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Stories from the Road: Back to Hartford

3 min read

How can I ask my team to stretch and try new things if I’m not willing to do it? I have to lead by example.

A few months ago I introduced you to Todd Bateson, President of Specialized Distribution at Travelers Insurance.

You may remember him. He’s the guy who would never have worn a pink shirt to a business conference, but who wore a pink shirt to a business conference, because his team gave him a pink shirt to wear to the business conference!

Todd is in charge of several hundred people nationwide. As a result, he’s unable to have daily face-to-face interactions with the folks outside of the Hartford office. When he does travel it’s important to him to make the most of the trip. Recently he went to California. He was excited to tell me what happened:

I was scheduled to visit our Glendale office. I’ve been there maybe twice in person. Their experience of me is mostly through email, or perhaps they’ve seen me on video.

In preparation for the visit I spoke with the local Management Team and asked: What should I talk about when I engage with the group? What’s on their mind?

The answer that came back surprised me. I was expecting topics like: How are we doing with our strategy? How are we solving problem X?

But what the Management Team told me was: Todd, the group here doesn’t really know you. That really stuck with me. I gave a lot of thought to what I could do to give them a sense of what makes me tick.

As I was thinking about this I remembered the connection I felt during one of the exercises we did at the Leading with Presence program. I decided to try it. To take the risk and see how it goes.

The exercise Todd is referring to is called: River of Life. It is inspired by the Noel Tichy quote: “Leadership is autobiographical. If I don’t know who you are as a person, I don’t know who you are as a leader.

Participants in the program are invited to draw their life as a river. We ask them to think about the people, places and events that have informed their leadership. After they have had time to consider both their positive and challenging life experiences, we partner them up and invite them to tell their life story to another person. The exercise bonds people instantly.

Todd continues:

I got there on a Friday morning. I said: I’m going to try something I’ve never done before. I’m going to share some leadership lessons I’ve learned over my lifetime.

I spoke for about 30 minutes. I told them how I grew up. Where I went to school. What it was like being a lower-middle class kid. The feedback was unbelievable. In fact, the following Monday I unexpectedly got a voicemail from a member of the Glendale Management Team telling me that people were still talking about the visit.

The message said that one woman had even gone home and told her teenage sons my story. She wanted her kids to understand that people who have a challenging younger life can still be successful later on. That blew me away.

Todd’s been investigating the power of authentic communication through storytelling as an important leadership philosophy.

When I first wrote about Todd’s journey with the ideas of Leadership Presence he confessed that he’d never been personal at work. Let alone wearing a pink shirt! And that doing so was uncomfortable. But then he added:

It’s getting easier. The more I do it, the easier it gets. And the response has been remarkable.

Todd is just one of the leaders we work with who has made a significant shift in his Leadership approach. We invite you to consider sharing some of your life lessons with your teams. Let us know how it goes.


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