Great leaders have long understood the power of stories. A well-told story can achieve what operations manuals, mission statements, KPI’s and staff meetings rarely do.
Renowned business author and speaker Tom Peters, in his book Leadership, said “A key – perhaps THE key – to leadership is the effective communication of a story”. That’s a big statement, and yet as I continually study great leaders past and present I see the use of stories as one of their primary weapons of choice.
Perhaps you don’t consider yourself a “storyteller”, a “speaker” or a “motivator”. And yet it seems people are hard wired to respond to stories. The evidence is all around us – but unfortunately some of us reserve our stories for parties and BBQ conversations and neglect their power to focus and energise those we lead in the workplace.
Stories that can be retold
Perhaps the real power of stories is that they can be shared again and again. Stories get wings. They go viral. Since moving to New York City I’ve been captivated by the work of charity: water and I’m amazed by their ability to tell stories. Like the story of the Bayaka people whose way of life and means of support have been devastated by the destruction of their environment. With a few minutes of video I’m reminded that I can make a real and lasting difference to a people I may never personally meet. Stories compel action.
Stories that convey the essence of your vision
I was coaching a client recently who was nervous about an upcoming networking event where she would have three minutes to talk about her business. She’d done it once before and was disappointed with the results, after cramming all her “USP’s”, services and packages into a well-honed spiel. As we the conversation changed direction she told me the moving story of one of her clients that she had recently helped to overcome real adversity. All I did was help her to join the dots- that single true story conveyed the essence of her business better than any spiel could.
Stories that leave room for imagination
Please, don’t fill in every blank in your story. Let it breathe. Allow mystery. Nothing takes the fun out of a story (or makes me feel like I’m back in school) more than turning a story into a lesson by finishing with “and the moral of the story is…” We unconsciously push back on the conclusions you draw for us, but we unconsciously accept whatever conclusions we draw for ourselves. Stories can engage the heart and animate the imagination.
Stories that lift and inspire
I’ve been deeply challenged and inspired these last few weeks by the true story of a brother who quite literally gave his life to save his brother. Chad’s life was threatened by an incurable liver condition, so his brother Ryan gave part of his liver in a transplant that tragically resulted in Ryan’s death a few days later. He’s a modern day hero. The story was told on US news channels and has quickly spread around the world. I’m inspired by the whole family’s deep love and personal faith. I’m challenged to be a better husband, a better brother, a better dad, a better man.
So, leaders, what’s the story?
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