What’s your Capital-S Story?

Capital-S Stories in Leadership

Here’s what we know:

About 20 percent of workers globally — give or take — see/find a sense of purpose in their work. You can make an argument that the goal of a job isn’t purpose — in short, it’s a paycheck — but coming somewhere for 8-10 hours/day and having a general sense of how the different elements work together is pretty valuable.

Now there’s a Northwestern professor talking about the value of “Capital S” stories. What are those, exactly? Glad you asked.

Buck calls this a capital S story. A capital S story is different from what she calls little S stories, the anecdotes that are usually what we expect when we hear, “Let me tell you a story.”

Got it. So there’s a Story — that’s the thing that really explains you, like a superhero origin story — and then stories, which are anecdotes that fill in the big, Capital-S story. Phrased another way:

A capital S story hones a leader’s vision and purpose. It is the narrative that acts as a compass, steering leaders in the right direction. It can also drum up support for a leader’s initiatives. And this is especially important, given that studies show that only about 20 percent of workers globally feel a sense of meaning in their work.

Every coach/consultant worth his/her salt has a variation on this phrase somewhere, be it “True North” (a popular one) or “Candid Conversations” or something similar to that. The whole idea is that business moves super fast, and top leaders need to make decisions pretty quickly. As the saying goes, If you stand for nothing, you’ll fall for anything. So a Capital-S story or a True North concept is all about the core of what you believe and what shaped you as a leader, and if you always keep that close, your decision-making should be pretty consistent. Since “consistency” is a key factor of the leadership equation, this is important.

Here’s how you get to a Capital-S Story, apparently:

BUCK More importantly, in terms of identifying an underlying sense of identity or purpose or story, we ask people to think about, “Is there some theme that connects the dots of the otherwise totally different experiences of your life?”

This is something people seem to miss a lot: everything in life, and especially everything about work, comes back to connection. We very rarely set up organizations in a way that fosters connection; we instead set them up around skill/product silos. In reality, a “networked culture” could be really beneficial for an organization to pursue. No one thinks that way, though. (Well, most people don’t.) That’s odd, because whether we’re talking about connecting moments — and finding your story — or connecting people — and finding more effectiveness in workflow — it really all comes back to connection. Right?

Ted Bauer

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