Story Pros: Geoff Mead—Narrative Leadership

Geoff Mead is a skilled organizational storyteller who combines the artistry of a traditional storyteller with years of  experience with leadership development. He shows how storytelling can be far more than a tool for persuasion—it can be a tool for personal, organizational and societal change.

Highlights from the show

What is narrative leadership and why does it matter.

Leading is making meaning with people and grounded story narrative is an extraordinary powerful way to make meaning.

Our desire to shape and make meaning and our desire to connect both come together in story.

“We are the storytelling animals.”

Creating modest moments of humanity can help people connect.

“If you really listen, you expose yourself to the possibility of being changed and if you’re not open to being changed, you haven’t listened, you’ve just heard the words.”

“We create our selves through stories, the stories we tell about ourselves and the stories we tell.”

“You can change the relationship you have to the story of your life and what has happened” even if you can’t change what happened.

“Once we know stories and can articulate them then we can have stories, until that point the stories have us.”

Why a sense of invitation is so important when you are encouraging people to explore their own stories.

Stories can be an invitation for us to expand.

“Stories are invitations to dwell in a world which might inform us differently.”

“Unless I myself am open to the story, and what it can teach me, I have no right to tell it…There’s a necessary humility in the role of storyteller.

There’s something slightly subversive about the role of the storyteller.

The importance of the small stories that are essential to changing the larger narrative.

How “simulacra”stories (the ones with no relation to the underlying reality (facts) and no desire to represent it) are playing in the world today, And how such stories played out in the US Elections and Brexit where progressives never were able to come up with a compelling counter-narrative.

Refernence of Alan Chinen, Beyond the Hero; In the Ever after; Waking the World.

Why the hero’s journey story can fail us in the second half of life.

The second half of life stories support us with a different shape – the second marriage to one’s self.

“The elder stories are not about questing they’re about being. About allowing the fruits of one’s life to repay one.  THere’s a second innocence, a return of magic. And we give back.”

“The great gesture of elder hood is giving back.”

How Geoff has honored his wife’s passage, using his writing to pay conscious attention to his process of grief,



Click here to listen to episode 63 in iTunes

And if you like the show, please subscribe in iTunes and leave a rating or review!

About my guest

Geoff researches, consults, writes and teaches in the fields of Narrative Leadership and Action Research. He is on the faculty of the Ashridge Doctorate in Organizational Change and an Associate Fellow at Oxford Saïd Business School, University of Oxford.

He is the founding director of Narrative Leadership Associates, a consultancy focused on the use of storytelling for sustainable leadership and a leader in the emerging field of narrative leadership and storytelling in organisations. He was formerly on the faculty of the Civil Service Top Management Programme and a Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Bath (School of Management). He had a prior career in the UK Police Service, which he left in 2002 as a Chief Superintendent.

He is passionate about stories and storytelling and has taken his work on storytelling and narrative leadership into a wide variety of organisational settings including: Air BP, Action for Children, BAE Systems, Civil Service Top Management Programme, Deloitte, Fat Face, KPMG, London Probation Service, Openreach, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Beachcroft, Universities of Bath, Oxford and Surrey, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, National Health Service, National School of Government, and Public Service Management Wales.

Geoff has co-created and facilitated leadership development programmes in a range of contexts, including the national police Accelerated Promotion Scheme, the Top Management Programme at the National School of Government, and for a variety of corporate clients at Oxford Saïd Business School. He completed an MBA at Henley Management College in 1991 and a PhD at Bath University in 2002.

He has published two successful books on the subject of narrative leadership as well as a wide variety of papers and articles in both academic and professional journals. Coming Home to Story: Storytelling Beyond Happily Ever After, was published by Vala in November 2011. Telling the Story: The Heart and Soul of Successful Leadership was published in April 2014 by Jossey-Bass.

The Show Notes

Learn more about Geoff’s consultancy work at a non-profit center for organizational storytelling

Geoff’s blog:



Story Pros: Karen Dietz—The Dynamics of Business Storytelling

Karen is  the top curator globally on the subject of business storytelling ( and the owner of Just Story It.  She  is a 25-year veteran in business storytelling consulting, training, leadership, and organizational development. She’s also the former Executive Director of the National Storytelling Network.

Highlights from the Show

As a senior practitioner, she offered LOTS of insights about the art and science of business storytelling.

