The Power of Storytelling in Leadership

July 22, 2021
| Posted by
Scott
Stiver

The Leadership Engine by Noel Tichy is a bestselling book devoted to describing how winning companies create dynamic leaders at every level. Tichy, a professor at Michigan and former consultant to Jack Welch, made the point that a central value of successful leaders is the ability to tell compelling stories that engage their followers emotionally and rationally. Not just random stories, but stories that weave together the ideas, values, and modes of behavior embraced by their organization. These are also stories that allow their employees to clearly see the future envisioned by the leader and how that future is a better future for them.

Now Is the Time to Step Forward, Not Back

As I look around, I see many company leaders becoming more withdrawn. But the place to lead the battle is not from the rear, especially in difficult times like those we have seen recently. Many of us in the ranks of leadership are being forced to make gut-wrenching decisions that may have negative impacts on the lives of our employees but are necessary for the good of the business. It is an unfortunate reality that sometimes comes with the role of leadership. Now more than ever we MUST lead from the front, not the rear.

While there is no escaping the reality of what sometimes must be done for the good of our companies in turbulent economic times, we need to remember that all whom are being impacted by our decisions are also looking to us for inspiration. Author and speaker Simon Sinek has said, “A leader's true value is measured by the work they inspire others to do.” Communicating our vision of what we are doing, why we are doing it, and where we going in the future is more critical now than ever. Storytelling can be a medium for illustrating the future for our team and inspiring them in the process.

How To Deliver Stories That Move the Organization Forward

One of the training technologies regularly employed by Carew International is the practice of using “Hooks and Punches” to leverage stories and bring key points of learning to life in the classroom. A “hook” is a story that sets up the next learning point, while a “punch” is a story that illustrates how the learning point is valid and then links it to a real situation. This same tactic can be applied to telling inspirational stories as leaders of our companies. According to Tichy, our stories should contain three essential elements:

  1. The case for change
  2. Where we are going
  3. How we will get there

What I am talking about here is not posting or retweeting an inspirational quote or anecdote here and there to your social media followers. What I am talking about is one on one, personalized storytelling – leading from the front. Look into your own experiences or the experiences of others to find the source for your inspiring stories.

What Does a Hook Look Like?

Many companies are having a hard time filling open positions and getting the help needed to create a comfortable work environment. Therefore, many employees are being asked to “do more with less.” To effectively display empathy and inspire others, a leader could recount a story (the hook) about a past situation where fewer people banded together and overcame odds to achieve great results. It would clearly focus on the fact that in doing more with less, greater opportunity will be available for each team member to try new things. These new opportunities will help them add more value and grow as individuals. Center the story on what good will come out of this for THEM. This story could be built from events in your own past or from a story you found doing research on the subject. It should be as compelling as possible, while weaving in the three elements of making the case for change, illustrating where your organization is going and painting the picture of how you will get there (the punch).

From Stories to Action

Storytelling in leadership is not complete without closing the loop on what we say and what we do. Leaders: you must act upon all the inspirational stories you tell. Round out your stories with a clear plan of action on how you will get there from here.

In these unique times, and always, the art of storytelling from a leadership position can be a great source of inspiration in seeing the glass half full versus half empty. It is up to us to help our people see the hope, opportunity, and prosperity that lie just around the next bend.