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The Power of Narratives: Leaders as Storytellers

leaders communicating

The typical connotation of a leader is someone in charge, making important decisions, and managing people. At Factor10, we know that leaders are far more than that.

The role of leader is multi-faceted. Leaders hold many roles: leaders are cheerleaders, changemakers, and team builders. Leaders are also storytellers.

Storytelling as a Powerful Leadership Tool

“The most powerful person in the world is the storyteller. The storyteller sets the vision, values and agenda of an entire generation that is to come.” – Steve Jobs

How storytelling is a powerful tool for leaders:

  • Emotional Connection: Stories can evoke emotions and create a deeper connection with people. When leaders use storytelling to convey their vision, values, and experiences, they engage their team more personally, fostering trust, empathy, and rapport.

  • Memorable Communication: Human brains are wired to remember stories better than facts or figures. By embedding key messages within narratives, leaders can ensure that their ideas resonate and stick with their audience long after the story ends.

  • Inspiration and Motivation: Stories have the power to inspire and motivate people to action. Through compelling narratives, leaders can ignite passion, spark creativity, and rally individuals around a common cause or goal.

  • Contextual Understanding: Stories provide context and meaning to abstract concepts, making complex ideas more accessible and relatable. By illustrating principles and values through storytelling, leaders can help their audience grasp the significance and relevance of their message.

  • Influence and Persuasion: Effective storytelling can influence perceptions, attitudes, and behaviours. Leaders who master the art of storytelling can persuade others to adopt their viewpoints, support their initiatives, and take action toward shared objectives.

Leadership isn’t just about making decisions; it’s about creating and utilising narratives that inspire, motivate, and guide.

Leading Teams with Story

“Leadership is about being Storyteller-in-Chief.” – Paul J LeBlanc

Leaders hold many titles. CEO, Founder, President, Head of Department, Team Lead…

How would you rethink your role as a leader if your title was something else?

For a perspective change, consider yourself as Storyteller-in-Chief. How would you lead your team differently?

For storytelling to be used effectively, leaders must consider their audience. Here’s why:

  • Relevance: Tailoring the story to the audience ensures that it resonates with their interests, needs, and experiences. By addressing topics or themes that are relevant to the audience, leaders can capture their attention and make the message more meaningful and impactful.
  • Connection: Understanding the audience allows leaders to establish a deeper connection and rapport with their listeners. By acknowledging their perspectives, concerns, and aspirations, leaders can create a sense of empathy and understanding that fosters trust and engagement.
  • Communication Style: Different audiences may respond better to certain communication styles, tones, or formats. By adapting the storytelling approach to suit the preferences and communication preferences of the audience, leaders can enhance clarity, comprehension, and receptiveness to the message.
  • Cultural Sensitivity: Cultural background, values, and norms can influence how stories are perceived and interpreted. By being mindful of cultural differences and sensitivities, leaders can ensure that the story is inclusive, respectful, and relevant to diverse audiences.
  • Desired Impact: Considering the audience helps leaders to align the storytelling approach with the desired impact or outcome. Whether the goal is to inspire, educate, motivate, or persuade, tailoring the story to the audience increases the likelihood of achieving the intended objectives.

Telling the Right Stories

“Every great leader is a great storyteller. And the first and most important part of being a great storyteller is knowing what stories to tell.” – Paul Smith, The 10 Stories Great Leaders Tell

“The 10 Stories Great Leaders Tell” by Paul Smith explores the power of storytelling in leadership by identifying ten essential narratives that effective leaders use to inspire, influence, and engage others. Smith draws on real-world examples, case studies, and exercises to help readers identify, craft, and deliver their own impactful stories.

This book can help leaders leverage storytelling to communicate vision, build trust, drive change, and achieve organisational goals.

Nick Westergaard, who leads the Story Lab programme at the University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business, shares 5 types of stories leaders should tell:

1. Trust Story – Encourage the Heart

This story helps people understand, connect with, and believe in you as a leader.

Be vulnerable: Thasunda Brown Duckett, president and CEO of TIAA, draws parallels between her experiences, such as being excluded from a soccer teammate’s birthday party due to her race, and often finding herself as the only woman and person of colour in meetings.

2. Teaching Story – Challenge the Process

These stories transmit knowledge and skills to others.

