It’s been more than 50 years since Martin Luther King Jr. stood in front of 250,000 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and delivered what would become one of the most famous speeches in history. Even those of us who weren’t yet born can still quickly call to mind the intonation and the gravity of his words.
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
“I have a dream today!”
King’s speech pierced hearts and minds with a bold vision of the future.
Following King’s example, today’s leaders know the way to launch a big idea or build a collective vision is through story.
During the past several years, I’ve had the opportunity to work closely with the Council for Health and Human Service Ministries (CHHSM), an association of more than 300 communities and programs related to the United Church of Christ serving children, youth, families, older adults and those with disabilities.
This month, CHHSM President and CEO Bryan Sickbert retired after 23 years of service. Throughout his tenure, Bryan used storytelling to guide the vision, address issues and inspire action. With every new milestone, members looked to Bryan’s stories, delivered in his monthly columns and in presentations, to set the course for CHHSM.
For instance, Bryan provided an update on CHHSM’s direction in his post “Where is Our Movement Now,” which used story to describe the association’s future focus. The essay inspired members by describing the movement “at the threshold of renewal,” and offering a prophetic glimpse of CHHSM’s new vision.
As the organization recently celebrated its 75th anniversary, Bryan again prompted members to envision the future by recalling scripture from the book of Isaiah. He began his story with this verse:
Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old.
Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
Isaiah 43: 18-19
Bryan then encouraged members to uncover new things at work in CHHSM as they focused on the future of the organization.
His stories were a rudder for CHHSM. They steered conversations, both in person and online through Facebook comments, and were often the most popular content in CHHSM’s monthly newsletter.
Most importantly, Bryan’s stories were a catalyst for change and a vessel for the association’s vision. Using big-picture narrative, he helped leaders identify themselves as key players in CHHSM’s work.
Like King and other great leaders who use narrative, Bryan told stories that drew people in emotionally, igniting passion and ultimately inspiring commitment.