Leaders Are Storytellers: Find the Tiger

Those who have made a huge difference in my life are all great storytellers.


Started my day with a short walk outside my office as usual, when a thought struck me. “Leaders are storytellers.” My father is a storyteller. My English teacher back in my high school days is one, too. And a preacher who’s built a big following. She’s a storyteller. 


Start with What You Have


Living in a remote hill town, my father was a second son with two other siblings—an elder brother and a younger sister. Back in the 1940’s, his was a poor family that couldn’t afford to send all the kids to school. All he could get as a formal learning was elementary school, while his brother finished high school. 


After finishing the elementary school, my father kept on learning Chinese poetry and literature. That’s all the resources he got and he started teaching Chinese to young kids in town until he turns 20 years of age. He would have stayed in the remote village but he had to go for military service. 


Father put his Chinese skills to good use and grabbed the opportunity.


In the Army, they were recruiting a college student who could read and write Chinese. Though far from being a college student, my father stood in line with college students and got recruited as an administration assistant of sorts. Working with college students, he found that there’s a whole new world out there beyond his small town. 


Leaving the Army, he started to learn by himself to get certified for secondary education. Then he went to college and passed the exam for a teacher’s license. That’s how he started teaching Chinese literature at high school and middle school. 


Motivate with Personal Stories


Listening to my father’s stories, I grew up motivated to learn, gain knowledge, and to focus on my strengths, rather than gripped by concerns of what I don’t have. The moral of my father’s story was clear to me even in my younger years: “If there’s a will, there’s a way.” He’s the living proof. 


Probably, I’ve inherited his love of language and a storytelling gene, if there’s any such thing. Language and storytelling skills have been two of my strengths to this day. Or, it may simply be the case that I’ve learned from his love of stories, or his caring attitude and attention towards people in need. 


Father cared for the students in need and touched their heart with stories.


The high school that he worked at was a school for the disadvantaged. That is, the students are from poor families mostly. Failing to see no bright future ahead, some of them decided to drop out of school. Whenever that happened, my father visited their home, met their parents, and persuaded the kids from dropping out. 


Almost all the students got back and finished the course to get the diploma. These are the ones who sent gifts to my father on special holidays, came to our house each year to say thank-you to my father. They said they owed a great deal to my father. If he hadn’t been there sharing his personal stories to change their minds, they wouldn’t have got the chance to change their lives. 


Find the Tiger in the Woods


On the wall of my parent’s place, there’s still a colorful painting of a tiger, prowling a dark forest. When my father hung it on the wall, I asked him who painted it. He told me that the painter once was on the verge of dropping out of school. After talking with my father several times, listening to his stories, he decided to complete his secondary education and became a painter. 


Father has found a tiger of strengths in the woods of his students.


Viewed in this context, the tiger in the woods seems, to me, like a metaphor—of strengths hidden from view. It’s not easy to find the strengths of people at first glance. Still, a leader sees through the dark forest and find the tiger that’s ready to jump at the right moment, with a little motivation.


How much renown the painter has earned, I’m not sure. But the pride he has built in my father is obvious. His personal story touched the heart of his students. And he made a difference in their lives, just as he had in mine.


Thank you, Father, for sharing your stories with me.

(This blog was originally published on LinkedIn. It has been re-posted here with permission from Adam.) 

(Image Courtesy: Pixabay.com)

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Adam Park

Adam Park is Executive Director, Marketing at SAP.....

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