“Once Upon A Time” – Not just for kids anymore

By Lori Lee

Project managers have a big job. They have people to coordinate, resources to manage, a project that has to be taken from concept to completion, and they are the responsible party for seeing that it’s done correctly and on time. This is no small task.

There is an old folktale about a man who walks up to three men who are working on a brick wall. He approaches the first and asks, “What are you doing?” The man, clearly annoyed, says, “Uh, I’m laying bricks.” The man approaches the second brick layer and tries again. “What are you doing?” he queries. “We are building something out of bricks. I know I’m supposed to lay these bricks right to that mark on the ground.” And he pointed to a mark in the dirt a few yards away. The curious man approached the third worker and he asked the same question. This time the third worker looked up and said with great excitement, “Oh, we are building the most fabulous cathedral! This section is an inner wall.” At that point the two men he had spoken to earlier began arguing because one of the bricks near the end was sticking too far out. The third man stepped in and said, “Don’t worry about that brick. This is an inside wall and that brick will be covered by a corner piece.”

This story illustrates the difference that can be made in both the personal buy-in to a project as well as the ability to know what to focus on in completing the project, when those involved in the project clearly see the vision of what they are building and why.

One of the largest challenges in managing people is often creating the energy and vision for moving forward. In other words, creating clarity of purpose and enthusiasm toward the project is the challenge, and the right type of communication is the answer. When something -that vision-can be communicated in a way that brings people together in purpose and momentum, then the magic happens.

So, how to do this? I propose there is one tool that will ALWAYS work. It’s a tool that when used correctly will connect with everyone on your team, be they kinesthetic learners, auditory learners, or visual learners. Story is the genre that appeals, grabs attention, and gives a format for bringing up emotion, understanding, and remembering. It’s the tool that teaches, creates clarity in the minds of your team, and sets a vision everyone can see clearly when you share it in story.

Like the third man above who had been given the information needed to understand what the builders were creating, a story that creates that vision for your team will add excitement, purpose and understanding when they come to that last brick that’s sticking out and are deciding whether to spend valuable time and resources worrying about it. Three quick questions for finding your vision story:

  1. What will this project look like when it’s done?
  2. What purpose will it serve?
  3. How will the completion of this project benefit the company and the members of the team?

With the answers to these three questions in mind, create a vision story that illustrates what you are creating, why you are creating it, and what the benefits of a job well done will be. Then make sure this vision story is shared with everyone, repeatedly. Share this vision story at the beginning of the project to get everyone on the same page, but share this vision story at the beginning of each team meeting as well.

A couple tips in building your vision story:

  1. Make it personal – pull the members of your team into your story so they can see themselves in the tale.
  2. Try a-day-in-the-life approach and recreate what things will look like when the project has been successfully created. This will not work for all projects, but see if it applies to yours.
  3. Look to other examples, even from other businesses or projects, to show examples you want to emulate.

The best managers are always looking for new tools to take their teams to the next level. While stories are ancient tools, their reintroduction into the professional world has gained tremendous momentum because of the simple power they hold and their broad reach. Take the time and gauge the difference it makes. Before you know it you’ll be the leader everyone looks to for clarity and inspiration.

A special thank you to Lori Lee for teaching us about the value of using stories to create a powerful vision for your project.

Lori is a professional writer and researcher who found a love and intense interest in the personal narrative. She has a Master’s degree in Folklore, and a desire to use the great things she has learned, and continues to learn, about story to add value and to assist others with the crazy cool power that comes with understanding this phenomenal tool in our personal lives and in business. She is the author of 4 books and 100+ magazine and newspaper articles. She has presented her research on story at universities across the Western United States. Lori is the producer and host of the Love Your Story podcast.

Contact Lori at [email protected] or (801) 663-6964.