In an interview with Origin Magazine, University of Houston research professor Brené Brown stated that describing herself as a storyteller scares her “because (my) training as an academic is that the more accessible you are and the more human you are, the less smart you are”. Stories are a timeless form of communication – and telling stories is a powerful method of both building relationships and leading – but the technique is often overlooked in this very same way.
Storytelling connects the dots.
It allows leaders to embody the changes they seek. At the very least, it inspires the organisation, sets visions, teaches important lessons, defines culture and values, and explains who you are and what you believe. It translates dry and abstract numbers into compelling pictures of a leader’s goals.
Storytelling is impactful.
Storytelling is useful when heavy influence is required, leading change for example – a subject on lips everywhere across the board. You can’t simply order people to “work better as a team” or to “get motivated”. But you can lead them there with a good story. People aren’t bothered about the new, inspired poster on the wall denoting the characteristics of successful change, but they will listen to a worthy narrative about one team who tore each other apart and got binned and another who made a conscious effort to learn and change and got applauded.
Storytelling is inclusive.
Compared to conventional management techniques – based on stability, predictability and comparison (and involving lifeless elements such as programs, procedures, systems and processes) – narrative sustains the sought after human element of a world that is erratically and rapidly changing, drawing on the active, living participation of the individuals involved. It generates energy in its participants.
Storytelling is responsive.
It’s wonderfully suited to issues of a more delicate nature, such as inclusion and diversity, or giving feedback and coaching. It leads to a deeper connection and further engagement by opening up the storyteller, and their listeners, to vulnerability and emotion – people make decisions largely based on emotional reasons, and then rationalise them afterwards in logical terms.
- Have stories to tell.
Much like an artist’s sketchbook, keep hold of ideas that pass you by that you know will be useful. When something teachable and memorable happens to you, write it down. If you hear a good story, take it home with you.
- Contextualise it –
Or prepare to be met with some confused faces. Give it some background.
- Use metaphor.
When you give someone information in the form of a metaphor, you preprocess it for them. You draw on their inventory of analogies so they don’t have to. Powerful stuff.
- Keep your feet on the ground.
Watch yourself – make sure your story stays tangible and concrete for more impact and engagement. Vague generalities will make your story less memorable.
- Stick to the point.
Keep it short and sweet; no-one signed up for a one-man show and it’s not business appropriate.