Good Leaders Tell Good Stories

Inclusive leaders are good storytellers.  They are more effective because people remember stories.

I was on a bus tour this week in Gettysburg. As much as I was not looking forward to this activity, I really enjoyed it. In reflecting, I searched for the why. I realized the impact of the stories the driver told.

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He was passionate and animated when sharing stories about the people and the strategies of the Civil War. He got us to care about what he cared about through the art of storytelling. He activated old memories from my 8th grade American history class, and connected it with his stories. By doing this, he connected the old information in my brain with new information helping it to stick more this time. I can now recall many of the events of the battle that I could not recall before. And, I care about something I really did not care that much about before. Stories help us remember. Stories ignite passion.

Good leaders tell good stories.

Good leaders do not merely tell us to do something, or just tell us what we did right or wrong, they illustrate it for us. Stories help us understand why we should care and why it is important.
I facilitate Leading with Influence workshops. We begin each workshop with an activity on the benefits of leading with influence vs. the drawbacks of leading with power. The exercise requires people to reflect on the true attributes of a good leader. At a recent event, while storytelling was hot on my mind, a leader mentioned inspiration. As I often do in these workshops and in facilitation, I asked an open-ended question. How do leaders inspire us? Stories was the answer. What a coincidence. The leader then further drove home this point by modelling the behavior. He shared a story of how he coached an employee having a bad day, sharing vivid details of her facial expressions, her passions, the dialogue, and the outcome. I still remember his story vividly.

Here’s a story for you. I received feedback recently. The leader did not tell me directly what I could do better, but rather shared a story with me. He drew a picture in mind of the event, recalling details about my body language, my questions, and the customer’s reaction. I could vividly see the situation unfold in front of me, and understood exactly the point the leader was making. In this situation, I was not listening. A skill I treasure in myself had eclipsed in this situation, and the leader was right. Alternatively, if he had merely told me what I did wrong, I would have backpedalled, made excuses, and gotten defensive. Instead, I saw it through my eyes, and identified with his positon, and self-discovered the point he was making without him even having to make it.

As leaders, it’s our job to inspire our team. We do that in a variety of ways. Let storytelling by one of the many ways to connect to your team. Next time you communicate information, feedback, or ask your team to do something, brainstorm some stories to share. It will make it more impactful, memorable, and actionable when done well.

Remember, good leaders tell good stories. What’s your story?