Among them:

  • Why we need to go beyond understanding story mechanics to understanding story dynamics.
  • The core competencies of the business storyteller.
  • Why Karen doesn’t even like the word storytelling (at least part of the time).
  • Why you need to tailor your storytelling tools to a particular application.
  • Why the hero’s journey story framework is limited.
  • Why we want our stories to be more than transactional (i.e. my story leads to a sale) when they have the power to be transformational (where both listener and teller are changed by the encounter.)
  • How to be a story-listener and elicit great stories.
  • Why you shouldn’t tell a story when your building’s on fire…

Hear the interview with Karen:

Click here to go to the full interview on ITunes (#64)

More about Karen

Karen knows how to combine the science of storytelling with the art of performing to grow stories that inspire, influence and impact an organization’s bottom line.  She’s worked with Disney, Princess Cruises, nonprofits, and entrepreneurs and get this – Disney – one of the biggest storytellers of them all.Screen Shot 2015-10-18 at 2.52.42 PM

She received her Masters and PhD from the Department of Folklore at the University of Pennsylvania, where the department and was the most advanced place to study in the field when Karen attended.

John Wiley publishers recruited Karen for their Dummies series. Her how-to book Business Storytelling for Dummies, co-authored with Lori Silverman, combines a conceptual overview with practical examples, steps to take, and useful questions that help you become a masterful story listener as well as a storyteller.  (I vouch personally for its usefulness!)

Karen offers lots of free resources on her website,  Sign up for her newsletter and receive some great bonus material!  And check out her fabulous Just Story It curation by clicking here: Scoop-it.



Find Your Best Frame

Roe deer
Last week, I gave a workshop on Strategic Storytelling at a conference of fundraisers.

Strategic storytelling is the vivid use of stories tied to a framework you design – one that orients the listener/reader to the importance and relevance of what you are sharing.

This framework is like the trunk of a tree on which you can hang lots of stories and examples that support your message.

Choosing the right frame is key. A frame orients the people you want to reach to who you are and suggests what may be most relevant to them.

We all naturally search for frames. When we approach a situation, or get to know an organization, a cause or even a person, we want to know “How should I be looking at this?” and “What could this mean to me?” Lacking other information, we’ll naturally start to frame what we’re seeing through the lens of what we know or our past experiences. And depending on the frame we chose, the world may occur very differently.

Here are two frames through which to look at a situation I experienced last week called “deer on our property”.

Frame one: There’s a family of deer grazing peacefully in our horse fields today and I’m struck by the beauty of the scene. The mist is rising off the fields, the reddish bark of the madrona is catching a hint of light, and a large doe is watching over her new offspring, three babies, each barely eighteen inches tall. When I was five years old, my favorite book in the world was Fleet Foot the Fawn.

The doe perks her ears, notices me and then saunters slowly across the field, babies bouncing around her. Soon she will bound over the fence to the next field, leaving the young to scramble through the fencing, until the day comes when they, like their Mom, can jump it.

Frame two: Every gardener on this island knows this truth: deer are the enemy. Too many of them live on the island with few, if any, natural predators. To be able to grow vegetables and many ornamental plants, you need to have a deer fence. The first year we lived on our property we spent thousands of dollars putting up a fence, leaving half of the property open to the deer.

Unfortunately, the deer don’t always respect our generous limits. They’re the ultimate party crasher if the gate is left ajar a moment. This week, walking through our garden, I spotted a doe inside the deer fence. Big trouble! The last deer who entered ate most of my snap peas, nibbling them down to bare stalks. The deer crasher before that chewed off all the new vegetation she could reach on the fruit trees, cutting our crop of potential fruit in half. Deer inside the fence means war and getting one out is a pain. It’s not hunting season and I don’t own a gun, but if I did, I just might be tempted….

Same deer, same property – but the frame on each scene is completely different.

Frames shape how we see the world.

When Yale created a business school years ago, they didn’t try to be a new and junior version of the Harvard Business School. They created a degree called a “Masters in Public and Private Management” – announcing to the world they were playing a new game, with different values. New frame.

Hospice is sometimes framed, by those who don’t understand, as “where people go to die”. Wrong frame! Hospice is where people, who are facing death, are supported to live life as fully as they can. The frame is life, dignity and support.

People who don’t know the Bellevue Arts Museum might think it a poor cousin to the Seattle Art Museum. However, the Museum has created a powerful frame that links it to a growing and vital Bellevue arts community and highlights its strength in crafts and design, where it stands out as a leader in its field.

