One of the greatest issues leaders face in today’s business world is getting their teams to listen, internalize and apply what they are advocating. There are several reasons this happens.
First of all, many managers still believe that by simply holding the higher position in the company’s hierarchy they will be heard. The fact that people in formal leading functions feel so entitled is probably why informal leaders are a lot more efficient in getting their message across.
But apart from this, today’s employees have a very different mental structure than those who preceded them. They grew up online, constantly connected to large communities of diverse individuals, each with a unique story.
In the old days, stories that marked people’s lives and value systems were more in the realm of legends. At the present time, there is another type of very powerful narratives: real and personal. Blogs and vlogs are popular because people share their intimate thoughts and feelings via these mediums.
Whenever something big happens somewhere on the globe, the stories of the event immediately reach and move us all. Because of this, storytelling is a very powerful tool, one can be used in organizations everywhere.
The three pillars of good storytelling
Storytelling involves creating a narrative that has the power to impact listeners while using logic to generate a link between different facts and emotions. People do not remember bullet points or intricate slides with pie charts on them but they will recall for a long time anything that has an emotional impact on them.
A well-constructed story still relies on Aristotle’s three pillars of rhetoric.
- Logos refers to the ability of persuading by using logic. It’s the ancient word for making your point via argumentation.
- Pathos refers to appealing to the public’s emotion in order to get a certain message across. Good stories manage to make the listeners empathize with the characters and go along with them on their journey.
- Last but by no means least there is the ethos – the storytellers ability to appeal and engage the listener. Some have this gift naturally, some learn it through training and practice but regardless of how it is acquired it is an essential part of successful narrating.
It is important to maintain the balance between the three and present an epic construct that will reach its goal of bringing about some sort of attitude or behavioral change.
Using stories in corporate work and learning
Pretty much anything has the potential of being turned into a good story. Think of the Tooth Fairy – she makes even something as unpleasant as being gap-toothed worthwhile and fun.
In the modern-day organisation there is a lot that can benefit from being turned into a good narrative because ultimately a story is about life and how it changes – having a plot implies going from situation A to situation B in a more or less complicated and interesting journey. It’s why instructions on how to assemble a lawn mower are not considered a story (it’s also why they are so boring to read).
The ways in which storytelling can help smooth integrations, transitions and changes within an organisation are unlimited. Any process or procedure can be transformed into a compelling narrative with either customers or employees being the main characters and the plot being the demonstration of the necessary steps that will solve or improve a given situation.
And stories are no longer told solely by nice grannies by an open fire – they come to life on people’s screens with excellent graphic design and minutely executed details. E-learning has the enormous advantage of being able to transform all instructional material so that it looks less like college books and more like Prince of Persia.
Leading through storytelling
Yet storytelling’s greatest value stands in that it can be used by leaders who seek to inspire. There are numerous courses, seminars and workshops available for those who want to learn how to lead through stories.
While the subject itself is obviously extensive, here are some useful tips on using storytelling for improved leadership:
- Engage the listeners by opening with something they can all relate to;
- Keep stories as personal as possible – lead by example;
- Being the leader does not mean that all your stories are ones of success – sharing the less fortunate episodes will increase credibility and accessibility;
- Make sure you have a clear structure – especially with personal stories it is very easy to go off track; twists are interesting and engaging, detours and unnecessary details are not;
- Design a call back sentence, something important stated somewhere in the beginning that you can later refer back in order to underline the message;
- End with a call to action – motivate the listeners to use the take away from the story in their personal or professional lives.
All in all
Storytelling is all about moving people emotionally whether it is so that they remember an important piece of information, adhere to an organisational value or behave in a certain desirable way. If told right, stories can even move mountains.
Raluca Cristescu is a Faculty of Letters graduate with over ten years of experience in corporate training, focused mainly on soft skills for customer service and direct sales.