When was the last time you enjoyed a good story? Was it at the cinema? Perhaps you were reading a novel before going to bed? Think hard. Do you remember ever hearing a good one at work?
In our experience the very best leaders know how to tell a riveting story. They have the ability to engage their audience to communicate strategy, motivate a workforce, illustrate a vision and convey desired behaviours; all through a strong narrative that is memorable and persuasive.
Think back to the stories from our childhood; religious narratives teach us valuable lessons and fairy tales carry meanings we take onto adult life. Our parents recite them to us in a memorable way so we can eventually pass them on. Why should this practice be out of place at work? Don’t we need to share experience and pass on memorable lessons here as well?
Everyone can tell a story, though some forget how to do it at work. We all seem to be at ease with recounting tales in a social context; a funny anecdote at the pub or a cautionary tale to a friend over the phone helps to pass on vital information and experience.
Yet it has become common in organisational culture to opt for rational arguments when expressing information rather than stories. But isn’t trying to appeal to a sense of imagination going to get a better response? We are more likely to remember what we feel than a slideshow, respond better when there is room for debate rather than no room for argument and are more convinced when we are not told what to think. Politicians, authors and public speakers have been using this story telling tactic for some time now so why not managers and leaders?
What is your style of speaking to large groups of people or your team mates? Are you telling people what to think or are you inspiring questions, thought and debate?
How, for example, would you communicate to your team the importance of being commercially innovative and ethical at the same time? Perhaps by providing them with a load of figures about the environment and sending them on their way? Or would using examples like Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop or Anya Hindmarch, leader of the ‘I’m not a plastic bag’ campaign be better placed at emphasising these key strategies?
How can we become better narrators? Contrary to what you might think the gift of the gab is not confined to a naturally blessed few. Rather, it is a skill that every leader can re-discover and re-learn. The most important thing is that you are sincere and not afraid to show your human side or how you have learnt from mistakes.
The challenge is to capture the stories that circulate around us every day and use them in the context of the workplace. How has your interactions on your way to work taught you lessons about communication? In what way could you express how the crisis management of another big company has important lessons to be learned for your business? The stories are there for the taking- it’s just how you use them that matters.
This World Storytelling Day, think about tales you could weave based on your experience, what you have learnt from others and what you notice in everyday situations. Start to develop a repertoire of stories and see how easy it is to share experiences that will engage everyone you meet at all levels.
Let us know what you come up with.