Leadership, storytelling and why it is an art and it needs to be taught – Interview with Gareth Higgins


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Today’s interview is with Gareth Higgins, who writes and speaks about the power of storytelling to shape our lives and world, peace and justice, and how to take life seriously without believing your own propaganda. Gareth joins me today to talk about what makes a good story, whether good/effective storytelling be learnt, how people can start a journey towards being a better storyteller, what they should do to get started, and a simple but profound model for anyone who wants to build communities that promise mutual support, challenge, inspiration, protection and service to the common good.

This interview follows on from my recent interview – You don’t get promoted for teaching people how to wash their hands – Interview with James Lawther – and is number 499 in the series of interviews with authors and business leaders who are doing great things, providing valuable insights, helping businesses innovate and delivering great service and experience to both their customers and their employees.

Here are the highlights of our conversation with Gareth:

  • I think the stories we tell about things shape our reality in a profound way, much more profound than many of us think.
  • Is the story I’m telling the most helpful version of that story, and can we move toward a more helpful version?
  • Reimagining your story and your place in relation to the story can be liberating.
  • Big shout out to Ari Weinzweig (who introduced us to each other) and everybody at Zingerman’s.
  • There are three reasons why we are often not that great at storytelling:
    • 1. Most of us haven’t been initiated into the art of storytelling, to the craft of storytelling. Storytelling is an art and it needs to be taught.
    • 2. Most of us have not had the experience of being truly listened to. Conversation is often about ping pong or it’s about trying to ensure that the other person agrees with you or you can persuade them to agree with you rather than listening for the purpose of understanding. If you and I have a conversation and all that happens is that I understand you better by the end of the conversation, it was worth it. I think most people have never been truly listened to and they certainly don’t live in cultures where that’s like an everyday experience.
    • 3. The foundational parameters of storytelling include some things that I believe we need to evolve beyond as it is often reduce down to them versus us.
  • The idea that what some people call the myth of redemptive violence is foundational to the way we think about story, which is basically, “I have to win, or my people have to win.” And that is so deeply embedded in the DNA of our culture that to question it gets written off, ignored, downplayed, mocked, or even attacked.
  • We have to reframe the stories we tell to make them inclusive and progressive and more collaborative and cooperative.
  • Love is not just about what the other person makes you feel love is about your commitment and service to them.
  • Every act of culture can be an act of love.
  • Check out the book called “Between the Listening and the Telling” by Mark Yaconelli. It’s the best book I’ve read on storytelling.
  • A simple but profound model for anyone who wants to build communities. Four questions:
    • 1. What’s life giving to you? Or what’s something that’s bringing you a spark of hope or joy or goodness? Or you could just say what’s up for you?
    • 2. What’s not life giving for you? Or what’s sparking heaviness or dread or what’s challenging you or what’s down for you?
    • 3. What’s the better story that you want to join? What do you feel called to promote the common good?
    • 4. How can we help each other?
  • Gareth’s best advice: Make work an extension of home rather than home an extension of work.
  • Gareth’s Punk XL brand: The Zingerman’s Community of Businesses in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

About Gareth

Gareth+New+Headshot+NaveGareth Higgins was born in Belfast in 1975, grew up during the northern Ireland Troubles, and now lives in the US. He writes and speaks about the power of storytelling to shape our lives and world, peace and making justice, and how to take life seriously without believing your own propaganda. He has been involved in peace-building and violence reduction in northern Ireland and helping address the legacy of conflict, received a Ph.D. in Sociology from Queen’s University Belfast, and helped teach the world’s first graduate course in Reconciliation Studies at Trinity College Dublin. He also helped found the Wild GooseNew Story and Movies & Meaning festivals. Gareth leads retreats in North America and Ireland; and he founded The Porch Magazine.

Brian McLaren says Gareth’s new book How Not to be Afraid is “a beautiful book”, Kathleen Norris says it’s “a necessary book”, and Micky ScottBey Jones says it’s “a much-needed resource for skill-building through our fear and trauma, so that we might create the belonging and communities we desire”. Nadia Bolz-Weber says “I totally trust Gareth Higgins when he writes about his own fear and how it’s actually possible to transform it into something powerful, something capable of healing us and the world.” Pádraig Ó Tuama says “Gareth Higgins is a friend. This book is too.” Find out more at www.hownottobeafraid.com

Gareth is happy to be a work in progress. If you’d like to connect with his work, have a look at what he can offer here.

You can write to Gareth here. Find his articles at Sojourners and ReWire Me. We invite you to subscribe to The Porch Magazine, to have a look at Ireland Retreats, and to explore Movies & Meaning. Gareth’s blog is hereSubscribe here for updates.

Credit: Photo by Jason Goodman on Unsplash

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Adrian Swinscoe
Adrian Swinscoe brings over 25 years experience to focusing on helping companies large and small develop and implement customer focused, sustainable growth strategies.


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