One of the quickest ways for a leader to lose credibility is to overpromise and underdeliver. I vision cast is a long way from a vision achieved, and big talk with small results ends in failure.

In politics, candidates try to tell a better story than their opponents, but not until they are elected do we learn if they are able to deliver on those commitments.

Communication is essential to good leadership, but sometimes we overemphasize the “talk” versus the “walk.” Leaders can often get people excited, but like a candidate running for office, can they deliver on that excitement?

Leaders don’t just a better story. Leaders make the story better.

When you work for a great leader, you know your story is better because of them. They’ve helped you grow, develop and achieve new results.

When a company is lead by a great leader, the aspiration and visions for the coming year become a reality in the next 12 months. The long terms goals get achieved task by task until they are simply achieved goals.

A community is better because of those who lead it. That isn’t to undervalue the contributions of everyone in the community or on the team, but it is difficult to surpass the performance of a leader who can’t execute as well as they pontificate.

Leaders are story shapers, for themselves, those their lead and their organizations.

How can you make another person’s story better?

A classic test of leadership is the question, “Is anyone or anything better because of you?”

How can you help the people you lead get better? How can you assist someone to get to the next level in their work?

The people you interact with each day are usually in one of three places: stuck, struggling or successful. I’ll give you the tools to help each make his or her story better.

Position One: Stuck

When you’re stuck, you’re not making progress. Stuck is dangerously close to giving up.

Those who are stuck are resigned to their current situation. Maybe they became discouraged in the past when their hard work didn’t pay off. Maybe they ran out of ideas. Or maybe they are just fatigued by past effort that didn’t move them forward.

What’s needed: hope.

I don’t think hope is simply a feeling. I believe it can be a life strategy because here’s how I define it:

Hope is having something new to try and being willing to try it.

Hope should be a combination of attitude and action, of emotion and effort. It isn’t sitting around moping and hoping for the best. Hope is looking for things you can try to make life better.

As a leader, how can you help those who are “stuck”?

1. Re-sell them on themselves and their potential. A loss of confidence can be devastating. People can see temporary failure as permanent. You can explain to them that a person’s potential 1. never changes nor 2. is ever fully known. The only thing we can count on is that none of us are living to our full potential. That means that just because what they’ve tried in the past hasn’t worked, it is probably because they’ve tried the wrong things.
Sometimes people need to be resold on themselves; to hear the encouragement from someone they know and trust that they can do it.

2. Re-narrate. You might be stuck because they’ve draw incorrect conclusions: nothing matters and trying doesn’t help. They’ve concluded past experience guarantees future experience.

You can help them re-narrate and make better meaning out of their mistakes and failures but helping them find causes and lessons. You can also share your story if there are similarities that will help them.

3. Re-energize. Trying takes energy and effort. Remind people of their purpose and help them uncover their inspiration. By finding out what matters most to them, you can give them fuel to keep going.

Position Two: Struggling

Few like to struggle but to understand its importance, remember: resistance builds muscle (physical, mental and spiritual) and can make us stronger.

People who are struggling are making an effort and that counts for much. The key for those struggling is to keep trying the right things. Trying things that don’t work over and over, well, won’t work!
But struggle can quickly turn to stuck if there is no payoff.

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What’s needed: encouragement.

I think of encouragement as “outside confidence.” To keep going a person needs energy, and that energy is often encouragement from a friend or trusted colleague. If a stranger tells you that you can do it, you have reason to doubt. How would a stranger know?

But if someone knows you and you trust them to tell the truth, encouragement means much. It is confirmation that you’ve done it before and you can do it again, just keep going.

What a leader can do:

Remind. The important message is that nobody is exempt from effort and struggle, and nothing truly significant were accomplished without it. The goal is to do the right things well to minimize the struggle.

2. Refocus. It also helps to look beyond the effort to the desired outcome. Get someone who struggles to determine if they are closer to the goal than when they started. If they are, they are making progress. Focus on how far you’ve come, not just how far you have to go.

3. Redefine. Some mistakenly think a failure is who you are, not a battle that was lost. Every great person in history has failed, both frequently and often in big ways, but that didn’t slow them down. They kept going and aren’t considered failures.

Baseball success Clint Hurdle says,  “Failure is something you experience, not something you are.”

Level Three: Successful

Success is good, right? Of course. However, if you achieve success and don’t have new projects, goals and aspirations, you can become stuck.

Better “stuck at success” than “stuck at failure” but the truth is they both feel very similar.

High achievers are challenging to keep succeeding and that creates pressure. Mistakes are more visible when you are successful, and that’s why some quit taking even reasonable risk.

You can plateau at your current level of success, and if you do, you’re stuck?

What can you do for yourself or others?

1. Re-evaluate. What was once important might no longer be. Success doesn’t always beget success in the same endeavours. A person can take the principles and techniques they’ve learned and apply them to new, more rewarding areas.

Goethe said, “The hardest thing to see is what is in front of your eyes.” Look for new and different opportunities if the existing ones are neither still important nor rewarding.

2. Renew. Success is better viewed as a process than a destination. Revisit your professional and personal mission, and renew your commitment to ongoing improvement. Better always beats best.

3. Realize. Your success doesn’t just impact you. It can motivate or even demoralize others depending on how you achieved it. your impact. Look at how your story affects others. You can be a positive or negative example. That is up to you.

Story shaping at all three levels is always about sharing stories of success or failure, your own or other’s, and looking for the principles and actionable ideas. Leaders tell better stories in pursuit of making the story better. The two aren’t mutually exclusive.

What will you do in the months ahead to deliver on the promise of a better future for those you lead by making the story better?

This article has been authored by Mark Sanborn. Mark Sanborn, CSP, CPAE is president of Sanborn & Associates, Inc., an idea studio for leadership development. He is an award-winning speaker, internationally recognized authority on leadership and the author of the bestselling books The Fred Factor and You Don’t Need a Title to be a Leader. To obtain additional information for improving yourself your business (including free resources), visit

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