Early in my career as an HR professional, I had someone take an interest in me. For whatever reason, she saw something in me that I wasn’t paying attention to, never mind saw in myself. She took me under her wing and gave me guidance on who to meet with, what to ask, how to conduct myself - it all felt seamless.   Our relationship was informal – coffee or lunch once or twice a quarter.  Our dialogue centered on the work I was doing and what I might have needed her insight on.  I didn’t realize at the time just how important this relationship was until I suddenly found my career growing in ways I hadn’t previously imagined. 

I’m a big believer in the “pass it on” principle. Later in my career, I went on to become a formal mentor. I joined an external leadership program for women where I was aligned with a cohort of 5-6 women leaders over an extended period. I also, rather naturally, became an informal mentor to work colleagues and young adults and friends who were just starting out in their career. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it came naturally to me because I’d experienced it - because of the woman who had taken an interest, and believed in me, early in my career.  

Mentorship and Connection Through Storytelling

In my HR role, and beyond, I have had people ask me about the secret to mentoring others. It is not something that always comes naturally; nor is it always taught as an important leadership skill or tool for engaging.  One proven way that I have found to explore your values, share your vision, and appear more authentic and approachable to the leaders of tomorrow, is to share your experiences through stories. This is how “pass it on” comes to life, and how you demonstrate to others that you believe in them and why.

3 Reasons Leaders Need to Tell Stories to Engage Millennials and The Leaders of Tomorrow:

  1. Sharing your story (experiences) encourages them to think about possibilities (not solutions)
  2. It’s about relating to the audience – inspiring them – not telling them. Millennials – and others -- want to learn things themselves. By sharing a relatable message, you give your audience the power to understand the lesson on their own.
  3. It allows you to welcome the ‘why’ (‘Generation Why…not just Generation Y’). Millennials want to understand why (what actions, skills, or behaviors were evident in the story telling) something worked

Story telling does not need to be daunting, nor done by alone or in a vacuum.  I remember fondly times I used to sit around the campfire with good friends or family. It seemed like there was always someone who’d start a story, a game of sorts, and have someone else pick up where they left off. This continued with the others until you’d have to stop from laughing because the story had become so ridiculous. Kind of like a more transparent game of telephone where each person feels personally challenged to out-do the next on the ridiculousness scale.

As leaders and mentors, it’s our job to keep the story rolling. While we might not always be aiming for belly laughs, engaging others with inspiring messages, and allowing them to participate in the “next” part of the story, just as we did around the campfires, makes them feel like they are a part of something. What would happen if you used this spirit with your team or colleagues and instead of chuckles, you moved people; if the reaction at the ‘end’ of the story had your team members taking pause and asking, ‘what if’?

The magical part is, that sometimes people just need someone to start the story – that’s where your leadership comes in. If you can paint them a beginning and mentor them through to their next step, there’s no telling how wonderful the end, or the “happily ever after” will be.

To learn more about the art and science of storytelling, click here.

To read more about the power of storytelling and millennials, click here.

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