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Time for a new story

First, however, I want to tell you the different story, one that contains the same six essential elements. Both these stories are very different. In the first, the subject of my story used his story to change the culture of a whole organization. It was a one-to-many story. This next one is an example of a story I used in one-on-one coaching.

Recently I was coaching one of my senior consultants. He had been exhibiting a tendency to rush into action without properly thinking things through. Sometimes he was lucky and quick action delivered rapid results. Often, however, he took hurried action that had unintended consequences, creating more work – unnecessary work – and costly complications. I wanted him to think about the need to pause and reflect before rushing into things. I wanted him to understand that sometimes doing nothing was a better option.

I told him this story of a recent journey home:

‘Every day I commute by train from London to my home in Oxfordshire on a 40-minute journey. Last Friday, at the end of a long week, I could think of nothing but getting home to a glass of wine, putting my feet up and enjoying a late sunset with my wife. I really, really wanted to get home quickly. When I finally boarded the train, I began to relax and anticipate the weekend. Opposite me was a friendly businesswoman. We started a conversation. Just then an announcement warned us that there would be a delay because of a death on the line a few stations beyond mine at Didcot. Those of us wanting to stop at Didcot should leave this train (currently on Platform 1) and get on board the train now waiting to leave on Platform 10. Difficult choice. Stay comfortable and wait for hours? Or make the sprint across the station to ensure I got home early? I reluctantly excused myself and dashed across the station.

Aboard the train on Platform 10, I soon learned that this too was delayed. A fresh announcement said that those of us travelling to Didcot should now hurry to Platform 5 instead, as that train would leave ‘in five minutes’. In a panic, I hurried from the train on Platform 10, but bashed my arm on a protrusion on the train door as I left. Great pain. Checking to see that my suit was not torn, I suddenly remembered that I had left my raincoat on the train on Platform 1. I ran from Platform 10 to Platform 1, clattered aboard the train and greeted the businesswoman with whom I had been chatting. By now, I was sweating profusely. She looked startled as I grabbed my raincoat and excused myself again, running back to Platform 5, where I managed to get aboard with seconds to spare.

I sat down, looked at my watch, and realized with horror that blood was pouring from my sleeve and dripping from my fingers. On investigation, I discovered that whatever I had bashed my arm on had gouged a chunk of skin from my arm, which was now bleeding profusely. Luckily it had not yet soaked through the sleeve of my suit jacket, which I took off to save it from ruin. Using my pristine white handkerchief, I bandaged my arm in order to stem the bleeding. Quickly, the handkerchief soaked with blood.

Using my smart phone, I discovered that the train I was on was not going all the way to Didcot. I was going to have to change trains again. I looked up online how I could connect to Didcot from Reading Station where this train would drop me. I saw that I could connect to my train, but I would have to hurry because I had just three minutes to cross four platforms. Running all the way, carrying my briefcase, my raincoat and my jacket, I made it just in time.

By now, I was a sight to behold. My collar was open, my tie undone. I was sweaty, dirty and bleeding. There was one spare seat that I could see, so I made my way over and literally fell into it, panting. Can you guess who was sat opposite me? It was the businesswoman from the train on Platform 1! She looked at me with a mixture of horror and amusement… and we began to laugh. We had both made exactly the same progress, only I was much the worse for wear. “Sometimes it pays to just sit tight,” she said.’

Upon hearing the end of this tale, my senior consultant also broke into laughter, but I could tell that he had got the point. I did not have to say any more. He understood everything I was telling him about his own tendencies, the consequences of rushing about without thinking things through, and the need to stay calm in the face of urgent distractions and sometimes just do nothing.

A few times since then he has urged me to repeat my story, simply for the amusement of others, but in the meantime, his decision-making performance has improved.

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