Storytelling: Demonstrating the Power of The Five Practices

An ancient Chinese proverb that says, “The longest journey begins with a single step” is one that guides our work as facilitators in our Open Enrollment Workshops in Shanghai. Whether working with individual leaders in The Leadership Challenge® Workshop or in a Facilitator Training with those learning to become facilitators themselves, we often begin the journey by asking participants to share stories about The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership®. Here are four of our favorites that stand out as demonstrating important lessons about leadership.

Story One: Inspire a Shared Vision
Two employees of Alibaba, the biggest internet and intranet company in China, shared a story of the company’s Founder and CEO, Jack Ma. Fifteen years ago he had a vision to “Make business easy in the world” and to “Enable everyone to pay for goods and services by using technology.” Today, even in China’s most rural villages, you will see farmers and laborers selling their products, ordering goods, and making transactions by just clicking their smartphone. And right now, Jack Ma’s vision is only getting bigger. He not only connects sellers and buyers online, making payments by Alipay, he also built the intranet logistic system called Cai Niao (New Bird), which impacts health care, hospital payments, insurance, and many other areas. Jack Ma’s vision for Alibaba has transformed the way millions of Chinese and people worldwide go about their day.

Story Two: Model the Way
Recent class participant Mandy Qin introduced the notion of “intent vs impact”—the concept of what we intend to do versus how it is received by our teams—that created a spirited discussion about how we as leaders are always on stage. The class spoke passionately about how real this concept is for leaders. They shared that even the best intentions of the best leaders occasionally have an adverse impact. One example comes from my own coaching experience working with a national sales and marketing director. After he completed the LPI® assessment and received his personalized report he was shocked with the results. He had intended to be an exemplary leader but his peers and others clearly interpreted his behaviors differently. They did not often see this leader “walking the talk” and “showing respect and integrity”—all of which resulted in conflicts across functions.

Story Three: Enable Others to Act
Colin Pine had just graduated from law school in New York when he saw an unusual classified ad in the New York Times for a translator for the NBA who spoke Mandarin. He researched the ad and soon learned that it was Yao Ming, China’s most famous basketball player, who needed help navigating language and life in the U.S. Colin took the job as Yao’s English teacher and translator, but with one major condition: he would only serve for a few years. By then, he announced, Yao would be equipped to speak and read English well on his own. His decision to ultimately work himself out of the job shows the power of Enable Others to Act. During the time that they worked together, Colin and Yao built a high-trust relationship. And as Colin gave his power away, he ultimately strengthened Yao’s ability to navigate the rigors of NBA life on his own.

Yao retired after eight seasons in the NBA. He now speaks and reads English thanks to the leadership of Colin Pine.

Story Four: – Challenge the Process
In a luncheon speech recently, Shao Bin Zhao, Director of Organization Development at Orient Scape, a company famous for urban landscape and environmental treatment, spoke about how some of the “old school” managers at his organization did not care much about employee well-being. Highlighting the fact that members of his organization had been working 12 hours-a-day, six days-a-week (yes, 72 hours a week!) to meet their goals, he described the emotional burden that this “command and control” style of leadership has had on the staff. It is not surprising to learn of the 33% turnover which the company is experiencing.

Later, when he participated in our workshop he reflected on the burden employees were experiencing and committed to Challenge the Process by talking candidly about ways to make work enjoyable and meaningful—not just an endurance test. By the end of our four days together, he determined that his organization’s journey toward better, smarter, more enduring leadership would begin with the single step of bringing The Leadership Challenge® to Orient Scape’s leadership team. He will be the first seed of better leadership there. And we all wish him good luck!

Storytelling is a powerful tool to use when facilitating a workshop for leaders and/or a training session for facilitators. When we want to engage others in implementing change initiatives, connect personally with fellow team members, convey important organizational or leadership lessons, or inspire followers to share our vision, stories are a much more effective means of communication (versus facts, charts, and PowerPoint slides). They can help bridge cultural and language divides, more clearly illustrate complex concepts, and make it much easier for people to remember and resonate with a shared emotion.


Qiu Hua (Connie) Stephens is a Certified Master-in-Training of The Leadership Challenge and founder of Shanghai-based HeadStart Consulting Inc. where she works with clients throughout Asia and the U.S. on leadership development, coaching, and organization development. She is also an ICF Professional Certified Coach (PCC) with over 3000 coaching hours. She can be reached at connie@hssgroup.com.

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