Leadership Techniques: Using Storytelling

Story telling…is one of the world’s most powerful tools for achieving astonishing results. For the leader, storytelling is action oriented—a force for turning dreams into goals and then into results.

— PETER GUBER of Mandalay Enter Group

Storytelling has always been a powerful method for teaching and inspiring. In many cultures, it is the primary method of sharing and retaining knowledge through the generations. It is also an effective way to communicate to various stakeholders at every level of the organization.

A gifted salesperson gains acceptance by telling a story that sets a product or service up as the hero. A manager rallies direct reports to make short-term sacrifices as they work towards a long-term goal. A talented chief executive translates the company mission statement into an emotional narrative that attracts investors and partners while inspiring employees. When a problem arises, it is also a powerful technique for creating calm and inspiring hope.

Four Truths of Storytellingstorytelling

Unlike fantasy storytelling, the practice in business is built on truth and authenticity. To be effective, the storyteller must be seen as someone with integrity. According to Peter Guber of Mandalay Entertainment Group, there are four kinds of truth found in effective storytelling.

Truth to the Teller

As mentioned earlier, authenticity is critical to the success of the story. The storyteller “must be congruent with his story—his tongue, feet, and wallet must move in the same direction. The consummate modern shaman knows his own deepest values and reveals them in his story with honesty and candor.”

The power of storytelling comes from its ability to tap our emotions. Whether you are aware of it or not, most opinions are formed, decisions are made, and reactions are triggered at this level. So the secret is to get to the heart of the listener. To do this successfully, the storyteller must speak from the heart.

Truth to the Audience

Storytelling may evoke a sense of leisure. However, when using this technique in business, the storyteller must consider that time may be the scarcest resource. So a commitment to efficacy and value is the essence of this truth.

The goal of the process is to induce an altered emotional state. This requires that the storyteller build suspense and stimulate curiosity. The storyteller can take a few steps to assist the process:

• Practice on a group of colleagues who still need convincing. Study the nonverbal responses to detect the emotional power of the story.
• Identify the audience’s emotional needs and deliver with accuracy and integrity. Manage expectations throughout the story, and conclude with an unexpected twist or insight that leaves the audience convinced and delighted.
• Involve the audience in the storytelling experience. Guide the listeners to see themselves as the heroes of the story. Elicit suggestions or strategies as you guide them to your conclusion.

Truth to the Moment

Never tell a story the same way twice. Given the dynamic nature of business, as described in Chapter 1, as well as the audience, an effective story is one that sounds different each time. In addition, the more the storyteller involves the audience, the more unique the process becomes.

There is an inherent paradox here. A great storyteller is both well practiced and flexible enough to improvise. A skilled storyteller can vary the story without “losing the thread of the focus.”

Truth to the Mission

A great storyteller conveys that the mission of the story is greater than the self. To evoke a real desire for change, the storyteller has to weave a tale that advocates for the good of all. This brings passion and emotion to the group to take action.

Even in today’s cynical, self-centered age, people are desperate to believe in something bigger than themselves. The storyteller plays a vital role by providing them with a mission they can believe in and devote themselves to. As a modern shaman, the visionary business leader taps into the human learning to be part of a worthy cause. A leader who wants to use the power of storytelling must remember this and begin with a cause that deserves devotion.

The Heart of Storytelling

Technology has provided many new venues for storytelling. Beyond the physical gathering of people, stories are shared through print, radio, television, and movies.
State-of-the-art technology is a great tool for capturing and transmitting words, images, and ideas, but the power of storytelling resides most fundamentally in “state-of-the-heart” technology.

At the end of the day, words and ideas presented in a way that engages listeners’ emotions are what carry stories. It is this oral tradition that lies at the center of our ability to motivate, sell, inspire, engage, and lead.

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