Savvy leaders tell stories to inspire and motivate

Savvy leaders tell stories to inspire and motivate

3 November 2016

Following on from her recent article on Storytelling in leadership, Jaqui explains further the value of storytelling when inspiring and motivating your internal audiences.

Did you know that the use of stories, properly conveyed, is actually how we prefer to receive communications?

Much of the commentary on storytelling in and for business is focused on the power of brand storytelling for marketing a new product or service, or on humanising brands and companies through storytelling. Not much attention, yet, has been applied to storytelling as powerful tool for internal communications.

Storytelling may seem like an old-fashioned tool today — and it is. That’s exactly what makes it so powerful. Life happens in the narratives we tell one another.

A story can go where quantitative analysis can’t: our hearts. Data can persuade people, but it doesn’t inspire them to act; to do that, you need to wrap your vision in a story that fires the imagination and stirs the soul.

Some of the most successful companies in the world use storytelling very intentionally as a leadership tool within their companies; Microsoft, Berkshire Hathaway, Saatchi and Saatchi and Nike for example. In fact, in Nike all the senior executives are designated corporate storytellers.

Wolff Olins, a branding, communications and business leveraging company (and now Omnicom subsidiary) believes so much in the power of storytelling to empower business that it teamed up with Man Booker Prize short-listed writer Moshin Hamid (The Reluctant Fundamentalist) to work on developing storytelling for businesses.

Over years of working with everyone from the Beatles’ Apple Records to GE, Qatar Museums, Skype and Future Learn, Wolff Olins discovered that even though many company leaders feel comfortable crafting external, customer-facing narratives, they often feel less sure of how to articulate an internal story for the company.

Steve Denning, the ‘father’ of leadership storytelling, has been writing and working in the leadership storytelling space for over 15 years as is passionate about their power.

‘Stories help us make sense of organisations. Storytelling is a way for leaders to embody the change they seek. Business cases are developed through use of numbers but they are typically approved on the basis of a story, it’s the narrative that links a set of events in some kind a causal sequence.’

Yamini Naidu, Australia’s leading expert on business storytelling and author of Hooked, How Leaders Connect, Engage and Inspire with Storytelling, notes that:

‘In today's hyper-competitive business environment, leaders who can engage and inspire their teams and organisations have a distinct advantage. Using the art of effective storytelling, leaders can defeat information overload to inspire the emotion and effort needed to adopt new strategies, attract new clients, or win new business.’

In what ways can storytelling help leaders be more effective?

Stories can:

  • Inspire people to act in unfamiliar ways: Great leaders recognise that human connections need to go before concepts and strategies: connect first with your employees – then get down to business.
  • Help set a vision: Storytelling is part of the creative struggle to generate a new future as opposed to conventional management approaches that search for virtual certainties anchored in the security of yesterday. Narrative helps business leaders set the scene in relation to a future that is evolving unpredictability. Management techniques miss the fact that we can’t measure tomorrow when we don’t know what it will involve.
  • Define culture in a personal way: Stories create connectedness and enable employees to ‘see’ themselves as part of a wider story and linked to the values, ethos and core behaviours of the business. For example I mentioned to a business person the other day you can’t legislate for ethics, they have to be embedded in a company, shared, promoted and reinforce so they become part of the culture.
  • Explain who you are and what you believe: Stories powerfully connect us to our listeners. When we share our own real-life stories or the stories of others (Example or Proof stories) management and employees feel that they get to know their leaders as authentic people – people who have lives outside the corporate setting, people who have struggled with problems and who have figured out how to overcome them.

Why use stories in internal communications?

When leaders learn how to meld the use of stories with the left-brain data-based information they also need to convey, this becomes irresistible. Their influence and engagement becomes more powerful, and real change occurs because people are moved to action.

Unfortunately, in the era of PowerPoint and status updates, many of us have forgotten how to tell a good story.

If you would like some assistance in creating business stories that help you communicate with your management, peers or employees connect with us and we’ll help you craft compelling, engaging stories and bring them to life across multiple platforms for maximum response.