what you actually know. A story provides an avenue to move beyond self-promotion and elicit connections.
How to begin writing your “purpose story”
A “purpose story” begins by sharing what you know, where you’ve been, and how you impact the organization. It is your moment of truth. You’ll know you’ve been heard when your ideas flow through others—up, down and across the organization.
To get started, do a bit of soul searching to explore the who, why and how of your purpose. The goal is to tell others who you are, why you do what you do, and how you impact the organization—all in less than three minutes. Admittedly, this takes some rehearsal. Do an internal audit on your values and strengths and see what matters most to you. Your “who I am” narrative will not magically appear until you sort through the past, like in an archaeological dig.
Consider the following steps:
- Look back on pivotal career events, something that significantly impacted your career up until the present.
- As you reflect on your past, let your mind wander—don’t judge, criticize, diminish, or question. Jot down a few strengths.
- Do some free-association writing or sketching, keeping in mind the themes of who, why and how. Take a couple of days and start with 10 minutes of writing.
When you reflect on certain past events, you’ll start to see patterns of strengths, ones that pulled you through, and helped you navigate success or overcome obstacles. If your strength is courage, for example, write a short narrative on how courage surfaces at work. Rather than stating that “courage is one of my strengths,” demonstrate it through an action in your story.
Identifying pivotal events
Your pivotal events are a quest story: An adventurous journey, through a series of obstacles, ending with learning through the experience, like in The Wizard of Oz or any multiplayer game. A great story involves a central character (in this case, you), faced with challenges and difficulties and overcoming them (your pivotal events).
In every quest story, there’s a turning point. In this case, it could be a shift in your career, a promotion or relocating to a new country. Look back find those obstacles or problems.
As you craft your story, use Ernest Hemingway’s maxim of writing “one true sentence,” and weave in personal anecdotes. Think of your audience—how much do you know about them? Is this a story for your boss, your client, your team? What you share will shift, depending on the recipient, and will be reframed with each telling.
When you refresh your draft, tell the story from different angles. Start with the end of the story and work backward. Consider what writer Henning Mankell called, in his essay “The Art of Listening,” “an unrestrained and exuberant storytelling that skips back and forth in time and blends together past and present.” Writing your career purpose story incorporates several events, blending past and present, and unlocks the pattern to finding meaning at work.
In reviewing your story, does it:
- Demonstrate your strengths, and what you bring to the organization?
- Show your values and the impact on the team?
- Help others see what you see?
Consider targeting points relevant to your audience’s perspective. A familiar theme, such as a values-based story, binds us to others. Learning how to tell your purpose story is an investment of time, energy, lots of practice. An authentic, from-your-gut story will win out over self-promotion any day. By connecting on an emotional level, your story becomes an instrument of change for yourself, and those around you.