Story Telling as a Leadership Tool (Part 2): Finding the Stories to Tell

Jacquelyn Woodard Strategy, Values

In a previous blog, we discussed the value of storytelling as a way to motivate employees, provide direction, inspire desired behaviors, and spark innovation. So what does a good story look like? Start by thinking of your own favorite stories from childhood. Did it contain these elements?
Elements of a good story
          It must be true and believable
          It must have a message or theme– that can be crystalized and easily retold
          It should draw on the uniqueness of the company to inform its distinctive advantage/vision
          It should leave enough “room” for individuals to do their “sense-making” and fill in the blanks
          It should demonstrate how a company’s purpose extends beyond its profits
          It should invite the legend  “to be continued”
          It should allow for a visual picture to be created
With those factors in mind, begin to uncover your company’s story.

 You can start by  interviewing staff, founders, and longstanding employees.  Intentionally seek out those stories that connect on a human level. Once found, take the time to tell it masterfully. Look for the connection to the human spirit, allow enough room in the story for employees to see themselves in it.  Be deliberate in connecting the story and its history to the company’s purpose, move beyond the profit motive to unlock the emotional connection that is resident, find the moral or the message in the story. Then make it visible and repeat it often.

Other Benefits of Story Telling
 
Beyond the benefits of loyalty, devotion, extra effort, etc., that come with using effective storytelling to convey a company’s vision, there are other benefits of storytelling as well.  This includes:
          Storytelling allows for an easy way to introduce a moral dimension to a vision
          It allows a simple story to convey a complex message that is accompanied by feelings and emotions
          Storytelling allows you to persuade employees in a way that straight facts and statistics cannot
          A compelling story creates its own viral messaging that begins to bond employees not only to the company but to one another – further enhancing loyalty and commitment.
So, the next time the employees gather around the water cooler, imagine if the topic was about the amazing history of the company and how they felt compelled to add to the story. (Psssst…did you hear the story about how this company survived its first 5 years, it’s amazing. I never knew that.) Suddenly the company gossip is not only different from before, it is the difference.
 
“Tell me a fact and I’ll learn. Tell me a truth and I’ll believe. But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.”
– Indian proverb.
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Jacquelyn Woodard is a senior vice president with RBS Citizens, and holds an M.B.A. from Harvard University. She is a student in Benedictine University’s 
Ph.D./D.B.A. program in values-driven leadership.
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