Show it works: Marvin Ellison, Lowe’s chairman, president, and CEO, uses personal anecdotes to teach his team. One such story recounts his early career at Target, where he spoke up about a flawed system during a corporate visit, leading to its improvement.

3. Action Story – Enable Others to Act

This type of story sparks progress and change.

Change thinking: Melanie Perkins, founder and CEO of Canva, envisioned democratising graphic design. To achieve this, she crafted a new narrative for investors, highlighting the common fear people have of design due to societal conditioning.

4. Values Story – Model the Way

Value stories model the way for team members.

Communicate personal values: CEO and founder of Chobani, Hamdi Ulukaya, frequently recounts his upbringing amidst corruption in Turkey, illustrating how it influenced his aspiration to become a more ethical business leader.

5. Vision Story – Inspire

This narrative inspires a shared vision.

Paint a picture: In his renowned “I Have a Dream” speech, Martin Luther King, Jr. utilized storytelling to depict a world where individuals would be evaluated based on their character rather than their race.

The Story of Factor10

Led by co-founder and coaching psychologist Kerrin Miller, Factor10 is a team of experienced and internationally accredited psychologists and coaches that partners with our clients to create sustainable change and impact.

Factor10 was born in 2014 from the strong conviction that organisations had entered a new global, turbulent, ambiguous, and unpredictable era. This context required a new type of leader and new approaches to developing leaders.

The Covid-19 pandemic amplified this vision. As leaders navigate a brittle, anxious, non-linear, digitised, and chaotic world the pressure and paradox, change, and challenges they face are exponential.

Whilst creating forward movement and delivery in high-performance environments remain the cornerstone of leadership, how this happens matters greatly.

We believe that real leaders in this brave, new world achieve outcomes through a deep sense of purpose, meaning, humanity and connection.

The Psychology of Storytelling

Being a leader is not about getting people to do what you want them to; rather, it’s about inspiring and guiding them to discover their own potential, fostering a sense of purpose and belonging, and empowering them to contribute their best towards a shared vision or goal.

A powerful way of achieving this is by using storytelling.

Neurological science research shows that storytelling triggers neural coupling and the release of oxytocin, fostering emotional attachment and associative thinking in listeners. 

Compelling storytelling can inspire empathy and action, fostering a sense of community and empowering leaders to drive positive change. So, how can you be a better storyteller?

  • Be honest 
  • Appeal to your audience
  • Tap into emotions
  • Use the hero’s journey narrative
  • Provide insight
  • Share your own story

Crafting a story for change: How to create a narrative that transforms

The only constant is change.

Leaders are constantly required to manage change or create change. Becoming a storyteller during these times can make change easier to navigate.

This is because storytelling has a transformative impact on organisational culture and the success of change initiatives. 

Here’s how to craft a story for change:

  • Understand the core message deeply 
  • Articulating the message simply
  • Honour the past while reckoning with both the positive and negative aspects
  • Providing a clear mandate for change
  • Describing a rigorous yet optimistic path forward 
  • Repeat the narrative consistently across various communication channels
  • Apply emotional intelligence in storytelling and personal narratives

Sharing Stories for Organisational Change

Effective leaders harness the power of storytelling to shape vision, unite teams, and drive meaningful change.

When leaders leverage the power of storytelling, they can cultivate a positive organisational culture, foster meaningful connections among team members, and drive success in the workplace.

We know that diversity and inclusion are key for organisational success. 

Sharing personal stories allows individuals to express their unique experiences and backgrounds. This allows teams to develop a deeper understanding of each other’s perspectives, strengths, and challenges. 

Hearing others’ stories can evoke empathy and compassion among team members, helping to break down stereotypes and biases. Increased empathy and mutual understanding foster a supportive and inclusive work environment, ultimately enhancing team effectiveness and performance.

Share your story and create space for your team to share theirs.

How Factor10 Uses Stories

How do we measure the impact of our coaching programmes? 

At Factor10, we have proven experience in the art and science of leadership and utilise best-in-class tools to gather personality, behavioural and 360’ insights. We use a range of metrics including stories and statistics of change. 

“We gather stories from everyone on our coaching programmes and value hearing their voices. We explore their experiences during the coaching; and the impact their coaching has had on them as leaders in their teams and organisations; and more broadly in their communities and families. It’s inspiring and remarkable to hear their stories of change and the ripples this has had on those around them.” 

Kerrin Miller, Factor10 Founder  

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