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Why Storytelling Matters In Today’s Leadership

Power-of-storytelling-leadership

With this latest piece on my leadership blog, I’m delighted to announce a new partnership with The Economist Executive Education. The opportunity to collaborate with such a respected and renowned publication is both an exciting opportunity and a great honour.

Through this new partnership, I will be contributing articles to The Economist Executive Education and in addition, I will be featuring articles originally published on The Economist Executive Education Navigator website. So to kickstart this new partnership, I decided to reprint the article below on the importance of storytelling skills for today’s leaders. But before I do, allow me to first share my own thoughts on this topic.

Of the many skills and traits that today’s leaders are expected to have in order to help their organization succeed and thrive, effective communication is without question one of critical foundation stones for successful leadership in today’s interconnected, digital world.

Of course, when it comes to discussions on how leaders can do a better job communicating their idea or vision to those under their care, there is naturally a focus on how leaders can employ storytelling to not only articulate their vision, but how this communication tool can help motivate employees to commit their native talents, creativity, and insights to making that shared purpose a reality.

Granted, in this digital age of text messages, emails, video conferencing, and social media, storytelling as a communication tool can seem a bit quaint, harkening more the image of people sitting around a campfire sharing stories than around a conference table trying to figure out the next steps of a new initiative or how to resolve a current issue.

But the fact remains that storytelling is a powerful and effective vehicle for leaders to better inform, inspire, and educate those they lead of not only the journey before them, but of the challenges that stand in their way.

The simple truth is that no one remembers pie charts and graphs, but they do remember stories, particularly those that resonate with where they are today or where they want to go.

And the truth is that as leaders, we all have a story to tell; a narrative that says why this matters [Twitter-logo-smallShare on Twitter] and why others should care. Something that informs those we lead not only what we want to achieve with their support and contributions, but what they will gain in the process of taking part in this endeavour.

Lately, in several of my talks I’ve been sharing my story – of what lead me to where I am today and every time I share that story, there is a greater pull from the audience to engage in the ideas and messages I share on how they can become better leaders for those under their care.

The reason for that is because in sharing my story, the audience gains a better understanding of the journey I’ve taken that allowed me to understand these notions of leadership. They can identify how these ideas came to be and how they can help shape and transform the way they’ll work going forward.

Similarly, all of you who are reading this have a story to tell as well – a story that provides the context for why this change initiative, this vision, this goal you’re presenting to your team is important, why it’s necessary, and why it should matter to those under your care.

There’s a reason why speeches like Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of an end to racial segregation in the US, President John F. Kennedy’s vision of a landing a man on the moon in 10 years, and Winston Churchill’s calls for courage in the face of the ravages of war continue to be shared and quoted as examples of how today’s leaders can rally those they lead around a common vision or shared purpose.

Though the challenges they discuss are now a part of our collective past, we are nonetheless drawn to the emotion and to the power of the ideas being expressed – of how we can not only meet the challenges we face head-on, but how we can overcome them as well.

That’s not to say that we need to attain the level of storytelling mastery that these renowned leaders had attained for us to become effective leadership communicators in our organization.

Indeed, one only has to look at the transformation Al Gore underwent – from a rigid, uninspiring US presidential candidate to someone whose passion and drive to draw awareness to the dangers of global warming earned him both an Oscar and a Nobel Peace Prize – to see the value in learning how to employ the power of storytelling in our leadership.

In other words, all of us have the potential to inspire others about the future we can create by sharing our story [Twitter-logo-smallShare on Twitter]; of connecting the hardships we’ve endured, the challenges we’ve risen above, and the successes we’ve achieved in order to create our collective story – of why we do what we do and why it matters.

Indeed, it’s that sense of commonality and community, of feeling like we are in fact a part of something bigger than ourselves that inspires us to not only deliver our best, but to aim to become that better version of ourselves.

To that end, here now is the reprint of The Economist Executive Education article “Why storytelling skills make you a better business leader” that looks at not only why storytelling is becoming a critical communication tool for today’s leaders, but what are the key ingredients leaders need to utilize in today’s always-on, digital world to inspire, empower, and support their employees to bring their best selves to the work they do.

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“Storytelling” has become a ubiquitous buzzword in the business world as the marketers’ pursuit to weave the most creative and compelling narratives about their brands and products races on. Let’s take a look at why this has become such a hot topic, and what you can do to become a stronger storyteller yourself.

Why businesses need powerful narratives
Storytelling is being increasingly utilized for building customer loyalty externally, as well as for motivating internal stakeholders and developing stronger connections among employees internally.

Why are stories the chosen tool to achieve these aims? Because they serve as emotional “handholds” for communicating the complex information that we seek, explains storytelling expert Frank Rose. “You can memorise data, but to have it change opinion and behaviour you need story,” says Rose, who co-teaches an executive-education course at Columbia Business School on storytelling strategy.

The art of storytelling in a digital world
Here’s a quick, well, story to illustrate Rose’s view on storytelling strategy: Back in 2006, as a journalist for Wired magazine, Rose interviewed director James Cameron, who was filming Avatar at the time. “He told me the best way to think about the story was as a fractal experience,” recalls Rose. “The casual viewer could enjoy the movie on a basic level. But for the more intense fan, the meaning could unfold in unlimited powers of ten, all within a unified experience.”

Rose likens Cameron’s approach to cinematic storytelling to contemporary media – a fragmented yet unified universe where we can tell stories that allow greater or lesser degrees of involvement.

Key ingredients of successful storytelling
You can find stories almost anywhere you look in a company – an earnings chart, a corporate timeline, a client testimonial. The real challenge is to develop stories that are true, interesting and engaging to your unique audience. Whether the end destination is on billboards or in boardrooms, Rose highlights four key qualities of compelling stories:

1. Originality
Do an honest inventory to discover what is unique about your brand or company – its founding, evolution and vision for changing the world.

2. Authenticity
What does your company stand for? How do leaders and employees feel about the business? Try to focus on real people and genuine emotions.

3. Empathy
Even when a story is about your company or product, the customer should always be the focal point. How does who and what you are translate into customer benefits?

4. Consistency
Finally, it’s crucial to define a singular voice and tone you will use to tell your story across various media and platforms.

The only question that remains is: What stories could you be telling?

This article was written by Laura Montgomery and originally appeared on The Economist Executive Education Navigator website.

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