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What's Your Compelling Story? | AboutLeaders.com
Article by John Plifka
April 24, 2012
1 Comment
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Your StoryWhy do books, movies, and television shows captivate us? Because of the stories they tell and most of the time it is a story that we can connect with in some manner. Effective leaders recognize the power that stories have to capture our attention and often use them to connect their vision to action. There are numerous ways of communicating in today’s media rich culture and leaders have numerous options available to convey their message. Storytelling is one method that has been in existence since humans could communicate. Storytelling has been used to spread religions, win support for political agendas, and launch wars. Storytelling is used in a variety of fields and areas and is vital to increasing your communication skills.

Become an Avid Storyteller

The formal acceptance of leadership storytelling within the business context and leadership arena has been slow because of some of its myths and negative connotations. Often thought of as pejorative, “war” stories, or distortions of fact, people tend to immediately associate storytelling as pure entertainment versus a means of discovery and knowledge building. At the core, storytelling is a powerful way leaders can connect as well as convey vision to action or theory to practice. One of the most renowned storytellers was Abraham Lincoln. Not only did Lincoln use stories to achieve his vision for the country, he also used stories to bring people together in the most difficult of times.

Storytelling Increases Learning

communication imagePlato is credited with saying that, “Those who tell the stories rule the world.”  Storytelling is a powerful form of communication especially within organizations. Stories explain lessons learned and share your background with colleagues and subordinates. Stories provide insight in a more informal, personal manner and give recipients a realistic contextual example of a given situation, problem, and solution. Storytelling can be done organizationally or individually and is especially important to utilize when an organization is experiencing high rates of turnover.  Why? Because this method of communication provides employees analogies and experiences they can relate to resulting in continuity and a higher level of understanding.

Drop the PowerPoint Slides

StoryStorytelling provides an understanding of organizational norms and the way things have evolved without the tedious and mind-numbing review of manuals or PowerPoint briefings. Oral stories tend to live on in memory whereas written stories tend to become ossified. This is especially important today considering the fiscal challenges we face. For leaders, stories are now more important than ever to remain adaptive. Effective leaders more than ever today think in stories, they remember in stories, they plan in stories, they express hopes and fears and dreams in stories, and they make decisions in stories.

Storytellers Achieve Results

According to storytelling guru, Stephen Denning, leadership storytelling involves taking a capacity that people already have and applying it for constructive purposes. Anyone can master the discipline with practice. Denning asserts that the best way to communicate with people you are trying to lead is very often through a story. Though storytelling is a powerful and entertaining way of communicating to convey a message or to motivate people, we should remember telling the story isn’t the goal in itself. It is the action and results that occur from storytelling that makes this communication method a must for effective leadership.

storytelling formulaStorytelling is a powerful communication tool that can motivate the workforce to achieve the organization’s mission. It is important to remember that effective storytelling is more of an art than a science. Some effective storytelling tips to consider include:

  • Ensure that your story is not contrived or calculated
  • Make your story the appropriate length and relevant
  • Great stories are authentic, not something you made up
  • Stories need a balance of emotion, humor, and seriousness

Think about the Results of Your Story

Similar to using humor, which can be a tricky proposition and often not recommended in professional settings, storytelling is all about timing and delivery. That is why in addition to some of the tips already mentioned, it is worth having a repertoire of stories available that are rehearsed in your mind but are not contrived. Furthermore, one should be cautious to consider the results of a story being told. Though a story being told may highlight a particular point for a specific moment in time, it is prudent to think about the results of that story. A storyteller’s credibility would suffer significantly if a poignant story was overshadowed by later learning the business or organization related to that story went bankrupt or failed.

Bottom LineOverall, storytelling offers another powerful and influential way to communicate as a leader. The next time you feel and think that your message isn’t connecting with others regardless of the level you work, try communicating with a story to make your point. For more information about how to increase your leadership storytelling, please consider the easy, effective and powerful book, Storytelling In Organizations; Why Storytelling is Transforming 21st Century Organizations and Management by John Seely Brown, Stephen Denning, Katalina Groh, and Laurence Prusak; 2005.

Now It’s Your Turn

Do you have a compelling story that has captured the attention of others? Tell me your storytelling experience and tips for effective storytelling.

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John Plifka

John currently works for the U.S. Army as a Senior Strategic Analyst. He is a PhD candidate at Northcentral University, holds an MS in National Security Studies from the US Army War College and an MPA from Troy University.

  • Garland Williams

    John,

    This is a good synopsis on the value of storytelling. It is a most effective means for relating key ideas and principles in a manner that the audience can easily remember. It is useful in the classroom as well as a useful technique to employ in a speech.

    A good book that talks about this in detail is “Made to Stick” by Chip and Dan Heath. Their key idea is to make your stories simple and limit yourself to three or so key ideas so that the points will “stick” with the audience.

    Again, this was a good and thought provoking article.

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