We all have had our own life-challenging events. Some of the most impactful talks I’ve heard on the TED stage and beyond have focused on overcoming adversity wiht meaning and power.

But this is one topic that lots of people (and particularly leaders) seem to shy away from. Maybe it has something to do with some sense of shame, or a sense of failure, or just not wanting to air the dirty laundry, not wanting to look vulnerable.

But here’s the thing, everyone (yes, everyone) has a past, and that past will have had some amount of adversity. It doesn’t have to be as heavy as mine.

Realising I don’t have to show the world I am good

I don’t have to try to hide the things I’ve done that are not quite flattering – and there have been plenty. I just need to forgive and accept myself and trust. That’s the truth of leadership, of life.

I don’t know about you, but I have spent far too many years of my life pretending and trying to maintain an illusion I am something other than me. The virus of self-censorship. I’d rather be real with people and know the ones who accept me, who get me, accept me fully, than pretend. Warts and all.

When you are telling your stories, own them. Feel them, be them. Feel the force, baby.

You need to turn your Story into real Meaning and Power

To connect, to establish rapport, and ultimately inspire, you need to establish a common bond with the audience. That’s why tales of adversity and overcoming adversity can pay off. And everyone’s story, even if it has a common theme, will be different.

But overcoming adversity is one topic that lots of people seem to shy away from. Dr Susan David says we need to embrace both the positive and negative experiences of our lives.

But if you’re trying to get across a new idea, or challenging the audience to think differently, then they will only grasp a new or alien concept through the story of one individual. And that individual obvs would be you.

Essentially, your story will help your audience walk a mile in your own shoes. And that mile-long journey is the distance you need to take your audience to get them on your wavelength. Story-sharing as I now like to call storytelling, in leadership isn’t just to ‘entertain’.

Stories can be used to get teams to see things from a different perspective, and that’s the start of the process to change how they feel.

Things don’t always go to plan in business, or in life

Think about the current global situation with Corona Virus. Businesses are going to have to ride quite a heavy storm ahead. In time, you will have challenging experiences to share. But you can reframe the experience and own your story and share it with real purpose, turning your story into real meaning and power.

Inspirational leaders spend a lot of time reflecting on their own lives. And when I say inspirational leaders, I’m not talking about ‘super humans’. They’re not all Olympians or astronauts. They’re people like you. They too turn their story into real meaning and power.

Let me tell you about Vicky…

Recently, I came back from a week away studying NLP. Yip, I too have done it. What? It’s good to explore one’s own skills too. Add more strings to your bow.

There was Vicky. Was she an industry leader? An entrepreneur? No. She was a young women who worked for a local charity. For her, it wasn’t all razzmatazz and show. She wasn’t a millionaire – just Vicky. And boy, did Vicky have a story.

She spoke simply, almost matter-of-factly. There was no artifice. No staging. No ‘show’. You could hear a pin drop as she spoke. In the space of twenty-five minutes while Vicky spoke, I felt my perspective start to change on the issues of addiction, loss, abuse, and the power of individual choice. Vicky was the most inspiring speaker I had ever heard. And Vicky didn’t even know she had that power. The humility blew me away. Vicky was a true model of taking action, driving-principle, and being a leader. Today, Vicky runs her own charity, works with clients struggling with addiction and homelessness.

So here are my 3 steps to turning your story into real power and meaning:

Step One

Keep a little note book handy. As often as you can, note down your experiences – your stories. Use the 3-Ps to describe the moments in time: PURPOSE (why you/they were there), PEOPLE (names are good – they have emotional value in stories), PLACE (describe the location).

Step Two

Next time you are in a meeting or having a conversation see if you can bring one of your experiences or stories to life. Be sure to make your re-telling ORIGINAL (using your own words and feelings), RELEVANT (to the audience and the reason for telling it) and SUCCINCT (less is more)

Step Three

Observe yourself. Notice what you are experiencing when using stories to connect with others. And notice what is happening around you. Essentially, how they are responding. Use these feed-forward questions in the comments section below to help you with this.

Like Vicky she has turned her story of adversity into something with real meaning and power, you can too.