Susan Luke Q&A

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When I came across Susan Luke while researching material for A Storied Career, I was struck and intrigued by her job title, corporate mythologist. I had to learn more about this work.

Bio: Susan Luke, CSP, is a corporate mythologist and leadership consultant. Her client list runs from Coca Cola to BHP Billiton Corporation, from Hyatt Hotels to the US Department of Defense, from Avantel (Mexico) to Hawaiian Tel (Honolulu), and spans more than a dozen countries on 5 continents. She brings to her clients hands-on CEO experience, proven consulting skills, and superb presentation/training abilities. Her compelling information, practical ideas, positive approach, and irreverent sense of humor have garnered rave reviews around the world. SusanLuke.jpg As CEO of a technical services support company in the financial services industry, Susan oversaw the execution of an original 5-year plan in 3 years, exceeded growth targets by 300 percent, paid dividends ahead of schedule, and completed a successful merger into a larger entity.

She took her own personal experience, combined it with extensive research, and began consulting to senior executives in the financial services industry on one of the key ingredients of her success: the power of myths, legends and storytelling to accelerate the execution of corporate transitions. Susan understands how those in leadership positions can harness the power of stories to shape corporate culture and provide an accelerated decision-making process at every level of an organization. She continues to help individuals and organizations use stories to help others accept change while working through challenging times.

The effectiveness of her insights, and universal truths of her models and experience, broadened her client list to a wide variety of sectors and organizations. She is recognized, both domestically and internationally, as an inspirational speaker and trainer, providing information, practical strategies and techniques, through highly interactive learning sessions for her clients.

Susan began her professional career as an educator. She indulged a passion to make a difference, teaching school in remote villages throughout Alaska.

She was also one of the first certified International Credit Union Development Educators under the Biden-Pell Amendment, working in conjunction with the World Council of Credit Unions, and the first to hold both North American and Australasian certification.

Susan is a Certified Strategic Planner, and one of less than 10 percent of the 7,500-member International Federation of Professional Speakers to hold the Certified Speaking Professional Designation.

She authored Log Cabin Logic and is a contributing author to the anthology Grand Stories. See Ya Later ‘Gator (Achieving Bottom Line Results through Narrative) is the working title of a book-in-progress expected to be published later this year. Susan also publishes an ezine, “Myths R Us.”


Q&A with Susan Luke:

Q: You are a corporate mythologist. Can you trace your development in realizing the importance of corporate mythology and becoming a corporate mythologist?

A: To my knowledge, I am the only “corporate mythologist” using that title. I coined the descriptor in trying to put some definition around who I am and what I do. Corporate mythology has two aspects — the stories of/about the organization (history, philosophy, values, vision) and the stories of the individuals who make up the organization. How they are being used and how much in alignment they are determines the everyday corporate culture.
Intuitively I have always known that stories are important. As my career evolved, I realized that what I believed and took for granted about stories and storytelling (based on my growing-up years) was not universally shared nor understood by many. As I began to work with businesses around the world I realized that stories were an ideal communication tool because their universality crosses cultural lines.
As our world grows smaller and more interdependent than ever before, sharing our stories is not only a basic way to develop alliances, but it provides a vehicle for understanding that is the power behind every bullet point in every report, proposal, etc. It was an epiphany of sorts to realize that what I loved about working and talking with people were the stories they shared. If I can continue to help them do that, both internally and externally, both corporately and individually, then perhaps being a corporate mythologist is not only my profession and business, it is my calling.
Q: How did you initially become involved with story/storytelling/narrative? What attracted you to this field? What do you love about it?
A: I have been around stories and storytelling all my life. My father was a minister and used stories in all his sermons, both Biblical and personal. My mother told stories on the radio before I was born and has always used stories in the many speaking opportunities she has had over the years, from teaching to speaking at large national meetings. So, for me it was a natural way to communicate.
Starting my career as a teacher (I’ve taught at all levels, K-college), I used stories to help my students understand various concepts and events. As a CEO of a technical services organization, I needed to make presentations to a variety of boards and executive teams to sell my product. Using success stories helped me to do that beyond my wildest expectations.
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As a speaker, trainer, coach, and consultant, stories continue to be part of how I relate to my clients and audiences. In fact, it was through a client request that I began to focus on helping others to use story/storytelling as a leadership/communication tool. I had never consciously done that before. That happened about 6-7 years ago, and it was the most natural evolution of my continually changing career path ever.
I love being involved with people and everyone has stories they share. Identifying, creating, and sharing them are what makes us who we are, as individuals and as communities. Focusing on the concept of story, how to use stories strategically as well as tactically, while helping others do the same is my passion!
Q: The storytelling movement seems to be growing explosively. Why now? What is it about this moment in human history and culture that makes storytelling so resonant with so many people right now?
A: Why now, indeed? Stories have been used since the beginning of time, in one form or another for one very important reason — they are universal and speak to our humanity. This moment in our history is significant because, as a planet, we are in a place we never imagined and we yearn for comfort, understanding, reason, and most of all HOPE. Stories give us all of that and more, allowing us to reflect on the past, imagine the future, and accept the changes brought about by the challenges of today.

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Much continues to be said about the ability of President Obama to speak and relate to all levels of people. It is my belief that he does that as much through his “orastory” as through his intense focus, extensive research, organizational ability, and presentation skills as anything. In my experience, leaders who are as good at shaping and using stories as they are at collecting and analyzing data, have a much easier time guiding the behaviors and decision making necessary for a healthy, forward-thinking organization. We are our stories, and now is the moment we are recognizing that and sharing who we are with others in are increasingly shrinking world.

Q:How important is it to you and your work to function within the framework of a particular definition of “story?” (i.e., What is a story?) What definition do you espouse?

A: In my opinion, there can never be just one definition of story. For every individual there are a myriad of stories they can share — each will be as different and unique as the person sharing them.

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One of the beauties of story is this difference and the experience behind the stories that makes them live and breathe and have universal appeal.
In my experience, the greatest challenge to those of us who tell stories is to give our listeners enough time to not only enjoy and/or learn from the story, but to savor it, to connect it to their own experience.
If there are strict definitions and/or restrictions, the creative process is stifled and the opportunities to share stories in new and different ways/media will not happen.

Q: Does the current economic crisis make it harder or easier to get buy-in to the importance of “understanding the strategic value of the narratives in your organization?”

A: So far, my experience is showing me that anything that helps others to accept change through challenging times, that doesn’t cost a lot of money, is a relatively easy sell. The challenge is to frame it in such a compelling way that people understand the power behind such a simple concept.

About
A Storied Career

A Storied Career explores intersections/synthesis among various forms of
Applied Storytelling:
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A Storied Career's scope is intended to appeal to folks fascinated by all sorts of traditional and postmodern uses of storytelling. Read more ...
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About
Dr. Kathy Hansen

Kathy Hansen, PhD, is a leading proponent of deploying storytelling for career advancement. She is an author and instructor, in addition to being a career guru. More...

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The following are sections of A Storied Career where I maintain regularly updated running lists of various items of interest to followers of storytelling:

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Links below are to Q&A interviews with story practitioners.


The pages below relate to learning from my PhD program focusing on a specific storytelling seminar in 2005. These are not updated but still may be of interest:

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