All posts by Andrew

Influencer Institute

Using Our Skills in Our Own Communities

At this year’s REACH Conference, I had the pleasure of interacting with a hundred or so VitalSmarts Certified Trainers in breakout sessions entitled “Using Your Skills in the Community.” I walked away from our conversations with a renewed interest in serving in my own community, and I think other attendees felt similarly.

How will you use your skills in your community? What follows is a brief summary of our conference musings. Perhaps these will spark your own creativity and desire to serve.

Be an example. Let’s say that you’ve learned a new skill, such as how to hold a high-stakes, emotional conversation—that’s the crux of Crucial Conversations, right? Each time you use that skill, you’re sharing a little light with those around you—giving them a glimpse of a new behavioral possibility. Think of your skills, not just those that stem from your exposure to VitalSmarts content. Can you use them more deliberately and frequently? In an appropriate way, can you use your skills more visibly?

Be a mentor. Can you remember a key moment in your life when someone mentored you? Take a moment and consider the people in your professional, social, and family circles. Who could you motivate or enable? Whether you think of your own skill set as limited or vast, chances are that there is someone near you who can benefit from your kind words, coaching, cheerleading, or guidance. You don’t need official permission or a mandate to be a mentor, and often those who need your help are hesitant to ask. Who might look back a few years from now and thank you for mentoring them?

Be a trainer. If you’re a VitalSmarts Certified Trainer, then you may have heard of the Not-for-Profit Training Grant Program. Through this program, you can donate your unique skills as a trainer to a qualifying nonprofit organization in your community. Many nonprofits, which otherwise couldn’t access training of this quality, have benefited from this program. Can you think of an organization in your community that could benefit from your training skills?

Be a volunteer. The important work of building healthy communities takes place at many levels—through the work of inspired individuals, neighborhood associations, churches, service organizations, and a variety of nonprofits, for-profit and social impact ventures, and government. Nearly every one of these is an entry point for volunteers. Given your skill set and the needs of your community, how might you stretch yourself into an unfamiliar and potentially rewarding volunteer role? As a trainer, you possess facilitation and teaching skills that could be especially valuable.

Be an influencer. During our breakout session, we spent extra time discussing the Influencer model, which is the backbone of the book, Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change. This model presents a systematic way for any reader to influence behavior. You don’t need special permission or training to apply the Influencer model, and, in fact, I’d love to hear about your efforts, successes, and challenges. I encourage you to read stories of others who have applied this model to accomplish important goals within organizations and communities. How will you influence your community to change for good?

If you’ve felt inspired by any of these descriptions or questions, then I’ll conclude with this invitation: act now. Act in a small way, but act now. Don’t wait for the perfect opportunity or for a formal invitation or for a season when you have more free time. Don’t wait for this motivational microburst to subside. Take this challenge now—and let’s all use our skills for good.

Influencer Institute

Influencer Institute: The Power of a Vivid Story

Recently, I had the great pleasure of spending a few days with Martha Swai, one of the primary architects of an influential (and now world-renowned) radio soap opera in Tanzania.

In the early 1990s, Martha and her colleagues developed a serial drama called Twende Na Wakati (“Let’s Go With the Times”), which blended first-rate entertainment with carefully crafted public health messages. The result of her efforts was that millions of listeners adopted safer sexual practices to reduce the transmission of HIV/AIDS. Further, Martha’s efforts elevated the status of women in Tanzania and promoted planned childbearing to curb cycles of poverty.

Before you get caught up in the remarkable pubic health implications of these broadcasts, think about how Martha worked her magic: she changed the behavior of an entire nation by telling vivid stories.

Does storytelling strike you as a soft skill? Something for the PR department or for social evenings around a campfire? Daniel Pink doesn’t think so. In his book A Whole New Mind: Why Right-brainers Will Rule the Future, Pink characterizes a mastery of story as a critical individual skill and organizational competency. And if you’ve read Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change, you’ll know that influencers are master storytellers, which leads us back to Martha.

Rather than broadcasting lectures or logical arguments, Martha told stories. She and her writing team invented believable characters and plot lines that resonated with their listeners. They followed the exploits of a philandering truck driver who, much to his surprise and the surprise of the listeners, contracted HIV/AIDS and eventually died. They gradually revealed how his reckless and often abusive behavior negatively affected his family members and acquaintances.

One of the reasons that storytelling is so powerful is that it honors the listener’s intellect, which creates a participatory relationship wherein the listener begins to own the parts of the story filled in by his or her imagination. A good story invites the listener to personally discover the connection between actions and consequences. A good story invites the listener to scrutinize information, make guesses, and imagine outcomes. A good story triggers empathy and emotions.

Next time you’d like to influence the behavior of an individual or group, remember Martha Swai and the power of a vivid story.

Note: At our REACH conference this year, VitalSmarts recognized Martha with the 2013 Albert Bandura Influencer Award for her exceptional public health efforts. Click here to learn more about this prestigious award.