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The Art of Storytelling

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The Art of Storytelling

“Stories are the single most powerful weapon in a leader’s arsenal.”
– Howard Gardner, Harvard University

Rick’sTIPS explores the competencies necessary for successful leadership and provides activities to assist with the development and mastery of these skills.

STORYTELLING AND LEADERSHIP

Most great leaders are also excellent communicators and the ability to effectively communicate is the most important leadership competency. Stories can be entertaining, memorable, motivational, educational, and are undoubtedly one of the best ways to make a point and/or deliver a message.

One of the best examples of how storytelling impacts leadership is found in the book The Story Factor by Annette Simmons. In one chapter, she outlines the seven stories that every leader should be able to tell and provides an example of each. However, it is the “Who I Am” story that she opens the chapter with that has the most impact.

Skip looked into the sea of suspicious stockholders and wondered what might convince them to follow his leadership. He was 35, looked 13 and was third generation rich. He could tell they assumed he would be an unholy disaster as a leader. He decided to tell them a story.

“My first job was drawing the electrical engineering plans for a boat building company. The drawings had to be perfect because if the wires were not accurately placed before the fiberglass form was poured, a mistake might cost a million dollars, easy.” Read on…

Through storytelling a leader develops trust and creates faith in his ideas and goals by providing relevant information in an interesting and meaningful fashion. Telling an authentically persuasive story is a powerful influence that can have a lasting impact.

How to use storytelling

In business, storytelling can be effective when it is used for things such as managing conflict, convincing others, interpreting the past, predicting the future or in the explanation of complex situations.  Stories help people cope with change, fear, uncertainty, and doubt.  Stories persuade where facts fall short by producing mental images and providing a visual context for the situation being addressed.

If your story is good enough, people—of their own free will—come to the conclusion that they can trust you and your message.   Storytelling allows the listener to determine if they want to be part of the story and to evaluate its merit and value as it pertains to them.

Storytelling helps you connect something relevant and meaningful to your listeners and gives them a taste of who you are in a non-threatening, casual way.

So what are the seven types of stories that Ms. Simmons feels every leader should be able to tell?

I  Who I Am Stories
The first question people ask themselves the minute they realize you want to influence them is, “who is this person?” A story helps them see what you want them to see about you. Read the story…

II Why I Am Here Stories
A “Why I Am Here” story usually reveals enough for people to make a distinction between healthy ambition and dishonest exploitation. If your goals are selfish, people don’t mind as long as you are up-front about it, there is something in it for them, and you frame your goals in a way that makes sense to them. Read the story…

III My Vision Story
If your listener(s) are comfortable with who you are and why you are here then they are ready to listen to what you think is in it for them.

You have to take the time to find a story of your vision in a way that connects—a story that people can see. One of the difficulties in telling an authentic vision story is the fear that detractors can take it out of context and make us sound sappy, or “out there.” Vision takes courage. Read the story…

IV Teaching Stories
Whatever your role in life, you have certain skills that you want others to have too. Teaching stories helps us make sense of new skills in meaningful ways. Read the story…

V Values in Action Stories
Without a doubt, the best way to teach a value is “by example.” The second best way is to tell a story that provides an example.

“We value integrity,” means nothing. But tell a story about a former employee who hid his mistake and cost the company thousands or a story about a salesperson who owned up to a mistake and earned so much trust her customer doubled his order and you begin to teach an employee what integrity means. Read the story…

VI “I know what you are thinking” Stories
When you tell a story that makes people wonder if you are reading their minds, they love it. If you have done your homework on the group/person you wish to influence it is relatively easy to identify their potential objections to your message. Read the story…

VII The Humor Story
One of the most compelling and perhaps most difficult to learn, is the humor story. Too many speakers and presenters, executives and scientists are “closeted” stand-up comedians. Or so they think. Read the story…

“Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today.”
– Robert McKee

What stories should be told?

The values, lessons and history of an organization can all be told through stories enabling employees to gain insight as to the inner workings.  How and why things are done the way they are can also be explained through the telling of stories.  Just as it is with families; traditions surrounding organizations are passed down through stories.

An organization’s stories are used in the public relations and marketing materials supplied to the masses to brand and promote the company, but it is the personal telling and details provided by leadership that make these stories part of the culture of the organization.

Other types of stories that leaders should be able to tell include:

  • Life experiences – these humanize the leader and help others understand how he came to be standing before them
  • Someone else’s story –  tell someone else’s story if it supports the message and makes the point, but it must be based in fact
  • A fictional tale – it’s okay to make up a story as long as everyone knows it is an illustrative example

Of course regardless of the source of the story, it must support the overall purpose or reason for telling it.

Actions for consideration:

Read as much as you can on how to be a good storyteller.  Fortunately there are many books, magazine articles, blogs and posts that provide insight into the various aspects of storytelling.  Make a point of reading as many of these as possible.  A few good suggestions are made at the end of this newsletter.

Develop a few good stories.  Think about situations you most commonly find yourself in that could benefit from a story, determine what type of story and presentation works best for each of these situations, and develop a story for each that will make your point and deliver the appropriate message.

Practice, practice, practice.  Use business colleauges, friends and family to practice your stories.  Focus on relevance of the story to the message you wish to deliver, appropriateness of story for the audience, entertainment value, length of story and presentation including body language, voice inflections and ability to stay on topic.

Additional Resources

The Story Factor by Annette Simmons

Leading Minds by Howard Gardner

The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling: Mastering the Arts & Discipline of Business Narrative by Steve Denning

Story: Substance, Style and The Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee

So…What’s Your Story?


I hope you found this edition of Rick’sTIPS:  The Art of Storytelling beneficial. 

I look forward to providing you with information that makes your life more productive.

Until next time…..

Rick

The Executive Group
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