The leader of a household can literally prevent tragedy and death by having, discussing, and practicing emergency plans. What is the escape route in case of a house fire? What should children do if the adults are not able? Where are the hurricane preparation items? What if? And, what if? Included in these crucial conversations should be input from each person (to be sure everyone is involved) and also stories of possible scenarios. Everyone can be taken through a potential situation so the leader is confident that each person can imagine and prepare for a worst-case scenario. 

In the workplace, a leader can use what-if scenarios in a multitude of ways: customer service training; conflict resolution; sales; business ethics; respecting diversity; avoiding sexual harassment; natural disaster plan of action; efficiency and waste reduction; new policy impact, and health and wellness initiatives.  

It is typical to have a meeting about any of the above, either lecture-style or with engaged discussion. But the best leaders go the extra mile and “show vs. tell.” Stories of potential scenarios or actual past events will significantly increase the success of what is being communicated. 

In his book, Building Your Leadership Legacy, retired Army Colonel Bob Carroll notes that this is what West Point is doing as an integral part of character development. “They use a particular methodology called the Leader Challenge Approach, which involves the presentation of case studies of real challenges faced by recent graduates,” Carroll writes. “The cadets discuss principles that apply and debate several options…The process of discussing these real (not fabricated) issues, doing some personal soul searching, and making a case for a solution are all part of formulating and strengthening a set of values.” 

It occurs to me that using this approach could help parents feel less impotent in preparing their children for challenges they can expect as teenagers. As soon as the young person has the maturity to understand the discussion, what if the parent used stories and invited ideas of how to best handle sticky situations? Not a couple of times (“just say no to drugs”) but in a regular and consistent manner—maybe twice a week at the dinner table, for example. 

Consider all the roles of leadership you have at work, home, or in your community. (Not titles, roles.) How you can use stories and what-if scenarios to illuminate key points and lay the groundwork for handling both predictable and unpredictable challenges?

Discover how to share your stories with Barbara Dee

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