Why a Business Head of a Retail Chain Turned into a 14 Year-Old on Stage.
Ravikant(name changed) is the head of business at a leading apparel company. Late last year, he delivered a speech at his company’s annual offsite. He narrated the story of the time when he was in 9th std. He almost failed in a subject back then. Both his teacher and principal gave him a dressing down. They predicted that he would do worse in 10th grade given the higher difficulty.
This was embarrassing for Ravikant as his father was witness to this incident. He remembered feeling ashamed on the scooter ride back home with his dad. That evening, he vowed to prove his teachers wrong. He worked hard and with discipline over the next one year. In the 10th std finals, he was one of the toppers in class for the subject. Not just that, he also displayed good overall performance.
Cut to 2020.
Ravikant faced a challenge when covid arrived. Lockdowns were about to become the norm. Ravikant’s CEO told him that they might have to shut down stores to survive. Ravi felt like he was that 14 year old teenager all over again. But this time, the fight wasn’t for his pride but that of progress of all his store staff.
He stoically told his CEO, “Don’t worry, we won’t have to shut down any.”
But the odds were against him. Most retailers were shutting shop. People did not need new clothes as they spent all their time locked inside homes. What followed were months of hard work and discipline. He would get into his home office in the morning, only to step out late evening. Day-in and day-out negotiations of rentals and leases with property partners became his life. Ravikant used his charm or logic and strong-arm tactics where nothing else worked.
Others enjoyed the lockdown with their families. But Ravi was stuck on perpetual Zoom calls. But that didn’t matter. He had a bigger family to take care of. The one that manages, runs and supports every store of the company. The company did not shut down even a single store due to the pandemic, Ravikant revealed to the audience. And said that when you have a strong reason to do something, you deliver. I am told that the crowd gave him a standing ovation. It is my guess that Ravikant is now known as a fighter and not just as the big boss at the head office.
One communication tip for today.
I cannot overstate the power of personal stories in business. Conventional wisdom says that it’s good to keep your personal life away from work. But as always, there is nuance to this advice. A personal story or anecdote that delivers a business message is a powerful asset. The question is how and when to use personal stories.
How to use them?
- Use to highlight a message: Personal stories in business are narrated for a reason. In this case, it was to highlight an organizational value that others could learn from Ravikant.
- Don’t boast: Also be careful if you are only talking success. Because in that case you might be boasting
- Conflict is the heart of every story: In Ravikant’s case it was his hurt pride when he was 14. The conflict when the pandemic started was the threat that many of colleagues might lose their livelihoods.
- Showcase challenges: Achievements are sweet only when they come on the back of challenges.
Where to use personal stories?
- As a startup founder: A personal story highlighting why your startup is also your purpose. This can be used to pitch to investors, in forums and also conversations.
- As a team lead: Share anecdotes from your own life and work that helped you learn something. This is something you could use while leading teams. Rather than mouthing assertions(‘Think out of the box’ and so on), it is better to share stories that ‘Show, don’t tell.’
- As a business leader: Sharing relevant personal stories can help build a connection. This connection is what will move your audience towards your call to action faster.
Whether you want to show your vision or share a value or build a connection, a relevant personal story can help.
Sachin, Founder, The Story Co