It was a week-long class on how to be a better supervisor. The “students” were employees of a Fortune 100 firm. I taught many concepts that week, engaged these working adults in many activities relevant to their jobs. There were with emphases on team-building, problem-solving, leadership, time management, streamlined meetings, communications, establishing trust, and many other topics they would need in their supervisory, team-leadership, management roles.
Several years later, I encountered one of the students at a conference. “Oh,” she gushed, “you’re the one with the mother!” Yes, indeed, I have a mother. So do we all. But she was referring to a story I had told the supervision students about my mother. Now mind you, in a five-day class, there were many, many theories and constructs and researchers and quotable figures that were shared and incorporated into their supervision style. But the thing she remembered most of all was the story.
USE A STORY FOR MULTIPLE PURPOSES
The story in question was about my mother, who dropped out of school in the eighth grade in order to help her family. Six children, the middle of the Great Depression, and an immigrant family whose father died unexpectedly at age 42. My mother began sewing clothes for her own family and for neighbors. In time, she taught herself how to make drapes and–in part because of her skill and in part because she never charged enough–managed to build a large customer base via word-of-mouth recommendations. In her 70’s, she came up with an idea for making drapes easily and inexpensively. And, with the assistance of her writer-daughter, sold the concept to a major American manufacturer.
For Writing Classes
When I teach writing classes, I tell the full story, ending with my mother’s assertion: “If I didn’t have a daughter who knew how to write, the invention would have gone nowhere.”
For Creativity Classes
“Imagination,” Einstein maintained, “is more important than knowledge.” I use my mother’s story to illustrate the importance of experimenting and pursuing the creative sparks of inspiration that come to each of us.
For Self-Improvement Classes
My father, perhaps somewhat threatened by my mother’s success at having her idea displayed in homes throughout the country, asked a bit scornfully one day, “What’s the big deal? You are acting like you put a man on the moon.” When she received her first royalty check, she made a copy and left it on the kitchen table with a note, “Dear Pasquale, I’m taking my first trip to the moon. Fix your own supper!” Then she left for a two-week vacation to visit her daughters in Los Angeles.
For Classes on Improving Quality
The Quality movement’s founder, Dr. W. Edwards Deming, believed that the people closest to the process know the process best. When I taught Total Quality Management classes, I correlated this guru’s wisdom with what the vice president of manufacturing told my mother when his company decided to buy patent rights from her. “I have a whole department of engineers,” he admitted. “They are well-educated, hard-working, bright men and women. And yet, not a single one of them ever thought of something like this.”
My mother replied, “And I bet not a single one of them ever had to sit at a sewing machine for twenty hours in a row.”
But You’re Not an Instructor, You Say
The ability to make yourself memorable is not relegated to good instructors alone. In fact, there is research showing when business people have to deliver bad news, they are considered more believable if their presentation includes anecdotes or stories, rather than a reliance on statistics alone.
And, even if you are not an instructor or a business person, you no doubt engage with others in social situations. To stand out from others and make an encounter with you a memorable one, think of personal experiences you can share. Know there is a reason why the Yiddish proverb asks this question, “What is truer than truth?” and then provides this answer, “The story.”