Don’t Mess With Texas, or The Power of Stories…

I had five meetings today. That’s a lot for me in my current position as I don’t typically have five in a week. I’d heard a maxim “The only people who enjoy meetings are the ones doing the talking” and it’s served me well. These meetings were different though – I had stories to tell.

More on that in a minute…

You’re no doubt familiar with the slogan “Don’t mess with Texas“, especially if you’ve ever been to the state. What you probably don’t know is that it was/is an advertising campaign to curb littering. Yeah, littering.

I wouldn’t mess with it if I were you.

It was a huge deal for the state that cost around $20 million per year in highway clean up. The problem was massive and so were the proposed solutions: stiff fines, stronger enforcement, pleading messages to “keep Texas beautiful” printed on everything in sight – nothing worked.

The solution came from a pair of creatives at an advertising agency which tapped into the power of stories. They looked at their target market (18-35 year old males – the ones most likely to litter) and found a story that spoke to them. Texas, having been its own country for a time, has a strong independence streak, and possibly more pride than any other state. To be a Texan is a badge of honor and a huge part of one’s identity. It even applies to transplants to the state – it doesn’t take long for converts to adopt the “Don’t mess with Texas” attitude. It’s really quite something to see.

The campaign consisted of State heroes in print and video, conveying that Texas wasn’t to be screwed with, and that if it were, well… not good things would happen. Check out this classic commercial for an example.

The beauty of the campaign is how well it stuck with people. Dan and Chip Heath relay the whole process in their book “Made to Stick” which I can’t recommend enough. By telling these guys a story: “Texans are proud of their state. It’s the best state there is! All other states suck by comparison! You’re a Texan and all Texans (REAL TEXANS, anyway) don’t litter! They don’t degrade the proudest state in the Union. They defend it in with their dying breath. People in Arizona or California may litter, but not us by god.”

That’s a powerful story. It’ s simple and yet still manages to have a massive impact on behavior. I relay this story as I’m trying to do the same thing. In fact, I think the test of a leader is how much they can affect the culture of their team for the better. What kinds of stories do they tell? What effect do those stories have? How did we get better? This is the most significant part of  my job.

texting

“Oh, yeah… what? Water is included. I think…”

So today was about telling stories to my team and what separates us from the rest:  “Other Agents text their BFFs on tours and ignore prospects, we stand and greet people with a warm smile and an eager handshake.

We ask lots of questions because we want to get things just right for our clients, even if that means referring them to the place down the street if it’s a better fit. That’s what we do. We’re great at our jobs and we make a difference in people’s lives. We seek to constantly get better. This is who we are. Other people, they’re not as good, and who cares – we’re not them. We’re us, and we’re elite!”

Motivating, right? The truth is, I LOVE these meetings. I get animated and excited and start wildly gesticulating all over the place. I can’t help it. I swear, I get as much out of these meetings as I give, I think. And that’s why five meetings wasn’t so hard. It was important and it was empowering and thoroughly necessary.

At it’s core, telling stories (the right ones) is what leadership is all about. Fortunately, I really like telling stories.

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