The Leader As Storyteller

The Leader As Storyteller

In his landmark study of leadership, Harvard Professor Howard Gardner found that “the key to leadership… is effective communication of a story.”

Stories are an excellent way to connect with people, to make complex ideas easier to understand, and to make your message memorable. But telling stories is more than just a folksy way to relate to others. It is a powerful and persuasive vehicle that top leaders use to get their message across with maximum impact and minimum resistance. Today’s most effective leaders know how to use various story templates to communicate their vision, win buy-in for their ideas, transmit values, and inspire their people.

Many cultures have strong storytelling traditions. This is true regardless of their time in history or their place geographically. Yet few leaders of any stripe use stories in their work.

Generally speaking, leaders in business and government value facts, data, logic, and reason. Yet when presented with facts, people try to make sense of them through critical evaluations. They look for flaws in your argument. As a result, using only facts and logical arguments can put your audience in a confrontational state of mind.

Storytelling, on the other hand, combines facts plus emotions. When people become emotionally invested in a story, they aren’t looking for ways to shoot it down. By packaging your message into a story, you can introduce your message to your audience without hitting them over the head with it.

By harnessing the power of stories, leaders could be a lot more persuasive. So why don’t more leaders use stories? I can think of three main reasons.

1. Many leaders are not aware that stories can serve many purposes, such as: Introducing yourself. The right story can position you the way you wish to be perceived, rather than allowing others to define you. Stories can help you build rapport with your audience, establish credibility, and tell others what you stand for.

Promoting your brand. Some of the world’s most highly regarded companies have great brands in part because they have great stories. We know their stories, and these stories shape the way we feel about these companies.

Communicating your vision. This is what makes or breaks a leader. Kennedy, Reagan, and Gandhi all excelled at articulating a clear vision for the future, and they did it with stories.

Transmitting key organizational values. Every organization has a socialization process. The right stories can help members feel like they belong far better than a list of core values on a poster hanging on the wall.

These are just a few of the purposes stories can serve, and there are many others.

2. Another reason why most leaders do not make better use of stories is that they do not believe stories are appropriate for business communication. They feel stories are corny, not serious enough for dignified upper-echelon corporate types. This of course is nonsense. Great leaders from Jesus to Lincoln to Churchill have used stories with powerful effect.

Most of the world’s best companies have well known stories. One man going door to door trying to sell his recipe for fried chicken (KFC). Another man selling milkshake machines discovers a tiny hamburger stand (McDonald’s). Two men tinkering in a garage create a technology giant (Apple, HP, and many others). How many small businessmen would love to have a story like these? Many do, they just don’t realize it! Leader as Storyteller

In his famous leadership study, Harvard Professor Howard Gardner found that “the key to leadership … is effective communication of a story.”

Stories are the best way to connect with others, make complicated ideas easier to understand, and make your message memorable. But telling stories is more than a simple way to connect with other people. This is a powerful and persuasive vehicle used by top leaders to convey their message with maximum impact and minimum resistance. The most effective leaders today know how to use various story templates to communicate their vision, win support for their ideas, transmit values, and inspire their people.

Many cultures have strong storytelling traditions. This is true regardless of their time in history or their place geographically. But few leaders from any line use stories in their work.

In general, business and government leaders value facts, data, logic and reason. But when presented with facts, people try to understand them through critical evaluation. They look for flaws in your argument. As a result, only using facts and logical arguments can put your audience in a confrontational state of mind.

Storytelling, on the other hand, combines facts and emotions. When people are emotionally invested in a story, they don’t look for ways to bring it down. By packaging your message into a story, you can introduce your message to your audience without banging it.

By harnessing the power of stories, leaders can become far more persuasive. So why aren’t more leaders using stories? I can think of three main reasons.

1. Many leaders don’t realize that stories can serve many purposes, such as: Introduce myself. The right story can position you the way you want, instead of letting others define you. Stories can help you build relationships with your audience, build credibility, and tell others what you stand for.

Promote your brand. Some of the most well-known companies in the world have great brands in part because they have great stories. We know their stories, and these stories shape our feelings about these companies.

Convey your vision. This is what makes or breaks a leader. Kennedy, Reagan, and Gandhi all excelled in articulating a clear vision for the future, and they did it with stories.

Transmit key organizational values. Every organization has a socialization process. The right story can help members feel that they are included far better than the list of core values ​​on the poster hanging on the wall.

These are just a few of the goals that the story can present, and there are many others.

2. Another reason why most leaders don’t use stories better is because they don’t believe that the story is suitable for business communication. They felt the story was cliché, not serious enough for the dignified upper echelon type of company. This certainly does not make sense. Great leaders from Jesus to Lincoln to Churchill have used stories with powerful effects.

Most of the best companies in the world have famous stories. A door-to-door man tries to sell his recipe for fried chicken (KFC). Another man who sold milkshake machines invented a small hamburger shop (McDonald’s). Two men who play in the garage created a technology giant (Apple, HP, and many others). How many small entrepreneurs want to have a story like this? Many do it, they just don’t realize it!

3. The third reason why so few leaders tell stories is because they don’t know how. Now we get to the heart of the matter. It’s easy to know the purpose of the story can serve, and to dispel the myths of stories that are not accepted in the business environment. It is more difficult for a leader to overcome his discomfort in providing storytelling artistic performance.