Wednesday, February 20, 2013

What Stories Will They Be Telling About You?

February 2008

What Stories Will They Be Telling About You?

I was recently coaching the Chairman of the Board of Directors of a large hospital network in the Midwest. He was struggling with how to get his board to see the vision and come alive to a series of bold initiatives for improving patient care. Nothing he could think of seemed to generate in them the kind of energy and excitement he felt. I suggested he tap into the power of story to help his colleagues appreciate the potential impact of their efforts. I asked him this question: “When you finish this project, what stories do you want patients to be telling about your hospitals?” In answering my question, his mind and his spirit literally leaped with excitement. And furthermore, he knew clearly how to energize his board.

Last summer, I was speaking to an estate-planning conference in Washington, D.C. The group has a reputation for being technically astute and very analytical. I wanted them to understand how much value they were leaving on the table, both for themselves and their clients, if they failed to combine Legacy Building with their technical expertise. I asked them a variation of the same question that had worked so well with my Chairman of the Board client. I asked them to think silently for a minute or two about this question:

“When your days as an estate planner are over, what stories do you want your clients to be telling about you?”

At first, they were fidgety and resisted considering the question in silence. But I insisted and they finally settled into reflection. After a couple of minutes, I asked them to share their thoughts with a colleague. Their tones were thoughtful and subdued. I asked a few to share their thoughts with the whole group. What they had discovered in their thoughtfulness was that what they really wanted to be remembered for was their kindness, their wisdom, and their ability to make a difference in the lives of their clients. Let me invite you to reflect on the same question: When your days as a financial advisor or insurance expert or estate planner—or whatever it is you do—are over, what stories do you want your clients to be telling about you?

My good friend, Richard Stone wrote in The Healing Power of Storytelling that “[a]t the end of our lives, all that is left of us is our story.” He also quotes a Native American tradition: “As long as someone is still telling your story, you’re really still alive.”

Ultimately, our work as advisors is about helping clients tell and pass along their stories. If we’re lucky, our clients will also ask us to help them change the way those stories turn out. Not much else compares to the importance and fulfillment of that work.

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