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Posted: 2005-04-30 / Author: Pat Grove

Coaching And The Power Of Stories

As we approach Christmas, and the close of another year, it is timely to consider why Christmas is such a prominent part of our culture. One way of looking at this is through the power of stories. Essentially, Christmas is a story, one of many stories that we live in omega replica watches, some more prominent and powerful than others. We don’t all share exactly the same story about Christmas, but many of us build our own individual story around some common elements. For many people the religious significance of Christmas is still very important. Christmas also provides an opportunity to appreciate the value of the family and the importance of family togetherness for our own well-being. Associated with this is the spirit of giving and sharing, accompanied by joy and compassion, which we extend to family and friends. And finally, it is a time to celebrate, unwind and relax and look forward to some holidays as the pace of life slows to something more leisurely. Each of us will probably have one or more of these elements in our story of Christmas.

But we still haven’t addressed what makes the story of Christmas so powerful in our culture. To do this we need to take a look at stories themselves. What is a story and what role do stories play in our lives? As linguistic beings, stories are a primary means by which we reach our unique understanding of the world and find what is meaningful and not meaningful for us. A story is a framework which has been created, within which we come to make sense of our circumstances in life – these are our explanations and descriptions of how things are, why they are like that, how they should be and could be. We have stories about just about everything – ourselves, others, events and circumstances. And it is important not to overlook that stories are generators of moods and emotions, and so strongly influence the nature of our emotional existence. Indeed who we are, that is, how we perceive ourselves, is always a story – a linguistic construction.

To be human is to live in stories. We are born in to the pre-existing stories of our family, and also of our culture, which consist of the gender, ethnic, religious, national, regional and class stories that have been developed over the years and preceded our presence in the world. They were there before us and some stories have exerted great influence for thousands of years. For example, the stories in the Bible and great legends and myths that are part of ancient civilizations. And to become part of a group and remain accepted within that group, means taking on and living those stories. Of course, we do this most of the time without awareness.

However, the stories we take on define much of our understanding of who we are, what we are capable of accomplishing and our possibilities in life. We cannot live without stories – we are surrounded by them in the speaking of those we interact with daily, but also through the media – radio, papers, magazines, TV, videos, films, books, and now the internet. To be human is to exist within stories and also to create stories. The issue of stories is not whether we can do without them or not, but rather, of how well they serve us. We are vulnerable to taking on the stories of others in ways that leave us out of touch with our authentic self and, as a result, we are not the author of our own story.

We create our perception of reality through stories, and one of the main issues worth addressing around stories is how powerful they are for us. We are using power here in the sense of capacity for effective action. For example, how does the story I hold about myself allow me to accomplish what is important to me in my life? Or does it restrict me? How does my story about others facilitate or hinder me developing positive, constructive, and productive relationships with others, which does not necessarily mean never disagreeing, but rather, how we can deal with our disagreements in a mood of mutual replica rolex respect?

On a broader social level, many commentators are suggesting that in our post-modern world there has been a breakdown in the power of big stories, or grand narratives, which provided core reference points and stable structures both socially, economically and politically and were the foundation of a solid sense of community. This stability provided the secure background within which we could create our own individual stories.

We now seem to be faced with a range of stories which compete for our attention and consumption, which reflects, and creates, confusion and uncertainty. These commentators argue that our leaders are letting us down by not seeking to generate stories which can replace the outdated narratives, stories which can be a powerful framework and provide deep meaning for national and international communities.

To use the title of a recent book, there is a silent whispering in our hearts for the creating of stories which we can all feel part of. We have a yearning for our leaders to play an active role in this and because we perceive that they don’t do this we continually find ourselves disappointed, and also disillusioned, with them. More than ever we look to them to provide the stories which will provide us with a sense of connection, meaning and purpose. Nevertheless, a significant contribution to the development of frameworks of meaning can be made by organizational leaders. Their position enables them to make a significant contribution not only to their employees, but also in the wider social sphere.

Issues of employee morale, loyalty and productivity are interrelated, and leaders have a role much greater than the simple production of a vision and mission and associated procedures. Organisational personnel want to be part of a story about their place in the organization, one that provides their professional existence with meaning, something beyond the daily nature of their specialized work. Work is such a major part of people’s lives, that when this framework of meaning exists, families will also benefit. Powerful (=influential) leaders are those who can produce narratives that speak to what is important

For the multiplicity of those connected with their organization – employees, shareholders, suppliers and customers. One of the dilemmas we live is a desire to be noticed as an individual but also a yearning to be part replica omega watches of a community. When leaders develop narratives that allow people to escape the playing of petty and destructive ego games (which usually comes from them not feeling accepted, safe and secure), by providing them the chance to be connected to something that is bigger than themselves, there is a chance to achieve a balance between, on the one hand, humility and, on the other hand, individual expression and the recognition of individual talent.

We are crying out for solid and stable stories which we can attach ourselves to and which provide us with the spiritual meaning which is so important to us. Perhaps this is why Christmas remains such an integral part of our culture, even if the original religious significance is not part of our story about Christmas. Is the story of Christmas bigger than any of us? Is this because it provides some strong elements of what is important for all of us – compassion, giving, feeling cared for, taking care of, joy, and celebration together? Christmas enables us to perform rituals, and rituals hold communities together and provide mutual meaning. In World War 1 the Christmas story was powerful enough for soldiers from opposite sides to come out of the trenches and spend time conversing, eating and drinking with each other. How could we create other stories which are as powerful as the Christmas story – throughout the rest of the year?

Despite the place of Christmas as a story in our culture, it can also be a vulnerable time for us. For some Christmas can be a time of loneliness and sadness, and it is important to acknowledge that. Also, in a festive season we can be in a light-hearted mood and not be as alert and vigilant about our safety as we normally are. So please take extra special care on the road – either as a driver, passenger and pedestrian – and also around water.
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I have borrowed and thank Alan Sieler for this glorious story.
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Pat Grove is a leadership Coach and founder of the Pat Grove Coaching Academy. http://www.patgrove.com

Pat is the author of "Here is where you are", "I am complete", "Coach - The new leader", "Of Mice Management" and soon to be released "The Spirit of Coaching - Coaching to the human soul.".

He publishes a monthly newsletter, Distinctions, distributed through the Internet to nearly 12500 Achievers, Entrepreneurs, and Leaders in 39 countries. He has over 30 articles published on Personal, Social and Organizational Transformation. Subscribe to his newsletter at leadership@intekom.co.za


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