Photo by Art Lasovsky on Unsplash
Telling stories in a business setting can be just as compelling and magical as listening to a campfire story and is an incredibly powerful leadership method. Telling stories that demonstrate how leaders exemplify your company’s values can unite employees and create a strong company culture.
Uri Hasson, Professor and Director of Graduate Studies at Princeton, found in a storytelling experiment that audiences show higher brain activity when listening to a story. Other studies suggest that proper storytelling can engage employees, boosting their motivation and productivity.
The qualities of a good storyteller
A good storyteller is authentic and flexible, knowing how to adapt depending on his or her audience. A good storyteller is also a great listener and values employee feedback.
7 Tips to get better at storytelling:
- Know your audience
- Learn how to hook your audience
- Take your time when telling a story
- Observe the audience’s reaction and learn to adapt based on it
- Use the listener’s imagination to your advantage
- Be personal
- Read books and biographies for inspiration
Here are a few ways to incorporate stories into your leadership culture:
Tell your organization’s core story
What is your company’s mission and vision? Do you have a meaningful personal story that ties to the company’s roots? Share this story with your employees to inspire them and motivate them to work towards the same goal. Ask your employees to tell their own story of how the company’s mission and vision appeals to them – learning what resonates with them will engage and educate your team.
Inspiration: when Anita Roddick founded The Body Shop, she shared her vision of ethical, cruelty-free cosmetics and this united her employees to work together on creating amazing products that respected ethical trading and human rights. Anita Roddick went down in history as one of the world’s biggest storytellers and, in her last interview, she said:
“One of the most intriguing things in management and in business is the role of storytelling – people need the anecdotes to do the work they do.”
Explain how your company overcame a big challenge
Every company comes across small bumps in the road but sometimes you also come across a challenge that becomes a major turning point. Tell employees how you mustered all your forces and worked together to overcome that challenge. Just as important, ask employees to share with others how they have increased their resilience and overcome challenges they encountered in their work.
Tell the story of teamwork
It’s not just each employee’s individual skills that matter, but also the way employees are able to set aside their differences and work together for a common goal. If there was a moment when your employees did that, tell that story to encourage a team-oriented mindset and reinforce your values.
Tell the stories of great employees
High-performing companies are made of outstanding employees with great skill, commitment, and/or positive influence on the workplace. Telling the story of a great employee can motivate others and give them a standard to look up to.
Incorporate a story into a change management strategy
Change is a vital part of organizational development, but change can often be confusing for employees, causing panic and uncertainty. According to American psychologist Frederick Irving Herzberg, during periods of change, employees rate job satisfaction based on extrinsic factors: company policy and administration, management, work conditions, production arrangements, salary, relationships with management, peers, and subordinates. As you make the transition, communicate with your staff and focus the change around a compelling story. Don’t just tell them that things are changing; explain to your employees what prompted this change, in what direction you are headed, and what they can expect.
Create future scenarios
Creating future scenarios is a storytelling tool that actually originates in the military, where think tanks use scenario-type thinking to create strategies. Adapted to the corporate world, creating future scenarios helps teams plan for success and envision potential challenges along the way so that when they do occur, they’ll be better prepared.
Inspiration: French oil executive Pierre Wack was the first to use scenario planning in the private sector at Royal Dutch Shell's London headquarters in the 1970s. Here’s his description of scenario planning:
“I had the feeling of hunting in a pack of wolves, being the eyes of the pack, and sending signals back to the rest. Now if you see something serious, and the pack doesn’t notice it, you’d better find out — are you in front?”
Use videos to tell company stories
You can succeed in leadership storytelling from your meeting room, a large auditorium, or a TED stage, using nothing but the power of your voice. However, it would be a pity not to use creative visual storytelling methods in the digital age. We’re all visual learners and videos can help you both make your point in a memorable way, and easily share it with everyone. You could create a library of videos for the whole organization to access or gather your team for regular watch parties during lunch and learns.
No matter what your company story is and how you decide to tell it, always make time for employee feedback to find out how they are reacting to your story.
Through storytelling, you can engage your employees in a much more personal and meaningful way. Your stories can attract curious, committed, and creative innovators who resonate with your organization’s values and choose it as the place to grow. Last, but not least, sharing your stories can build common ground between people of different backgrounds and help you create the dream team.