We’re told stories from a young age, so we all know the power of storytelling. Whether it was a galaxy far, far away that ignited your imagination, the story of your family history, or your first understanding of the world around you, storytelling is one of the most powerful ways that we communicate – and acquire – meaning and understanding. Sadly, however, we rarely use storytelling as a leadership tool these days.
Stories are a powerful way to convey messages to others because they activate our imagination and creativity. They allow us to bypass our logical, analytical mind, and in so doing they connect us directly to our heart and emotions. This process can play an important role in eliciting connection, improving team visioning, and supporting collective commitment to company goals. So, if storytelling has such power, why don’t we use it more at work?
Using storytelling as a leadership tool doesn’t require you to be an expert raconteur who uses rich, colourful language, or who conjures up fascinating characters or tantalising plots. Everybody can share a story; we do it every day when we share and connect with others. We just tend to forget to use this skill when communicating with our teams.
The Science Behind Storytelling
Neuroscience shows us that stories feed the brain’s need to make sense of situations and events. Our brains are continuously interpreting what something means, and once the meaning is attached, we go into action. If we cannot relate to a situation, we remain in limbo and do nothing. However, when we connect to a story, we create meaning, and this drives us and helps us to set goals. Stories provide a nifty shortcut to establishing meaning, getting people’s hearts connected, and committing to the organisation’s vision.
Our brains require a lot of energy to process information, remember things, and think of new ideas. The body therefore finds ways to conserve energy, and one way is to become selective in choosing what to pay attention to and what’s not important.
Storytelling is an energy-saving process for the brain which results in an enhanced attention span, and the ability to remember things easily. It reinforces connection to the story’s key messages, and leads to voluntarily sharing the information with others.
Seven Key Elements of Good Storytelling
In her book, Neuroscience for Leadership, Tara Swart says that leaders would benefit greatly from using storytelling as a communication skill. A great way to start to use storytelling as a leadership tool is to recount your own journey with the company. Share your fears, desires, goals, and achievements. This can be a powerful way to show vulnerability to your team, and allow them to commit to the company’s vision from gaining your personal perspective.
When you begin, remember the following key elements of good storytelling:
- A memorable, uncomplicated storyline.
- Strong characters that one can relate to.
- A plausible course of events.
- An explicit goal for action.
- Rich colourful language.
- Consistency of how the story relates to the current company situation.
- A clear vision of what the future holds, or a strong call to action.
Great stories are inspiring; they influence people’s beliefs. They are easily remembered and naturally repeated, which deepens understanding, communication, and commitment among team members. They stimulate our creativity and eliminate the need to repeat the outcome. This is why using storytelling as a leadership tool makes so much sense.
But don’t be daunted by the task! You hear – and recount – so many stories every day. You’re constantly sharing your experiences in the form of a story. So why not bring it into your leadership style?