Thursday's Thoughts: The Relationship Between Storytelling and Leadership

In an article on Forbes.com, Alan Hall states “famous entrepreneurs are known for their skilled communication with employees, vendors, investors, and clients.”  He continues on to name ways in which these leaders communicate.  One such way is through writing blogs, like the one you are seeing now, and another is through meetings and speeches that share plans, goals, values, and culture.  One of the responsibilities I have the pleasure of doing is meeting with new members of the Intero Team and giving a talk on Intero (The Intero Story).  As Mr. Hall suggests, I relate the history of Intero, the goals we’ve cycled through and achieved, the plans we have, and the culture we have created based on the Intero Value Pyramid.  What is the point?  Paul Smith, author of Lead with a Story, believes that whether it’s a speech or an everyday conversation, the difference is storytelling. From a career of research as the director of Consumer and Communications Research at Procter & Gamble, Mr. Smith has found that storytelling is what it takes to inspire and motivate a positive change in people’s behavior.  In other words, storytelling is a leadership tool.  Some very famous, successful organizations come to mind, such as NASA, that have used storytelling to spark in people a desire not only to want to work for NASA, but to work hard for them.  Some hugely famous companies require their senior executives to share the companies’ most important stories.  Nike, for instance, has designated all its senior executives as corporate storytellers.

I have seen firsthand what storytelling can do.  During times of change, stories will give you the influence you need to inspire quick action.  Stories are the perfect medium to make recommendations or give feedback to your boss, to coach and mentor others, and––as I do with the Intero story––to ignite passion, inspire creativity, and make people love their job.

If you are not a natural storyteller and no extraordinary stories come to mind, remember that a story doesn’t have to be an incredible, rare experience––anything memorable and teachable qualifies.  In an interview on Forbes with Paul Smith, he gives seven elements you can adopt to lead others by telling a story:

  1. Start with the context.
  2. Use metaphors and analogies.
  3. Appeal to emotion.
  4. Keep it tangible and concrete.
  5. Include a surprise.
  6. Unless you have the floor for an extended amount of time, this means your story should be 3-5 minutes.
  7. Move beyond telling your audience the entire story to staging a scene for them to participate by discovering the meaning or surprise of the story themselves.

Another great book that does an excellent job of describing the importance of storytelling is Tell to Win by Peter Guber.  A cross between a business book and a “real book,” Guber’s tale takes you through the journey of his life; growing up in New York, then moving the Hollywood to become a producer with films such as Batman, Rain Man and Gorillas in the Mist, and now a co-owner of the Golden State Warriors.  While one would think a majority of the stories told would focus on the many accomplishments Guber has had throughout his adventures, many of them are more about the challenges that inevitably occur on the path of life;  The real stories that peak a crowds interest and show a lesson worth listening too.  A truly enlightening read for any leader, businessman, or employee, Tell to Win, relays the stories that make you think about your decisions in business and life.