When a story changes the way you think, the way you move through the world, and the way you see yourself and others, that’s when it takes on the role of something bigger.
It’s no longer just plot and theme and character.
It’s more than the formulaic circle of the hero’s journey.
It becomes alive in the heart and soul of its audience, and it begins to shape and reshape who we are and who we want to become.
This is why I always force formula to take a back seat to the work I do with clients. Because when you lead with formula and apply it on repeat to every single human you get to partner alongside, you lose touch with what I call the incarnational power of story – that moment where spirit meets flesh in order to respond to the invitation of change and transformation.
And the only way to make that happen as a storyteller – for our audiences, our teams, and even for ourselves – is to untether ourselves from the restrictions of formula, to refuse to be so attached to where those formulaic roadmaps tell us we NEED to be and, instead, be willing to explore everything we’re actually seeing and hearing in real life, boots on the ground.
So if you’re a business leader who is trying to uncover the story you need to be telling, here are three steps you can take right now:
1. Invite a coworker to lunch, one on one, and ask them about everything EXCEPT work. What are their hobbies, what are their goals, what’s happening in their life RIGHT NOW? This will give you clues as to what’s really important, help you sync up with their heartbeat and understand the power they have to help you shape your culture and tell your story.
2. Play an old-fashioned game of show and tell. For your next all-team meeting, ask your team to bring an object that represents your organization. Give them space to explain WHY. Those insights will reveal powerful storylines about the character of your organization and help you reinforce the positive, collective identity that shows up.
3. Ask your team What Keeps You Up At Night. It’s a common question for our audience, but we’re not asking it often enough out of our teams. When you do ask it (and create space for it to be honestly answered), you’ll expose the friction points that are draining the spirits of your team members, and you’ll be able to create entry portals where you can step into their lives and their stories with grace.
Incarnational storytelling is a posture more than it is a step-by-step guide. It’s a servant-first mentality where you (as a leader) actively and intentionally create space to see and hear the stories that are being told around you. It’s a mission-first approach where ego gets left at the door and where the real life that’s unfolding before you doesn’t get drowned out beneath the day-to-day grind. Mostly, incarnational storytelling is a recognition that what you’re doing today is pushing you towards something even bigger, and it serves as the rallying point for everyone else around you to join you in that pursuit of something bigger.
Want to practice incarnational storytelling? Put these three actions into practice over the next month, and then reach out and let me know how it goes.