Keeping Your Story Strong

I live off of stories. I guess that is why I love the First Testament so much. When I was in seminary, I learned so much about the Old Testament that I actually contemplated changing my discipline from pastoral counseling to Old Testament Theology. Stories of heroism, defeat, treachery, victory, failure abound in the Bible. Human stories, life stories are what shape our lives. What will be your life story?

My former life was in the retail business. As a rookie, I soon discovered that my story had to change and change quickly.  Sometimes it required me to change from being a nice guy to a person who had to fire people. I vividly remember my boss telling me, “Look there are 11,000 people in this company. Many of them can take your place right now. Either you discipline your employees or I will. If I have to do it then I don’t need you.” Wow. What he was really telling me was that he was accountable for the profitability of the store and that if the store wasn’t profitable he wouldn’t be there either. I had to change or I wouldn’t have a job either.

I wanted everyone at the store to like me.  That was not possible. Knowing why we do things helps us determine whether they are really worth doing. If you want your story to stay strong I have a few suggestions.

First learn to embrace change. I realized that if I didn’t change, I would not be around. So I took a risk. I watched other managers who had a reputation of being liked yet respected. I soon learned that I couldn’t manage by my nametag but only by who I was. If I was firm, fair and honest with people, I was respected. Not necessarily liked but respected. There was no time for incremental change. I realized that the land of excellence in management was safely guarded from unworthy intruders. At the gates stood two fearsome sentries – risk and learning. The keys to entry are faith and courage.

We used to joke about the stores who were struggling and what it would take to change them. I asked one store manager who had a history of turning around non-profitable stores what he would do to change a store to make it profitable and here is what he said, “You have to go in like you have six months to live.” His story was that he took no prisoners. He knew he had to make changes or he would be history.

I learned that being myself, yet firm, fair and honest with people went a long way. My authenticity had value with the employees. I learned to discipline them when necessary without sacrificing who I was. My story was that I changed. I changed because I had to. I also changed because I wanted to be better as a manager. People let go of outlived arrangements and old values more readily if they are convinced that there is a serious problem that demands an ending. John Kotter really makes this point in his book, Leading Change, when he talks about establishing a sense of urgency in order to create change.

So what will be your story? Will you take the risks because you know that to continue on the path you’re on will be a dead end? Are you willing to live like you have 6 months left of your life? Are you living into your passion? Will your story be filled with God events, excitement, changed lives, transformed communities? Or will it be filled with maintenance and an existence parallel to a museum curator?

I had the privilege of hosting Max Lucado for two days during a Promise Keepers event. He autographed one of his books for me and inside the cover he wrote, “Bill, Keep your story strong.” I have tried to do that ever since.

How about you, what are you doing to keep your story strong?


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