Thursday, June 17, 2010

Stories from the Fireline

"Sharing experiences through stories is emerging in various professions as a powerful way to exchange and consolidate knowledge. Research suggests that sharing experiences though narrative builds trust, cultivates norms, transfers tacit knowledge, facilitates unlearning, and generates emotional connections. ~ Deborah Sole and Daniel Gray Wilson, LILA Harvard University

Every individual involved in the wildland fire service has a story to tell and a common mechanism for sharing our lessons learned and past experiences. Knowing what story to tell and when to tell it is a powerful communication skill. Stories from the Fireline is a self-development tool intended to assist wildland fire leaders enhance their storytelling skills.

“How-To” Suggestion:

  1. Download and read LILA Harvard University's Deborah Sole's and Daniel Gray Wilson’s "Storytelling in Organizations: The Power and Traps of Using Stories to Share Knowledge in Organizations" which can be found online at

  2. Obtain and read the book Leadership Lessons from West Point from the Leader to Leader Institute. Authors of this publication set the example of using storytelling to bring very real leadership experiences to life.
  3. Research storytelling as a leadership development tool. A few printed and Internet resources are listed below as possible guides for your knowledge quest. (Supervisors: Consider adding storytelling references to your local leadership library.)
  4. Implement storytelling when communicating; use the information you have gained from your research.
  5. Document experiences where storytelling was used to handle a leadership challenge (bring about change, encourage teamwork, share knowledge, transmit the Wildland Fire Leadership Values and Principles, etc.). Indicate whether the experience was effective or ineffective; if ineffective, document what could have been differently for future reference.

  6. Create a personal storytelling library for future use. Revisit your storytelling library to keep the information updated and relevant.

  7. Continually practice and improve your skill.
  8. Pay it forward. Share this leadership development tool with members of your crew; become a storytelling mentor.

Printed Resources:

Denning, Steve. The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling: Mastering the Art and Discipline of Business Narrative. Jossey-Bass. April 2005.

  • Addresses “how to use storytelling to deal with the most difficult challenges faced by leadership today” including:
    - Motivate others to action
    - Build trust in you
    - Build trust in your company (branding)
    - Transmit your values
    - Get others working together
    - Share knowledge
    - Tame the grapevine
    - Create and share your vision,
    - Solve the paradox of innovation
    - Use narrative to transform your organization

Denning, Steve. Squirrel Inc.—A Fable of Leadership through Storytelling. Elsevier. June 2004.

  • Addresses “the use of storytelling to address leadership challenges”
    - How to bring about change
    - How to communicate who you are
    - How to transmit values
    - How to foster collaboration
    - How to stop rumors
    - How to share knowledge

Leader to Leader Institute (Major Doug Crandall, editor). Leadership Lessons from West Point. Jossey-Bass. 2007.

  • This publication is the ultimate reference for using storytelling for leadership development.

    “In our classrooms, as in this book, we bring forth concepts and theory, relate stories from our own leadership endeavors, and help cadets make sense of their own experiences as they look toward the future. Throughout this book, we open a window into this world of leadership development that is the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership at West Point and share some of our candid reflections, compelling stories, best practices, and frontline ideas.” (Major Doug Crandall, xxvi)

Simmons, Annette. The Story Factor: Inspiration, Influence, and Persuasion through Storytelling. Perseus Books Group. June 2002.

  • Addresses “six types of stories that will serve you well in your efforts to influence others”
    - Who I Am Stories
    - Why I Am Here Stories
    - My Vision Story
    - Teaching Stories
    - Values in Action Stories
    - "I Know what you are Thinking" Stories

Internet Resources:

Brooks, Kevin. Story - Storytelling - Business – Research.

Denning, Stephen.


Group Process Consulting. (Simmons, Annette)

Ivy Sea Online. Stories & Storytelling.

Lipman, Doug. Story Dynamics: Igniting Transformation Through Storytelling,

McLellan, Hilary. Leadership and Stories.

Sanborn, Mark. How Leaders Communicate.
Part 1:
Part 2:

Stories from the Fireline can be a powerful self‑development tool. Effective use of the tool requires thought, organization, and practice.

“People may read the statement of organizational values every day and may carry their values cards in the wallet at all times. But what they remember are the stories and examples of how those values were put into action.” – Major Chip Daniels, Leadership Lessons from West Point

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