November 2017
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Tell It Like It Is

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Let the Story Do the Work: The Art of Storytelling for Business Success

By Mary Hladio
AMACOM, 256 pp., $24.95
Reviewed by Laura Lubin

Why do we tell stories? What does storytelling add to a conversation? What makes a good anecdote? In her new book, Choy, founder of the Chicago-based Leadership Story Lab, answers those questions and more. By sharing her own story and those of people she has helped through the years, she shows readers how the art and science of storytelling can simplify the complex, engage minds, and strengthen your brand.

According to Choy, an effective narrative can help an outstanding candidate outshine her competition. It can make everyday information memorable and relatable. It can fortify your argument to the key decision makers working with you on a project, considering you for a promotion, or funding your next venture.

How do leaders take advantage of storytelling? Choy's book offers an in-depth, practical prescription for relaying the best about what your message has to offer.

In the introduction, the author describes her background as an admissions officer at a prestigious business school, and how often the decision to admit or deny candidates hinged on the stories they told. Here, readers learn where Choy's interest in storytelling as a business communication technique began.

The rest of the book is made up of 11 chapters, divided into three main sections: "The Anatomy of a Story," "Bringing Stories to Life," and "Stories in Action."

In the first section, Choy describes the principles and elements of storytelling. She introduces the three stages to communication mastery and the five plots a presenter can use as a story's foundation. Next, in "Bringing Stories to Life," she explains how readers can identify the audience for their stories, how to tell stories out of numbers and visuals, and how to simplify complexities—no matter where the story is situated. "Stories in Action" pulls all this information together so readers can weave stories that connect, gain credibility, and sell the social impact of their message.

Overall, Let the Story Do the Work is an informative text, packed with great advice about what it takes to make you a strong competitor in what Choy calls the "lifelong mini admissions applications" process. It supports hesitant storytellers by reassuring them that with the right format and tools, they can become as powerful as even George R.R. Martin. At the same time, though, the book clarifies that you don't have to be a renowned author to tell a great story.

This book perfectly illustrates why storytelling is important to your professional career: It can help you persuade others and make yourself more memorable. It would be great for including in a marketing course, sharing with a new leader, or even developing yourself.

  How to Be Happy at Work: The Power of Purpose, Hope, and Friendship

Annie McKee
Harvard Business Review Press, 208 pp., $2732

Do you find your workdays getting longer? Is the pleasant veneer you maintain in front of colleagues beginning to crack? Do the things that used to satisfy you at work now leave you empty? If you answered "yes" to any of those questions, How to Be Happy at Work is for you. Written with the recognition that the happiest people tend to find the most success (both personal and professional), it teaches readers how to identify and respond to things that dampen the workplace experience in a positive way. One important takeaway is that you can plan your route to happiness—it doesn't happen by accident.

  The Power of People Skills: How to Eliminate 90% of Your HR Problems and Dramatically Increase Team and Company Morale and Performance

Trevor Throness
Career Press, 208 pp., $27

Throness believes that, just as in sports, a business team is defined by its best players. These "stars," as he calls them, don't have to be flashy, but they must perform for the team to succeed. Of course, there are only so many stars in the universe, which means not every team can win. But how can you ensure your teams come out on top? Coaching. As Throness argues in The Power of People Skills, when a leader can coach her team, she can turn role players into stars and help current stars burn even brighter. Read this book to learn how your business can put star players in all its key positions.


  Breaking Bad Habits: Defy Industry Norms and Reinvigorate Your Business

Freek Vermeulen
Harvard Business Review Press, 256 pp., $30

Breaking Bad Habits may be appealing for those who believe the phrase "that's just how we do things" weighs on their organizations like an anvil. It also might be of interest to readers who think that commitment to tradition prevents their leaders from questioning the status quo, from evolving as common sense dictates. Written as a guide for finding and eradicating so-called "best practices" that hold your business back, this book is a great tool for talent development professionals focused on organizational processes and performance. Readers can expect to learn why bad practices take hold, how to eliminate them, and what to do after they're gone.

  What's on Karen Hough's Bookshelf?

Women Don't Ask: The High Cost of Avoiding Negotiation—and Positive Strategies for Change by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever. Everyone should read this book. If you are woman or have a girl or woman in your life, it's a critical text for understanding how to better navigate life and earning. It formed the basis for my research on women and negotiation that we facilitate many times every year. Also look to the authors' follow-up book, Ask For It.

Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul by Stuart Brown, with Christopher Vaughan. An all-time favorite, this marvelous text mixes story, research, and thought to uncover the deep and evolutionary importance of play. Music to the ears of this improviser.

Einstein's Dreams: A Novel by Alan Lightman. The author, who holds a doctorate in theoretical physics and also is a poet and novelist, mixes science, story, and imagination to examine the many possible natures of time, and Einstein's obsession with that theory. Beautiful and unforgettable.

About the Author

Laura Lubin is the assistant director of faculty support at American University in Washington, DC. She is the administrator for faculty development and support in the area of online teaching and learning at the Kogod School of Business' Graduate Online Programs Department. She is also an adjunct faculty member for Kogod's Department of Marketing. Her past roles as an instructional designer, educational technologist, and adjunct faculty member have taken place at Broward College, Florida International University, Florida Atlantic University, and Learning Systems International (METCOR/LSI).

In pursuit of an EdD in adult education and human resources development at Florida International University in Miami, Florida, Laura’s educational profile includes an AA in sociology from Florida State University, a BA in sociology and anthropology, an MS in human resources development, and a graduate certificate in human resources policy and management from Florida International University. She is a Certified Project Management Professional (PMP) with research interests that include instructional systems design, instructional designer-faculty dyads, faculty/human resources/talent development, online program governance, and the future of higher education.

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