Many people and organizations have embraced the idea of storytelling as an essential component of successful marketing. Whether you’re giving a pitch, selling a product, or advocating for change, packaging the information you’re trying to convey in an emotionally impactful story makes it easier for your audience to remember and more likely to influence them. These same features make storytelling a powerful tool for improving communication and leadership within an organization.
Why Leaders Need Storytelling
The challenge leaders face in working with a team is how to connect with people, inspire them, and motivate them to act in ways that support the company’s objectives. That can be true whether they’re talking to employees, a board of directors, or their own boss. Many business scenarios require more than just conveying facts via a list of bullet points. When you need to define a company’s culture and values, explain who you are and what you believe, inspire an organization, set a vision, or teach important lessons, you need your audience to feel why what you’re telling them is important—and that’s where leadership storytelling comes in.
Human beings are wired for stories. It’s a natural way for us to learn, understand, and act on new information. For leaders, storytelling can make an impact in a variety of situations, such as leading change after a new strategic initiative, making recommendations to their boss, giving constructive feedback and coaching to a team member so it will be well received, or inspiring people to approach their work with renewed energy or creativity.
Storytelling doesn’t replace the decision-making that is at the core of leadership. Rather, it gives you the tools to prompt the action you want to see. A good story about a teachable moment is far more likely to spark innovation or understanding about why following a particular policy is essential than a dry memo nobody’s going to read anyway.
Improving Your Leadership Storytelling
The first step to weaving storytelling into your leadership communication style is having stories to tell. You should take note of memorable incidents and write them down because the lessons you gained from them can form the basis of an authentic leadership story. You can also study examples of stories other leaders have used successfully—with many major companies explicitly employing storytelling techniques as a leadership tool, there are plenty to choose from. To make a good story shine, though, you need to pay attention to certain elements:
- Give enough context: Make sure your audience has all the right facts to understand the point of your story. Don’t assume they already know, and don’t include unnecessary information. If your audience seems confused, you may be leaving out key details.
- Gear your style to a business context: Succinct and to the point is your best bet here. A good business story should be no longer than three to five minutes.
- Stay specific and use concrete details: A story that is grounded in specific facts and details is more engaging and memorable. Avoid vague generalities that your audience will tune out.
- Appeal to emotion: Research has shown that people make decisions based on emotions, not just facts. If you want your story to have a lasting impact, you need to make an emotional connection with your audience.
- Use metaphors and analogies: A well-chosen metaphor or analogy is like a cognitive shortcut that can help add impact to your story because there are already familiar narratives attached to it.
- Include a surprise: Does your story have a natural, unexpected twist that reframed your thinking about a situation? This kind of surprise can help capture your audience’s attention and make your story more memorable.
The truth is, people in your company are already telling stories about what they’ve experienced or how things work, from the newest employees all the way up to the most senior C-suite executives. When you’re the one telling the stories, you can shape your company’s culture and narrative for the better, naturally.
Your Story Coaching Resource
Leadership storytelling is like any other leadership skill—it improves with training and practice. If you or your organization need help in finding your unique stories or honing your storytelling abilities, Squash and Stretch can help. Our Story Maker, Karl Pontau, has worked with countless clients to get to the heart of their company’s message and help them craft effective stories to convey it. His coaching will help you find your storytelling voice and confidence. If you’re ready to find out how storytelling can help you be a better leader, schedule a free initial consultation, and contact us here today.