AirBNB, faced with criticism that it was encroaching on the terrain of hotels, reframed itself as way to feel like you belong anywhere around the globe. Being able to share someone else’s house or apartment was more than a cheap room, it was access to community. Way more interesting.

My husband, is struggling with how to frame his bike accident and broken hip. Is it just terrible luck and a royal pain in the a–.? Or is it his opportunity to more deeply appreciate what it is to walk, to strengthen his balance as he approaches his eighties, and to appreciate the power of friends as they reach out to him with offers of support.

Strategic framing isn’t spin.

It doesn’t magically make my husband’s pain go away. It sets a context.

Of meaning.

We may use a frame without noticing it, or we can intentionally choose a new frame with which to view a situation. An organization may inherit a frame or intentionally choose a frame that will shape the stories they want told about them.

Creating a frame and setting a context is the first step to strategic storytelling.

Offer the world a frame that puts you at the center of what you do best, builds on your best attributes, and highlights your talent. If you’re an innovator, help people know how to place you and gives them a lens through which to interpret what you do.

Yesterday, with the help of friends, we got the doe out of the garden. Today, I’m back to a positive frame for watching the deer: enjoying Bambi frolicking in the fields.

When Nurses Speak

2014-12-08 05.09.23


180 years of nursing experience + 6 stories = one miracle

I didn’t blog last week. Co-facilitating a StoryHealers workshop in Santa Fe called Nurses Speak didn’t give me an extra second free.  But it was oh, so worth it!

As Peggy Mangan, an amazing nurse with more than thirty years experience, who had flown in from Michigan for the workshop, told us at its conclusion: “The transformation was the highlight of my nursing career.”

2014-12-07 03.42.36It doesn’t get better than that!

Although I’m tempted to brag (or at least brag about my collaborator Mary Rives!), the real credit for our success goes to the nurses. The six of them immersed themselves for five days, developing  their stories and preparing for the stage. The group was open, honest, courageous, and fun…and committed to supporting each other.

During the first three days of the workshop, we focused on writing and sharing our work. Mary and I listened intently to stories that were raw, edgy and deliberately unfinished. Each of the nurses went beyond the safe story that she or he might have told, to find the true story that was asking to be told in that moment.

Our job was to trust that the right stories would emerge – and not to push. That turned out to be easy as golden nuggets emerged. Through their vignettes, I learned

  • How many nurses began their caregiving careers because they were thrust, out of necessity, into caregiving roles in their youth.
  • How the years of stress, pressure, and dealing with heartbreaking situations can disconnect some nurses from feeling their hearts, and, even worse, lead to harsh or mean behaviors.
  • How hierarchy, egos and pressures lead to big clinical mistakes.
  • How the process of nursing offers both a sacred gift and an excuse, for some, to avoid caring for themselves.
  • How the process of dying, with the right support, is a life-enhancing event.

On the f2014-12-08 05.11.35ourth day, Mary and I shifted into our roles as directors. We aren’t professional actors, yet our job was to help our small cast of non-actors to embody their stories and bring them alive on stage.

We had a blast. Mary brought in some Laughter Yoga. I shared improvisation exercises. We coached them: “Be in your body! Pause! Breathe! Feel your words!” as they found the drama in their stories. On performance day, one hour before dress rehearsal, we were still cooking – fiddling with words, making changes on the computer, and wondering how it would all come together. Mary and I reminded each other to breathe and trust.

As we entered Santa Fe’s Jean Cocteau theatre, we weren’t sure what would happen. The group rehearsed as technicians scrambled to set up mics and organize the video camera. When the audience filled the house and the lights went down, magic started.

As each performer faced the audience, we witnessed miracles. Voices became stronger, movements bolder, and stories clearer, as our storytellers basked in the audience’s welcoming attention. There were delicious pauses and laughs that filled the room. The audience provided a rousing, standing ovation.

Mary and I could barely stay in our seats.

The event went beyond the personal transformation of the performers. It was a way of honoring the profession of nursing and offering the audience an intimate view into the world of the nurse.

Deborah Walker, Executive Director of the New Mexico Nurses Association and a big supporter of Nurses Speak, was ecstatic and eager to talk about what’s next. Other audience members flocked us to find out about our plans to take Nurses Speak on the road to other cities. (Answer: as soon as we find funding!)2014-12-08 05.48.09

Hearing stories like we heard on stage, you’ll never think of nursing the same way. You’ll understand some of the complexities of health care from the inside out. And you’ll remember the core of why caring is so important.

