Stories move us, motivate us and help us understand who we are. This is what makes them the most potent tool available for leaders. Being a ‘storyteller’ doesn’t mean you have to be a poet – you don’t even have to be exceptionally good with words. In leadership, storytelling is about articulating where you’ve come from and setting the vision for the future. Storytelling comes in all forms, from internal communications and presentations to celebrations, events, marketing and beyond. Storytelling is an attitude, one which understands our primal drivers as humans and our need to use narrative to understand ourselves and the world around us.
Dr John Kotter, a professor at Harvard Business School has been quoted with this powerful idea about storytelling and leadership, “Over the years I have become convinced that we learn best—and change—from hearing stories that strike a chord within us … Those in leadership positions who fail to grasp or use the power of stories risk failure for their companies and for themselves’’. This quote is a great reminder of the importance of storytelling in our everyday lives as leaders. There are three major benefits for embracing your role as storyteller and incorporating it into your business leadership.
Anthropologists and psychologists tell us that narratives are essential to human survival.[i] Stories trigger a part of our brain which helps us comprehend the current state and imagine a future state. Imagination is key for motivation. Without the ability to imagine what could be, why would you bother working towards a particular goal? As a leader, it’s your job to help people imagine that future through your storytelling. This means condensing past events, current successes and future aspirations into narrative forms – in the way you speak, write and communicate with the people you lead. A good story has a beginning, middle and end with twists and turns along the way. This is the structure to keep in mind as you become a storytelling leader. This is a key method for motivating your team to reach goals – by helping them imagine what is on the other side of the finish line. Imagination helps excite and move us to action. And, stories are the best way to unlock that motivating imagination.
Build Culture and Identity
Stories are a primary way of teams and businesses identifying themselves individually and collectively. Want to build a positive corporate culture? Concerned about the state of your collaboration? Learn to be a storyteller. Culture and identity is found in the stories we tell about ourselves. It is powerful to use internal and external communications to remind people what their collective identity is. Re-tell anecdotes of shared experience which epitomise the culture you are aiming to create. ‘Remember that time …’ is a great starter for storytelling. Celebrate your successes in the form of stories, written and spoken. Turn your brand history into a narrative form and emotional impact is sure to follow.
Set the Scene for Success
Storytelling is an essential ingredient in future-orientated teams. Becoming a storyteller is a great leadership technique to push your team towards new goals and achievements. As we tell and re-tell the stories of our businesses – where we’ve come from and where we’re going, we shape the future. Stories have the power to dictate the next steps our teams take and the vision they work towards. Stories which focus on resilience and problem solving help re-focus unmotivated teams. Part of good leadership is about re-angling ‘failures’ in narratives which are growth oriented and spur on our teams to greater success. Stories don’t have to just be about our past, they can be about our future too. ‘Imagine if …’ are often the magic words that it takes to make progress.
How To Tell Stories Better
Convinced you need to incorporate storytelling into your leadership? Great! But, how can you make that happen? As we covered before, being a storyteller is an attitude, not just a skill-set. There are so many avenues for storytelling within leadership:
Presentations – if every presentation you gave was narrative driven and story-focussed, the impact on your audience would be immense! Re-think how you present to use these times as a key opportunity for storytelling.
Internal communications – emails, social media, meeting memos and just about anything else you can think of can be woven into the bigger story.
Conversation and communication – tell stories whenever you get the chance! Remind people of their successes and encourage them by telling the story of what the future could look like.
Storytelling isn’t a skill often taught on your journey to leadership. But, it’s never to late to learn! Storytelling is such a powerful tool, not just in branding but in the way you lead your own team. By embracing your role as a storyteller, you tap into our fundamental need for narrative and the results you will reap are significant. What’s your story? We’re willing to bet it’s one worth telling.
About the Author
Emma Bannister is passionate about presenting big, bold and beautiful ideas.
She is the founder and CEO of Presentation Studio, APAC’s largest presentation communication agency, and author of the book ‘Visual Thinking: How to transform the way you think, communicate and influence with presentations.’