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Feb 1st, 2023
Why storytelling is so important to leaders
This week is National Story Telling Week and children in schools up and down the country have been taking part, but little do they know that mastering the art of storytelling in their youth could help them become exceptional leaders when they are older.
We all remember the stories that we read as children that gripped us like magic. A colleague recently told me that the stories he took the most pleasure in reading to his children, were the ones he himself loved as a child decades earlier. Good stories engage us, influence us and stick in our memory; three things that all leaders strive to achieve.
In the words of Dragon Den’s Steve Bartlett “Great companies have great stories, and it’s those great stories, when told correctly, that connect with culture and create community. Those that can’t communicate their story will fail. Those that can will thrive.”
Here are a few examples of the impact that storytelling can have…
Paint a picture when pitching
Almost all of us will have to ‘pitch’ for new clients and customers, whether that is as part of a big formal ‘beauty pageant’ process, or one-on-one over a coffee.
The biggest challenge we have when pitching is setting ourselves apart from our competition. Very rarely are a business’s ‘unique selling points’ actually unique, so it is important to stand out in ways that relate to our clients. When I have run pitching programmes with clients we talk about what makes them different, but more importantly, we spend time thinking about stories and examples which demonstrate those differences.
I was delighted to hear from a client following a recent company away day, who reported that since our session on storytelling to demonstrate why they were so good at what they do (and they are exceptional) they had not lost a single pitch.
When putting a pitch together it is important to narrate a story to every selling point because this is what most people will remember. Stories demonstrate your values in a way that a list of statements can’t and will allow your audience to see the benefit of working with you.
A COO shared with me that at their annual conference, the remit he gave to all presenters was to stick to a criteria of three slides, with three pictures, delivered in three minutes, as a way of encouraging those presenting to tell stories with powerful images rather than reeling off information.
Bring colleagues closer together
As a leader, you can gain the trust of your team by opening up and telling colleagues about events in your life that have shaped who you are and influenced who you have become. Encouraging them to also tell their stories will build significant trust within a team that can make such a difference to morale, well-being and success.
I know of a professional services firm that launched a companywide mental health campaign designed to encourage staff to talk to each other when they are finding things hard. It started with the CEO telling everyone about the times in his life when he has struggled and found it hard to be mentally strong. Sharing stories of when tough times have been overcome is especially important now as they can give hope to people worried about the economy and what the future holds.
One of the most valued parts of a leadership coaching programme I am running within a global firm, are the ‘lunch and learn’ sessions, where senior leaders have lunch with the delegates and share their ‘leadership journey reciting the stories of how they got there, the mistakes they made and the lessons they have learned.
The power of storytelling
Podcast Power CEOs
Business podcasts are the working world’s modern Jackanory. Today’s executives are digesting the stories of entrepreneurs and business leaders through their headphones whilst on the go. The best storytellers on Spotify have turbo-charged their influence.
Gary Vaynerchuk, for example, achieved initial success by selling his restaurant booking system Resy to American Express, but he built his personal brand by telling his story on social media and then teaching people how to tell their own stories. He says: “I spend an enormous amount of my time trying to figure out how to story tell in micro-moments. The notion of storytelling hasn’t changed but the mediums through which we tell the stories have. You now have to tell a story in new and interesting ways, be it 6 seconds or 60.”
Likewise, Steven Bartlett’s podcast, a Diary of a CEO, has sat at the top of the charts for a very long time. Its success is built on the candid nature with which some of the world’s most successful business and world leaders tell their own stories. Bartlett himself was the founder of a social media agency that established itself as one of the best at helping brands tell their own stories.
And Tony Hseih, a tech entrepreneur who sold his online business Zappos to Amazon says “storytelling is key to building a transformative company culture, which is the best competitive advantage that any organisation can have”. Hseih also transformed a derelict area of downtown Las Vegas into a start-up business hub and wrote a best-selling business book Delivering Happiness. His philosophy was to think big and tell great brand stories to investors, team members and customers.
Campaigning for action
At the start of this year, Publicis Groupe CEO Arthur Sadoun demonstrated how telling your own story can be the catalyst for change. Having been open about his battle with cancer over the last eight months, he was shocked by the number of people who had approached him to tell him that they had also been fighting the disease, but had been too afraid to let their employers know because of the stigma attached to being ill and needing time off work.
On 04 February 2023, his foundation is launching a campaign ‘Working with Cancer’ to tell the stories of those who have felt the need to hide their cancer from the workplace and rally businesses to commit to protecting the working rights of those undergoing treatment. Many global partners worldwide have joined this initiative to show their support to abolish the stigma and insecurity that exist for people with cancer in the workplace.
The best leaders inspire others through their words and actions.
One that stands out for me is New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. I recall her success when handling Covid and she has consistently shown her humanity during tough times. She demonstrated this recently in her resignation speech where she stood in front of the media and told the world that she is human. She described her thought process gracefully and with a true sense of authenticity and explained what she had found challenging and the reasons behind her desire to continue into another term AND why she ultimately made the decision not to.
Storytelling impacts people emotionally – and it’s our emotions that drive our decision-making and propel us to take action. So what is the story you would like to convey to your company, your clients, investors, or even acknowledge to yourself. The most important thing is to get it out so that your voice is heard and people understand what you stand for and how you can influence them to succeed professionally and personally.
If you would like to talk more about how to tell your own story and use it to help drive business growth, then please contact me at email@example.com.
To learn more about what our clients have gained from our coaching we have lots of testimonials that you might find interesting.