Storytelling is an important leadership skill, and leaders who want to succeed must master five types of stories: vision stories, which inspire shared storytelling; values stories that lead the way; stories of action that spark progress and change; teach stories that impart knowledge and skills to others; and stories of confidence that help people understand you, connect with you, and believe in you.
Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin was once asked what questions she would ask Abraham Lincoln if she had the chance. “I feel like a bad historian,” she replied, “but I would probably ask him to tell me a story.” As she herself documented, on 16th The American president was not only a great political leader, but also a masterful storyteller, who used stories to entertain, educate and inspire.
Storytelling is an important leadership skill. As Stanford psychologists Gordon H. Bower and Michal C. Clark first observed in 1969, we are 7 times more likely to remember a fact when it is wrapped in a story. Telling stories can also contribute to the five effective leadership practices outlined in their book, James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, professors at Santa Clara University. The leadership challenge: 1) lead the way, 2) inspire a shared vision, 3) challenge the process, 4) empower others to act, and 5) encourage the heart. But it’s important to know what kinds of stories lead to what results. Here is an introduction.
Story of trust
As stated in the book The Moth, How to tell a story, “When you choose to share your story, you share a part of yourself. » In doing so, you begin to build trust and connect in new ways with your listeners. Trust stories humanize you as a leader and allow you to encourage the heart of your team.
Thasunda Brown Duckett, President and CEO of TIAA, connects his memories from being the only black girl on the football team to not being invited to a teammate’s birthday party and often being the only woman and person of color at a get-together. When you show vulnerability by sharing a personal story, others will be encouraged to reciprocate, creating a virtuous cycle of trust.
Brené Brown defines a leader as “anyone who sees the potential in people and has the courage to develop that potential.” Great leaders must be great teachers. Stories allow you to simplify complex topics by providing easy-to-follow models of behavior and skills.
As chairman and CEO of Lowe’s, Marvin Ellison uses stories from his life to teach his team. Early in his career, while working at Target, a senior company executive visited his store and asked the employees’ opinions. When no one spoke up, Ellison said a new system was not working as expected. Ultimately, the system was fixed and Ellison was credited for speaking out. Now he tells this story while visiting Lowe’s to enable others to act with candor and promoting a culture focused on feedback.
Although a trust story is built around you, a teaching story and the other three types can also be an indirect narrative – using someone else’s story, a fictional story, or a parable to convey your message. Just make sure your audience can identify and empathize with the protagonist so they want the same thing for themselves.
A big part of a leader’s job is to inspire action – and one of the best ways to do that is to tell a story that leaves the audience thinking, “If we do this (insert desired action here ), then we will get it (the desired result).
Entrepreneurs can use action stories to launch new business ideas. Canva founder and CEO Melanie Perkins dreamed of making graphic design accessible. To do this, it had to create a new story for investors. “People are afraid to conceive,” says Perkins. “They are conditioned their whole lives to think that they are not creative.” Early success stories included people taking on simple design challenges and creating resumes that helped them land jobs.
Action stories can also be used to inspire organizational change. Former CEO Indra Nooyi used this story to challenge the process at PepsiCo, moving a portfolio of primarily sugar-based products toward something more health-conscious. She wanted to maintain the feeling of pleasure while making sure it was good for you too. “The words that speak to people’s hearts are more important than those that speak to their minds. » Nooyi shares. She developed an indirect narrative to gain buy-in from her board, using a story to illustrate emerging trends in changing consumer tastes.
History of values
If you want your team to buy into your organization’s values, tell a story that shows someone living there as a way to model the way so that they do it too.
For example, to model the family-oriented mindset at Zoom, founder and CEO Eric Yuan often tell a story of being late to the company Christmas party because he was traveling with his son’s basketball team. Hamdi Ulukaya, CEO and founder of Chobani, sharing stories of growing up amid corruption in Turkey and explains how it made him want to become a more ethical business leader. These stories communicate personal and organizational values and encourage value-based behavior in others.
History is full of examples of leaders using vision stories. After the Dunkirk evacuation, Winston Churchill vividly described a Britain that would “fight on the seas and oceans” and “never surrender.” In his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech, Martin Luther King, Jr. used the story to paint a picture of a world in which “a man would not be judged by the color of his skin but by the content of his character.
In business, GM CEO Mary Barra use a story to illustrate a future with “zero accidents, zero emissions and zero congestion”. Taking the reins as Microsoft’s first non-founder CEO, Satya Nadella needed to shift the internal culture from know-it-all to learn-it-all. Promote the “learn everything” mindset, Nadella shared a story about her father. “He had this journal that he wrote every day – people he met, ideas generated to act on. It is a continuous system.
Stories make the invisible future alive and real, inspire a shared vision in which listeners will engage and progress.
As Kouzes and Posner’s title suggests, leadership is challenging. But the story can be useful for the five practices of effective leadership. Vision stories inspire shared vision. Values stories lead the way. Action stories can spark change and, in turn, challenge the process. Teaching stories imparts knowledge and skills to others, empowering them to take action. And when you share your own story, you build trust and encourage the heart.