Business storytelling will transport your audiences to grow your brand
One Sunday morning, I got on my United flight to Dulles for a story training with the Rapid Capabilities Office for the Air Force in Washington D.C.
I was ticketed in seat 12F. By the time I boarded, the other two seats in my row were filled. The two guys got up and out as I navigated my way to the window seat.
As we all three settled in, they picked up their conversation where I had interrupted it. The middle-aged man on the aisle was asking the 20-something guy next to me about his experience interviewing to become a flight attendant.
The young man’s enthusiasm was infectious. It was captured in the colorful tattoos that ran up and down both arms, his stylish hair, the pace of his answers and his new iPhone he constantly tapped with his thumb.
He was describing how excited he was to work part-time for Mesa Airlines as an on-call flight attendant. But his real dream was to land a full-time gig with any airline. In fact, he’d already spent two years in and out of interviews but had not yet made the grade.
We took off and I dove into Dale Carnegie’s classic leadership book, How to Win Friends and Influence People.
Here I am, approaching my 57th birthday, having been in advertising, marketing and sales for 35 years, and I was just now reading these ageless tips on human relations delivered through timeless storytelling.
I read about the importance of a smile. How to make people feel important because that’s what we all want. And how to look beyond people’s shortcomings and find understanding, appreciation, and empathy in our fellow man.
I was being tested, too. Because the dude next to me plugged in his earbuds and pulsated in his seat incessantly for the four-hour flight. Once one song was over, he didn’t wait for the next one in his mix. His head flopped forward, his eyes transfixed on his iPhone screen swiping his thumb with the intensity of a Texas Hold’em dealer shuffling through his songs until he landed on his selection.
Then Bam! Back to the Bruno Mars head bobbing that rocked our row.
Every leadership story begins with empathy
Was Carnegie himself messing with me from the heavens? Because as I read his insights like: “Be genuinely interested in and tolerant of other people.” I was being totally annoyed by this dude.
“Make the other person feel important, and do it sincerely.” Important! I held little respect for this self-absorbed hipster.
“Give honest and sincere appreciation.” My subtle but sharp glances did not interrupt his personal rave. So I decided to chill and follow Carnegie’s advice.
When we landed at Dulles and were taxing to the gate, I introduced myself to him. He unplugged, turned to me with a genuine smile.
“Hi, I’m Nick,” he proclaimed. (Carnegie states that there is no sweeter word than a person’s name.)
“Nick, good to meet you,” I said.
“I heard you talking to the gentlemen when we first boarded that you are trying to become a full-time flight attendant but haven’t gotten through the interviews yet.”
“Yep, that’s right. It’s a real pain. Because they only happen every six months. If you don’t make it through, you have to wait another half a year to try again,” Nick said with a flash of disappointment quickly dissolved by his optimism.
“I could tell by how you described it that you have a real passion for serving people,” I mentioned.
“Absolutely. That’s why I’d be perfect as a flight attendant,” he said.
Before I started our conversation, I thought of a story I had heard several years ago about how Southwest Airlines selected their people. What struck me is that the very first trait they look for is not good looks. Not congeniality. But selflessness demonstrated through having empathy for others.
So I asked Nick why he thought he wasn’t passing the interview test? He looked at me completely frustrated, lifting up his palms.
Your story helps you find your purpose that is propelled by your passion
I believe, from traveling with this young man for just four hours, that Nick has all of the determination and personality to be an enormously successful flight attendant. In fact, seeing him in action between his tats, positive attitude and free-wheeling, upper-torso tangoing in a confined space, that he is destined to be a great one.
But to me, Nick simply lacked the self-awareness that comes with experience and maturity. He had no appreciation for how his iTunes-induced revelry impacted his fellow travelers.
So I said to Nick, “Here, if you’re interested, read this book before your next interview. Take to heart what he tells you about winning friends and influencing people, and I guarantee you’ll land that gig as a flight attendant on the airline of your choosing.”
His eyes nearly popped out of his head.
“You mean you’re giving me your book?” He asked.
“Yes, I am. You have the passion and personality to be a great flight attendant, Nick. All you need are some timeless tips on human relationships. Read it. It will change your life. You’ll get your job.”
“I wish I had read it when I was your age,” I mentioned.
“Thank you,” he bubbled.
“By the way, who is your next interview with?” I asked.
“Southwest, man. Next week,” he smiled.
“Then you’ve got some reading to do. And I look forward to running into you sometime soon as you’re working the friendly skies.”
“That’s United,” he corrected me with the confidence of a man who knows his industry.
“See ya!” And off Nick bounded.
Carnegie was right. I had to get out of my own head, get over my own self in my own place, and appreciate Nick’s world from his perspective. That was the only way I could get him to open to my world.
Plus, I had no idea how a $9.99 book could make a person feel so important.
I think I won a friend and began to influence a complete stranger as I invoked another of Carnegie’s mantras: “Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to.”
I’ll admit, I was not being completely selfless in this act. My ego got a boost as I reached out to Nick to offer a little guidance.
I’m hoping Mr. Carnegie was smiling when I was “hearty in my approbation and lavish in my praise” of Nick.