Karin’s Leadership Articles

The Simplest Way To Hear The Best Stories

by | Oct 4, 2013 | By Karin Hurt, Communication |

Every day your team is doing great work. Sometimes you miss their stories. Some folks will go home and tell their stories around the dinner table. Others can’t, or simply won’t. Don’t let stories go unheard, or untold. Find ways for them to share impactful adventures.

Listening For the Stories:  Listening Made Easy

I lead a remote team, scattered across 3 time zones in 25 locations. It’s impossible for me to scratch the surface of all the good work going on. Once a month we carve out time to share stories.

Each of my directors nominates one or two team members who’ve been up to something great, along with a few notes, focusing on the behaviors that are leading to success. Those nominees then are invited to a “kudos with Karin” call. Just a dozen or so storytellers and me (we skip all the layers in between). No prep required.

I set the stage, and go down the list. I share the highlights of their story as I understand it; what they’ve contributed, and the positive behaviors that led to success. Then I turn the table, and ask the honoree to share “their side of the story.” What they’re most proud of. Why it worked. Best practices they would highlight.

Almost always, their story includes why it’s an OUR story, a group effort, and more names are thrown into the mix for follow-up. The storytelling blossoms with interactive energy. Their story becomes a FUTURE story of possibilities. Folks call one another off-line to learn more. We learn through collaboration.

I then ask, is there anything else exciting happening personally or professionally you would like to share with the group? More stories emerge: going back to school, babies, graduations, substantial weight loss. The energy lights up a notch and this remote group feels even more connected.

The Difference

Traditional recognition is vital. But it usually goes one way. We receive the nomination, share highlights, present the plaque, applaud and move on.

Try turning tables and be a story listener.

Respond. Cull out themes and common behaviors. Let the recognition emerge naturally from the storytelling. No fuss. No plaques. Just a great feeling on a Friday afternoon. And another story for them to share around the dinner table.

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Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders resolve workplace ambiguity and chaos, so that they can drive innovation, productivity and revenue without burning out employees. She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and a hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.


  1. Alli Polin

    What an amazing practice, Karin! Simple with big impact. Absolutely one I’ll be sharing – a lot!

  2. letsgrowleaders

    Alli, Thanks so much. Happy Friday.

  3. Dave Bratcher

    This is a great practice. So much is missed in the day to day. Thanks for giving us a tangible way to make the most of what we have…right under our noses. Have an AWESOME Friday! Kudos to YOU, Karin!

    • letsgrowleaders

      Dave, thanks so much. It’s so much fun as well… it always makes my day. Have an awesome Friday as well.

  4. Ali Anani (@alianani15)

    Karin- I love the set-up you have for sharing stories. It is unique and creative. It is worth replicating. I wonder of you would share one example on how a story emerged and blossomed into fancy flowers. You could write a book on this novel approach.

    • letsgrowleaders

      Ali, hmmm… will work on that. Thanks as always for the inspiration.

  5. Sharon Gilmour-Glover

    Hi Karin,

    If I were an employee, you are exactly the kind of leader I would LOVE to work for!

    What I appreciate most about this blog is that the content is grounded in practice. You actually DO this practice. That tells me as a reader that A) it’s is do-able in real life and B) you get enough return to make it worthwhile.

    I also really appreciate that you write about the power inherent in the intangibles. Stories are such powerful tools and yet far too many people feel that it’s a waste of time to sit around and talk. It’s far more important to be doing. That belief is deeply entrenched despite there being ample evidence that “doing” out of context, in isolation, without connection to values, purpose, strategy and each other, delivers very small returns.

    Are you familiar with the Creative Intelligence Laboratory and the work of Dr. Ginger Grant? I think it might resonate with you – http://creativeintelligencelab.com/


    • letsgrowleaders

      Sharon, thanks so much for your kind words. Very intrigued by the Creative Intelligence Lab. Excited to learn more there. Thanks for expanding the conversation.

      • Sharon Gilmour-Glover

        Ginger has a fascinating background and uses stories a ton in her work. I’ve only had the pleasure of meeting her once so far but look forward to getting to know her and work better.
        I think you’ll find it interesting too.

  6. Bonnie Mann, CPA (@bonniemann)

    What a wonderful idea! I’m a natural storyteller but I have found that others often have trouble telling a story when asked. By starting the story yourself, you take the pressure off of them to the tell the entire story but are teaching them to tell stories by letting them talk about the part most important to them. You have created both a recognition system and learning system all in one.

    • letsgrowleaders

      Bonnie, what a beautiful perspective. I hadn’t thought of it just like that…so helpful.

  7. Jucimara

    For sure i will replicate in my team. Thanks Karin! Greetings from Brazil

  8. letsgrowleaders

    Jucimara thanks so much. I hope you will stop back and let us know how it goes.

  9. Craig Slater

    Excellent! As part of my regular meeting with each of my direct reports, I have made it a habit to ask them questions that elicit their stories and stories about others they have observed. It is a great way to really find out who is doing wonderful work. I follow-up with either personal face-to-face thank yous or handwritten thank you notes.

    • letsgrowleaders

      Craig, Love it. The handwritten notes are an amazing touch.

  10. Shayne Farrell

    Making sure people know why you appreciate them through stories is critical to building solid relationships. It shows you paid attention to the details and not just the end result. The solid relationship not only comes from you telling the story to the employee, but also by telling it to others, as Karin’s post states above. From time to time in my career, when a direct report does soemthing amazing, I take the time to write a personal letter to that employees signifigant other. I mail it addressed to them and not my direct report. I tell the story of what their signifigant other did an amazing job on. I tell them how much I appreciate them supporting my direct report. I explain how thankful I am to have them as a part of the team and what a differnce they make. Talk about a positive reaction.

    • Karin

      You raise such an important point here… it does show you’re paying attention to the details (and not just the end result, as you say.) Your personal letters are a great idea! I imagine that goes quite a long way.

  11. Terri Klass

    I just love this ritual, Karin! Storytelling is so powerful because it not only shares news and ideas, but reveals feelings and emotions. Stories dig deeper and make our lives and relationships more interconnected.
    You are such a creative leader! I applaud you for your energy and ability to help others see their value and gifts. Way to go!!

    • letsgrowleaders

      Terri, Thanks so much. Yes, I think the magic comes from the emotions. Great add.

  12. Lalita Raman

    Karin, a truly human approach to life at work. You recognize the strengths, you appreciate, you collaborate, you engage and connect. Truly inspiring.

    Thank you for sharing your story.

  13. letsgrowleaders

    Lalita, Thanks so much. Great to have you join the LGL community.

  14. Rob Glass

    Hi Karin,
    It is heart-warming to hear about real-life stories being valued.
    I do my best to capture them using video whenever one leaps out at me.
    Here’s a simple one I made on holiday: http://bit.ly/1ayLAio
    I’m hoping it’s about a lot more than just a hook and a bucket…


  15. David scruggs

    Loved this note. I’ve been coaching clients for years that the most profound “attaboy” (sorry for gender notation) lies in asking for advice. When a great contribution has been made, instead of thanking someone, asking them to share their insight and expertise is far more meaningful recognition.

    I’m sending your post to an executive client of mine who is assembling a cross-functional virtual leadership team for the sole purpose of sourcing stories across their footprint of people doing incredible things that are aligned with the new vision.

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