Around midnight on Friday, my wife, Elysha, posted this to Facebook:
Charlie: Pauses vomiting to contemplate the ph balance of vomit.
It was a long night. Eventually, our daughter joined the stomach bug fray. Many trips to the bathroom. Lots of cleanup.
The next day wasn’t much better.
On Sunday morning, I told Charlie that I could use the story that Elysha posted about him on Facebook (an anecdote, really) in lots of ways, including as a business story.
“How?” he asked.
Here’s one way:
Leaders must stay calm when facing problems and emergencies. The best leaders understand that it’s only through the gathering and analyzing of information and data and the careful consideration of all options that the best solutions can be found.
While managing McDonald’s restaurants, I worked alongside a woman named Mary who would approach every problem with the same statement:
“Okay, let’s just take a minute, see where we are, then move forward.”
She would force us to pause and think before blundering ahead with the first or most obvious solution to the problem. The result was always a better, more informed, and more effective solution.
She was an outstanding leader. One of the best I’ve ever seen.
Vomiting isn’t exactly akin to the fast-paced, high-stakes world of restaurant management, but to a kid, vomiting is as serious as it gets. It’s a damn crisis.
I’ve only vomited once since 1983, so vomiting sounds pretty serious to me, too.
But Charlie didn’t panic, whine, cry, or even complain as he puked his guts out. He was crumpled on the ground at the base of the toilet, clearly suffering, but amid the awfulness of his violent retching, Charlie remained calm. He reached into his background knowledge, found some information on the nature of vomit, and estimated the ph of his vomit to be about 2.
I checked the next morning. The average ph of vomit is 1.5-3.5.
He nailed it.
Leaders need to do the same when faced with a problem or crisis. Regardless of the circumstances, those who can remain calm, marshal their resources, and take their time to make the best decisions are typically the ones who succeed.
Acting rashly, thoughtlessly, or too quickly often results in poor decision-making and disaster.
This is how I teach people to take the stories of our lives and utilize them in profound and effective ways. By taking an amusing, memorable, and possibly relatable moment from my life – a story about my son’s late-night horror show and his surprisingly calm and oddly thoughtful response to it – and fusing it with a lesson about leadership, I can teach a lesson that is amusing, memorable, illustrative, unique, and effective.
I’d expand on the story, of course. Add some stakes, suspense, surprise, and even a little humor to the moment. Provide a little context and maybe some backstory. Make it something entertaining on its own.
Then, once the story has landed, I’d explain how it pertains to leadership. By weaving Mary into the story, it becomes even more impactful.
This is how you can transform your message into something people want to hear and will remember long after you stop speaking.
This is how you can rise above the sea of public speakers and corporate monoliths who speak many words but ultimately say nothing.
This is how you can connect with an audience, make your content eminently relatable, and land a message that is memorable, entertaining, and impactful.
You don’t simply talk about leadership. You don’t offer wisdom and knowledge absent any story. Doing so is the perfect way to be ordinary, uninspiring, and forgettable.
It’s the way a lot of people speak. It’s the way most people speak, which is why it should never be the way you speak.
“When I’m feeling better, Dad, I’d love to hear that whole talk. Tell it the way you would tell someone in real life.”
That is how you want every potential audience member to feel.
Desperate to hear your story.