As a speech and media consultant for 21 years, I constantly see the impact of personal power and how it influences individuals, organizations and corporate leaders.  Bottom line:  Unless you use both your personal power and your position power, you aren’t getting the best results from your title, your experience, your work or team.

Defining personal power

Personal power flows not from title, rank or organizational chart, but from who you are.  That’s what people respect.  The true stories leaders tell about their life, experiences and vision is how the movers and shakers make things happen.  All great leaders use their personal power to extend influence, persuade, educate encourage and empower. That’s how great organizations build relationship, establish credibility and create culture.  Personal power fuels how others get results.

Apple founder and CEO Steve Jobs, in a commencement speech at Stanford University, recounted how he “had no idea what he wanted to do with his life” or how college was going to help him figure it out.  Spending his parents’ life savings didn’t make sense to him, he said, so he “dropped out and trusted that it would all work out.” That freed him to take a calligraphy course that attracted his attention.  The course had “no hope of any practical application” in his life.  But, 10 years later when he and Steve Wozniak designed the first MacIntosh, “it all came back” to him.  This is why Macs have such beautiful fonts.

His moral?  “You can’t connect the dots looking forward.  You can only connect them looking back.  You have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” He added that this approach never let him down and “made all the difference” in his life.  In a few short words you get the picture and the moral:  trust yourself.

How to create your own great stories

All great stories are:

true.
about a person.
engage our emotions.
end on a high note.
are best told in present tense
a little bit acted out.

Stories create pictures we can see as we listen.  Born storytellers might start something like this.  “So, I’m at 30 Rock waiting for the elevator and who bumps into me?  Chumley–the guy I’ve been trying to meet for SIX MONTHS!”  Right away, the speakers are off and running, and we’re running with them.

Stories also come from rites of passage:  birth, marriage, divorce, death, loss, illness, a mistake, an accident or achievement — and they contain a moral.  What did you learn from a situation?  How did the experience develop your character?  Did you, as a global finance executive told me, “come to America to live the ‘American dream'” only to discover that “fitting in wasn’t easy?”  Now, after 12 years, he says he’s “living his own dream in America.”  Beautiful!

Finally, great stories have twists and turns, so one story can be positioned many ways to suit different circumstances.  For example, a senior global innovation manager in a corporate training seminar I lead described how a former boss told her she would “never be a marketer.”

In response to her disappointment, she channeled her anger into offering to help people with projects in her target job area.  In no time, she transferred departments and today outranks her former boss.

This story reveals her believe in herself, her “can do” attitude and her determination, and she can customize it to fit her audience and communication objective.  For example, if she wants to help a colleague who suffered a setback, she can highlight how she turned a “no” into a “yes.”  If she’s trying to motivate a team, she can focus on how determination can win the day.

A skill you can learn

A Fortune 500 health and beauty products company wanted to improve the abilities of its global marketing executives to communicate more effectively, influence others, “think on their feet” and prepare confidently for the “unexpected” in today’s market environment.

The competitive landscape of this business sector demanded better teamwork, problem solving and innovation, and the client believed improved communication shills with a focus on personal power, persuasion and influencing skills would enhance these.

Through an eight-week presentations skills program that included group sessions, individual coaching, keeping a journal, a stress management/rehearsal session and story development assistance, the program culminated in a times storytelling competition held with co-workers, families and friends as participants and judges.  The competition’s goal was to showcase true stories and demonstrate how trainees had learned to organize content, get to the point, use humor appropriately and use personal power to persuade.

Although daunted at first, participants came to understand how personal stories influence others.  One senior manager said, “I’ve seen her present for years and she’s always decent.  Today, she blew us out of the room!”  From another, “What did I gain?  CONFIDENCE.”  Another senior manager said, “I learned my own personal story can be very moving and and powerful.  Don’t be afraid to let it out and share it.”  A packaging director noted, “I’ll be a better communicator, make stronger relationships and partnerships, within the company and out.  I’ll be a better leader for my team and make stronger connections with them.  I want to have stronger connections with upper management, especially those I don’t see often.”  Another stated, “A story tells something about you, but how you apply the learning, shows something about your character.”

The company immediately expanded the training program to include additional executives.

What’s in it for you?

Yes, it takes time, and effort, to craft great stories, and find appropriate ways to apply them.  you only need look at your own life to find your own greatness to share with others through stories.  The greatest thing about personal power? You don’t need a title, degree or an IQ of 150 to succeed.

Ginny Pulos is president of Ginny Pulos Communications, Inc., a speech and media consultancy, and adjunct professor at NYU’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies. She is an expert in presentation, storytelling and persuasion in corporate environments.r (www.ginnypulos.com). 

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