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Storytelling & Metaphors: A Discussion with the President of Vistage Spain, Conor Neill

Episode #1037: Gain perspective in an interview with executive coach, lecturer, speaker, storyteller, entrepreneur, and the President of Vistage Spain, Conor Neill, on his successful career and coaching journey. During this conversation, Conor discusses the impact and importance of metaphors and stories, as well as three truths and aspects of speaking that have made his speaking engagements impactful and inspiring. Continue reading for a new outlook on the power of insightful questions, inspiring storytelling, and sage metaphors.

About Conor Neill

Conor Neill is an executive coach, lecturer, speaker, storyteller, entrepreneur, the President of Vistage Spain, and Senior Lecturer at IESE Business School—one of the top business schools in the world.

At the onset of his career, Conor worked at the London Office of Accenture for just over a decade and went on to run several businesses thereafter. With his passion for growing businesses, he became President of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization’s (EO) Spain Chapter—one of the top 10% EO chapters worldwide. A few years later, he began his role as the President of Vistage Spain, which he continues today.

Throughout Conor’s experience, he has delicately balanced his career and academia. In addition to his position as Senior Lecturer at IESE Business School, he is also a Visiting Professor at the University of College Dublin and the University of Montevideo.

In addition to Conor’s notable experience, he shares his wisdom in a widely popular YouTube page with over a quarter of a million subscribers—with his most popular video reaching 14 million individuals. Conor is a master of growing businesses, networking, building relationships, and inspiring greatness in those around him.

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Key highlights

Experiencing the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO)

Timestamp 03:58

Conor Neill is a member of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization in Spain and has gained immense value from his membership. In the Entrepreneurs’ Organization, also known as EO, new members are recruited by existing group members. Unlike Vistage, there is no main leader or chair of each group. Because of this, EO has three central rules that must be followed by all members. These rules require that (i) each member is a proactive contributing member, (ii) all conversations held within the group are kept confidential, and (iii) members only speak from their own experience.

The value of Vistage

Timestamp 07:44

With Conor’s experience in both EO and Vistage, he recommends that if a CEO or business leader is past the entrepreneurial stage, they join Vistage. Conor states that when comparing Vistage to EO, Vistage is “more goal-oriented” and has more interest in what the group members’ “aspirations are as a business.” Vistage groups offer a team of fellow leaders that are allowed to call him/her out when they feel that they are slacking in their goal attainment. Conor shares that “in Vistage, there’s a greater interest in seeing your life moving forward, seeing you making measurable, deliberate progress.”

The story of the storm, buffalo, and cows

Timestamp 13:39

Conor has a passion for storytelling. One story that Conor tells is of the storm, buffalo, and cows. When storms come to the Great Plains, the cows and buffalos of that region have very different responses. The cows panic and run. Meanwhile, the buffalos remain calm, face the storm, and continue to graze the fields. In his speaking engagements, Conor uses this story to explain that a “heroic response” to pain is “to go into the pain” and face it. This story has had great impact on Conor’s speaking engagements and inspires the audience to be bold. Severin comments on the importance of stories and how some audience members “won’t remember their own culture” but instead will remember an impactful story that inspired them.

The story of the wheelbarrow

Timestamp 17:15

Conor also uses another story in his speaking engagements called the wheelbarrow story. This is a story of a small number of people who were taken from an isolated tribe and shown the current technology of Singapore. Although these people saw advanced technology, planes, and homes they had never seen before, the most valuable thing they brought back with them was the wheelbarrow. Conor explains by stating that “anything that is just beyond your level of current understanding, you can see, but anything that’s too far beyond it looks like magic…The only things that are real to us are the things that are just outside our current zone of understanding.” This metaphor explains why it is important for executive coaches to walk with their clients towards their goals and not create goals that are unattainable from the client’s perspective.

Learning to serve

Timestamp 19:57

One of the reasons Conor uses stories, is because they have the power to help people and it gives him the opportunity to help others. In order to better explain this, Conor shares a story of an old man who got to see Heaven and Hell. In Hell, everyone was trying to feed themselves, but were unable to. In Heaven, everyone was feeding each other and living in satisfaction and peace. Stories help Conor “serve others first.” Serving others first can develop greater teams, groups, and leadership. It can also build trust within an organization or group.

Burning away superficiality

Timestamp 25:46

Conor explains his “why” using a model of a candle. He shares that the “flame of a candle can light infinite other flames.” Conor sees the coaching that he provides to other people as a way to pass on his flame of wisdom to others and “burn away all that is superficial in other people.” He shares that people often self-sabotage themselves and loose motivation only because they forget who they are. Conor hopes to counteract this by using his coaching to eliminate the superficiality that many operate under.

Three truths and levels of connection

Timestamp 30:24

Along with his coaching practice, Conor also has a successful YouTube channel. On his YouTube channel, he focuses on the three levels of connection taught by Aristotle and the three types of truth. The three levels of connection taught by Aristotle are logos (logic), ethos (credibility), and pathos (emotion). Conor uses each of these aspects in his speaking engagements to better engage with his audience. Conor also shares the three types of truth taught by Yuval Noah Harai: objective, subjective, and intersubjective. Not only does he use these types of truth in his coaching practice and speaking engagements, he also uses them to help detect lies and dishonesty.

The power of questions

Timestamp 39:29

Questions can give others the opportunity to develop new insight and understandings. Conor shares a story from his childhood about a teacher that impacted his life the most and how the experience taught him to continually record the questions he has. Conor states that “the most powerful leadership book that any of us could read… [is] your own life well documented.” This teacher inspired him to journal his questions and ideas throughout his life. Conor also learned the value of questions from his friend Tony Anagor. Through Tony’s questions, Conor learned that “external metrics” cannot offer him peace. Instead, he learned he had to transition his mindset to an “unconditional peace.” Conor has carried this ideology of “unconditional peace” throughout his journey as an entrepreneur and executive coach.

Clarity and certainty

Timestamp 52:45

Before Conor steps into a class he is about to teach, he shares that he will “stand at the door,” look at the waiting class, and “imagine them all as 5-year-olds.” Conor states that he sees “each of us as if we’re all 5-year-olds dressed in the clothes of adults and kind of waiting for the instruction book to be given to us… trying to figure out how to make sense of this world.” Conor compares this to the mindset of a famous runner he interviewed who ran with very clear destinations and awareness of his path. While the successful runner is aware of his path, the majority of people are “pacing with absolute certainty but have no idea where they’re really going.” This metaphor for life, reminds Conor about the importance of having a direction and a clearly defined path to that destination.

Tolstoy’s “The Death of Ivan Ilyich”

Timestamp 57:00

When examining how he would answer Severin’s question, “how will you measure your life?,” Conor shares a story called “The Death of Ivan Ilyich.” This story is of a man who spent his life out of relationship with others and found out he only had a few months left to live. During his last months of life, he spent his time breaking all the rules and manipulating the bureaucracy he used to work for to get a park made for the community. The man eventually passed away and the park was built shortly after with another man’s name on it. Although the park doesn’t have his name on it “the park would never have existed” without him. Conor shares that “it doesn’t matter that his name is known or not, but it matters that the future generations have access to something, to some way of living, to something that would not” have existed if he hadn’t lived. Conor uses this story as inspiration for how he will measure his life. Conor explains that he will measure his life by how he followed or broke the rules as well as what changes he made to the world and lives of those around him.

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