Great leaders are great storytellers. Storytellers craft the narrative that shapes a culture. Storytellers remind us where we came from and where we’re going. While corporate storytelling belongs to every member of an organization, leadership must understand how and when to use storytelling as a leadership tool. Storytelling builds trust, compassion and community. So what stories are important and how and where do you employ storytelling as a leadership tool?
You should be building your story repertoire over the course of your lifetime, but if you haven’t thought much about storytelling here are 5 critical stories every leader should be able to share to build trust and authority.
The very best stories expose your humanity. We call this narrative vulnerability. We want stories where we see the narrator fall down and get up, stories that acknowledge failure and growth. Stories where everyone did everything right all of the time and never suffered aren’t valuable because they are rarely true and have nothing to teach us unless we’re perfect, and of course absolutely no one is perfect.
Here are stories leaders should have at the ready for internal and external purposes.
An origin story is a creation story. How did you begin? An individual has an origin story and an organization has an origin story. Origin stories tell us who we are by showing us where we came from and what we’ve overcome. A superb example of this is Shoe Dog which tells the origin story of Nike and its founder Phil Knight. It’s a gripping narrative but will teach you so much about how an origin story informs both leadership and culture. I also highly recommend On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madame C.J. Walker written by A’Leia Bundles. You will need to have a much more economical version of your origin story to share when speaking but these stories are exceptional examples of origin stories told at the highest level.
Resilience stories come in many forms. Some are comeback stories or rebounding from setbacks or failures. Failures are natural conflicts that raise the emotional stakes of a story. You can certainly find resilience themes in both of the books mentioned above but a great way to experience these stories is also in film. I highly recommend the film Maiden about the first female crew to enter the Whitbread around the world yacht race. This film is packed with leadership lessons and has multiple resilience stories inside of the larger narrative. It’s really about having to get up over and over and over again. Another film that does this well is The Pursuit of Happyness. While both of these are full length films, every leader needs to find a way to economically tell these stories for themselves. Great speakers have these stories at the ready for keynotes, town halls, and interviews.
TEAM WORK STORY
Storytelling is critical to team building in a multitude of ways. The movie Maiden that I reference above is a superb movie for team work. Storytelling is a great team building activity as well and will have far greater impact than a scavenger hunt.
Hard lessons can be about mistakes, failures or bad decision making. These are powerful transformation stories. These stories are particularly important because they humanize you and are rich opportunities for narrative vulnerability. Leaders who are able to share their struggles and how they’ve overcome those struggles are able to build credibility quickly. Vulnerability is powerful and expresses a high level of confidence and security. I also believe that it gives purpose and meaning to your struggles when you share those stories. Suffering can have a purpose.
Higher purpose stories are often unseen. They are the thing you’re selling beyond your product or service. For instance, we offer coaching but our higher purpose is to help professionals reach their full potential. Our purpose is to make our clients braver because we believe the world needs us all to be our highest and greatest selves. For me a client who has doubled their income twice is a great result but the higher purpose is that they will be able buy a home, help an aging parent or send a child to college. The purpose is greater than the service or the outcome. It’s how a business humainzes its work.
These are foundational stories and you can certainly have more than one in each category, but this is a great start. Pay attention, be curious and start memorializing your stories. Your influence will expand as you develop as a storyteller.
By Ann marie Houghtailing
Learn more about storytelling:
Origin Stories https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jJZvHW_uHTU&t=23s
Storytelling and Message Development https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yCLsG9Wrpys&t=9s
Storytelling and Change Management https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=asTtpN4l5tk