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Thursday 14th Nov 2019

Why storytelling is an essential leadership skill

The power of storytelling is an essential leadership skill. Storytelling is the centrepiece of business activity, and a critical part of your role as a business leader or owner is the Chief Storyteller. One of your many responsibilities is to articulate and connect your people with your vision and purpose, or your growth ambitions or your restructuring plans or your new leadership team. Whatever message you want to convey, the key to your peoples’ heart is a story.

Storytelling is an essential leadership skill

We live in a world of stories

We live in stories all day long and dream in stories all night long.

We communicate through stories and learn from them.

We collapse gratefully into stories after a long day at work.

And without personal life stories to organise our experiences, our own lives would lack coherence and meaning.

We spin numerous daydreams per waking hour, but when absorbed in a good story—when we watch a favourite movie or read a captivating novel —we experience zero daydreams.

You see, demands for our attention are everywhere. Our focus is a woefully scarce resource because it’s so much in demand. And to thrive in this ‘attention economy’, to get your message across so it resonates with your audience, and it does what you want them to do, you must be a good storyteller!

Why storytelling is an essential leadership skill

You can memorise data and facts, but you need a story to change opinion and behaviour

A daily element of your leadership role and one of many of your leadership skills and qualities is your ability to motivate your people to reach certain goals. To achieve this, you must engage with their emotions. Now don’t get me wrong, citing facts and figures is important as there needs to be the substance behind the message. But the crucial part is to create meaning in what your people do, how they do it, and why they do it. Your ultimate goal is to make them feel inspired, energised and motivated to deliver their best work.

There are two approaches to persuade somebody to do something

Change opinion and behaviours using the conventional rhetoric approach

The first is conventional rhetoric, which is the approach most people adopt. It’s an intellectual process, and in the business world, it usually consists of a powerpoint slide presentation in which the leaders of the organisation say something similar to “Here is our company’s biggest challenge, and here is what we need to do to prosper.”

Numerous other slides illustrating statistics support this positioning slide, facts and data all to build the case as to why this is the company’s biggest challenge and why we need to “XYZ’ to prosper. Sounds good so far. You’re building your case and validating your course of action.

But there are two challenges with this approach.

First, your people will have their own set of statistics, facts and data all drawn from their personal experiences and interactions. Their view of the world might not be the same as yours, and as you’re sharing your facts and figures, trying to persuade them to your way of thinking, they’re sub-consciously arguing and disagreeing with you in their heads.

Second, if you do succeed in persuading them, you’ve done so only on an intellectual basis. That’s not good enough, because people are not inspired to act by reason alone.

Why storytelling is an essential leadership skill

You can memorise data and facts, but to have it change opinion and behaviour, you need to share a story.

Change opinions and behaviours by sharing a compelling story

The second approach to persuade people, and ultimately a much more powerful way, is by uniting an idea with an emotion. And the best way to achieve that is by telling a compelling story.

In a story, you weave in all the key facts and figures (note the word ‘key’), but these are simply the supporting characters of your story. Your lead character is the reason why you’re telling the story in the first place, what got you to this point in the first place. Getting this right will arouse your listener’s emotions and energy.

The story you want to tell could be

One of passion…why you’re so passionate about this company/product/new opportunity to succeed, drawing from your personal experiences.

A cautionary tale…where something terrible happened because the action wasn’t taken and you don’t want to make the same mistake.

A united front…showing that you can only make it work if you’re in it together.

A poem, passage or famous story…which helps you define your message.

A story helps activate the parts of the listener’s brain that helps them become part of the idea and experience.

Why storytelling is an essential leadership skill

Now I need to be honest with you. Persuading with a story is hard. Any intelligent person can sit down and make lists of facts and figures. It takes rationality but little creativity to design an argument using conventional rhetoric. But it demands vivid insight and storytelling skill to present an idea that packs enough emotional power to be memorable. (Check out 7 tips for preparing and delivering the best nerve busting presentation of your life)

If you can harness imagination and the principles of a well-told story, then you get people rising to their feet amid thunderous applause shouting ‘we are with you’.

Now let me finish with a story (see what I just did there!)

In 1961, when President John F. Kennedy committed to send US astronauts to the moon by the end of the decade, he wasn’t speaking from logic or rhetoric. The first men had only just gone into space, and the technology to get to the moon didn’t exist. What he did, however, was create an aspirational image of success and commit the United States to developing the technology, the machines and the training and to finding the men and women to make it happen.

Are you a good storyteller?

Why storytelling is an essential leadership skill

Watch my Facebook Live Video ‘Are you a good storyteller?’

(Like this video? Then come and join me live, every Friday 7.07 am (GMT) for my weekly coaching session on business and personal growth over on my RoystonGuestOfficial Facebook page)

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