Do good Storytellers make good leaders?


My daughter and my husband had a night routine where they would weave a new story overnight with their characters – an old man (named Khammam), a dog (named Khatkhat) and a parrot (named totey). They would go on picnics, long drives, fly kites with these characters every night. As an actor, my husband would call all the characters in different tones and my daughter learnt to speak with kindness, with pity, with anger, with happiness. Some days, they would help a person on their ride, some day they would sing songs and some days they would get late and miss their flight.

Fifteen years later, they still talk about those stories and it is something that only they two share and understand.

We read my pictorial stories together and she learnt to recite couplets from Madhushala at the age of five.

Storytelling helps parents to bond with their children, to encourage them and to make memories. Each family has a treasure trove of stories which they repeat to laugh and cry together.

Stories create magic, stories bring joy, and stories bind us and convey valuable lessons.

Can leaders tell stories to become effective?

Paul Smith, author of Lead with A Story: A Guide to Crafting Business Narratives that Captivate, Convince and Inspire, says that leaders can use storytelling to inspire the organisation, set a vision, teach important lessons, define culture and values and explain who you are and what you believe.

There are organisations like Nike where all the senior executives are designated Corporate Storytellers.

Storytelling brings heart in the task called Leadership and makes it humane.

Just as family stories inculcate values and shower love, leadership stories give a sense of belonging and inspire the whole team.

In my first Leadership session, I teach my students to “Try again, Fail again, Fail better”.

My personal story strikes a chord instantly. I failed my class X Board exam in Hindi subject.

I was always a meritorious student and everyone expected me to top the class as always. When the results were declared, I had secured and eighteen out of hundred in Hindi, while the aggregate was 70%. A failure in the first board exam was traumatic, more so because I had no explanation for it.

Family members, friends of my parents, class-mates showed sympathy on my face and made fun on my back.

I was devastated and depressed. I felt helpless and cheated but I had no control over the situation. The only thing I could do was to apply for revaluation which I did. I had to appear for supplementary exam as the revaluation result didn’t come out in time. After four grueling months, I received an envelope which carried a revaluation marksheet with a merit certificate. My original marks were 91 out of 100 and I had scored among the top 0.01% of the CBSE Board students.

Those four months taught me the biggest lessons of my life.

  • I learnt to fail, fail again and fail better.
  • I learnt to laugh at adversity and take it in my stride.
  • I learnt to take myself less seriously.
  • I learnt to try, to hope for the best, yet be prepared for the worst.
  • I learnt to be fearless – as a human being.
  • I learnt to be cool – as a parent.
  • I learnt to be encouraging – as a leader.

Does “Disagreement” lead to “Disrespect”?

We often come across subordinates and team members who voice their disagreement with our views. When someone disagrees with us for the first time, it shocks us for a while. A mature leader would take it in his stride and respect the difference of opinion while some of us might feel offended.

If it is a dissent in front of other team members, it might hurt a bit more but it is essential to understand that dissent doesn’t mean animosity.

The genesis of this feeling is found in our culture where obedience without reason has been considered a virtue for ages. Our elders always appreciated and expected complete obedience and regarded disagreement as a sign of disrespect.

My daughter was arguing ferociously with me yesterday when I lost my cool saying “How can you talk to me like this?” “I cannot argue submissively, Can I?, she shot back.

Exasperation in her teenage mind translated into her loud words.

It sat me thinking that our heart brands it as disrespect what our mind knows is disagreement.

Though it is essential to have the right tone and appropriate body language while disagreeing, we as parents and leaders must also not equate a difference of opinion with lack of respect.

  • Listen and Reflect – As parents and Leaders, we should train our mouths to function after our ears and brains have processed the communication – verbal as well as non verbal.

If we take our time in reacting to any disagreement, we will be able to think it through and frame our response accordingly.

  • Learn to laugh at yourself – If you are known by your team and children as a person who can handle dissent, they will be honest with you and you will earn respect in the long run. Developing the ability to laugh at oneself makes us confident and adaptable.

I will keep my vulnerable heart in check the next time my daughter decides to argue with me.




3 Ways to manage Conflict at Home and Work Place

Conflicts are inherent to our social life. They are integral to growth and change. We face conflicts within, we experience conflicts when dealing with various people in family, in social circles and at workplace.

Conflicts are latent in the beginning and start developing if not addressed in the beginning only. We as individuals intend to deny the conflict in the nascent stage but when it starts causing symptoms like frustration, unhappiness, frequent disagreement, we have to recognize the existence of a certain conflict; we need to find ways to manage the conflict before it turns into an aggressive one.

Many organizational leaders have admitted that they learn conflict management skills from their mothers and wives who succeed in handling many conflicts using various techniques – early handling of conflict, continuous negotiating or building up rapports with many people.

A homemaker deals regularly with a fleet of domestic help, maid, driver, grocery vendors, and service providers for gadgets. A mother deals with sibling conflicts, conflicts of kids with her / family and her inner conflicts. Extended families in India intensify or pacify conflicts depending on their personnel equation with you or your family.

If we are able to solve the conflicts arising in our families, they teach us lessons to manage organizational conflicts.

  • A keen observation of each family member gives us a fair idea about their thoughts, behavior and expectations. Our observations can help us smell the brewing conflicts before they become too strong to handle.
  • Unmet expectations cause major conflicts which can be handled by effective communication. When we dive deep within, we can see the seeds of dissent / disagreement that are causing the conflict. Discussion with the other person using assertive and empathetic words can resolve the conflict.
  • Feeling of possessiveness and a desire to control leads to many conflicts in the family. Ego clashes and a bossy attitude kill many relationships in the organisations. It is very important for seniors in the family and leaders in the organisations to have emotional intelligence (self awareness) to deal with their self love. Hierarchies are getting smoothened at unprecedented pace, let us imbibe that.

The major conflict hotbeds in a family: mother – in – law & daughter – in – law, husband – wife, sibling – sibling, parent – offspring create more conflict scenarios than many organisations and offer multiple, creative solutions too.

The biggest difference though is the way we look at conflicts in family and conflicts at work.

In family, we try to accept the differences and develop coping strategies as we think life term (not short term or long term). In organisations, we manage conflicts with a ‘fix it’ approach and we have a choice of keeping it short term or letting it go.

Keeping a check on egos, expectations, possessiveness can nip a lot of familial conflicts in the bud. Families flourish when difference of opinions / choices is respected and long term happy togetherness is cherished as a goal.