If there’s one thing I took from these incredible nurses it’s that we need to take care of ourselves, even in this holiday season of giving to others!

So Happy Holidays and please take good care!




P.S. If you have any knowledge of foundations that might support nurses or other caregivers to share their stories with a wider public, please let me know!











When Nurses + Stories = Tranformation


Smiling Nurse African American in HospitalI’m very grateful to nurses. For my mother, living in her small assisted living room, nurses and aides are her lifeline. They attend to her body, and they buoy her spirits. They listen.

But who listens to nurses – not just the information they give out – but their stories?

A while back, I taught leadership programs in a large Chicago area health system. As a part of these programs, we listened to the stories of nurses and other health care professionals. We also created events for nurses to share their stories in circles of peers. And we watched something remarkable happen.

Nurses entered our story circles jaded, burned-out and disconnected from the dreams that had propelled them into nursing. Many had been working for years, with long, stressful hours, being asked to care, and care, and care. Some had witnessed so much trauma and loss that they had learned how to bury their capacity to feel.

But as they joined the circles and shared, something shifted. Hearts began to re-open, and many of the nurses began to speak with more joy and pride about their profession.

These circles of nurses taught me the healing power that comes from sharing stories.

This December, my colleague Mary Rives and I are offering a special program in Santa Fe to help nurses discover and share stories about their professional experiences. They’ll work with us over four days, and on the fifth evening, they’ll perform their stories at a public theatre in Santa Fe.

We call our program Nurses Speak and we’ll use the StoryHealers process pioneered by Tanya Taylor Rubinstein.

The StoryHealers work, which I’ve experienced myself as well as facilitated, can be transformative. Participants start to let go of their old stories about the past, while discovering new stories that emerge during the workshop. Members of the audience who hear the stories performed are often very moved as they witness these heartfelt stories.

One of our upcoming participants is Keith Carlson, well known to the nursing community through his podcasts and blogs about the profession. Keith Carlson is himself a nurse, coach, and advocate for nursing. In a recent interview, he shared with me:

 “Nursing is the most trusted profession in America. Yet it is one of the most misunderstood.”

Keith described the stereotypical ways the media deals with nurses, using archetypes like the “sexy nurse”, the “nurse martyr”, or the “nurse as savior/angel of mercy.” These stereotypes don’t do justice to the diversity of the profession.keith 2 at file better

Forget the old image of the nurse as a white skinned, white capped woman, dutifully taking orders from a physician. Today, nurses in the United States  come in all colors, from all across the world, and from diverse socio-economic and educational backgrounds. (Their training runs from technical degrees to doctorates.) Ten percent of the nursing professionals are men.

Nursing professionals are the single largest group of health care providers in America. In many states, nurses with advanced degrees, such as nurse practitioners, perform work formerly done only by doctors, and work without direct physician supervision.

Nursing can be very hard work. Being a caregiver dealing with our broken health care system, while sometimes carrying life and death responsibility for patient outcomes, is stressful – emotionally, mentally and physically. In many hospitals, (and not all nursing occurs in hospitals, Keith reminded me), financial pressures mean nurses are asked to carry larger and larger patient loads.

No wonder there’s so much fatigue, de-moralization and burnout in the profession. Yet there are great stories and miracles to be told as well. And we can listen.

As Keith spoke, “A lot of nurses lose touch with what it’s really all about for them in the stress of their profession and their professional lives.”

Nurses Speak is an opportunity for nurses to look more deeply at why they do what they do, why they are what they are, and why they work as nurses in the first place.”

Keith hopes Nurses Speak will send the community a positive message about the nursing profession and attract others to the profession. He believes that groups of health care professionals – including nurses, aides, administrators, doctors, and related professionals could improve their working relationships by listening more deeply to each other’s professional stories.

Our first group debuts December 4 – 8th in Santa Fe. And I’m already imagining the possibilities.

I want to share my vision with you:

What if, instead of endlessly debating what’s broken in our health care system, using platitudes, politics, and fixed positions, we allowed ourselves to listen to the voices of health care professionals and their patients, offered through their stories?  Informed with empathy, and understanding as well as facts, we might do a better job of creating a more fair, accessible and quality health care system.

I’d be willing to bet on it.

Here’s to listening!




P.S. If you know any nurses who might be interested in the Nurses Speak program in Santa Fe  – here’s more information! 

Join our creative quest!

Find support for living your purposeful, passionate life. And enjoy a free e-book to help you create the story you want to live.

You have Successfully Subscribed!