Storytelling: The heart of leadership

Reflecting on what has been a wonderful Christmas season, we often relate this particular time of year to sharing stories and tales with the little people in our lives to help drive and build their excitement for all the wonderment of Christmas. I myself will never forget the evenings before Christmas Day that my parents told me stories of Santa, and the magic and wonder of reindeer delivering presents to every boy and girl in the world.

Stories have been used since the beginning of time to share and pass on ideas, knowledge and history. It gives the opportunity for people to learn, share and engage – not only with our minds but our hearts too.

As organisations become increasingly fast paced, frenetic and constant change becomes the norm – stories can play a pivotal role in keeping people engaged, educated, or inspired. Referencing the feature article with Darrin Grafton from Serko, he quotes “Leaders need to be really clear communicators who can take people on the journey with them and have a clear vision of where they want the business to go and be able to communicate that story”.

I am sure like me, you have sat through a large number of presentations where the speaker is talking to the slides espousing industry specific terminology, data and trends and then they began to share a personal story of how this relates to them and you can feel the energy and attention shift in the room as people start to become connected to the story.

Wade Jackson who specialises in corporate storytelling says “Storytelling is a natural way of thinking for us simply because our brain thinks in stories. It likes patterns, not random facts so it looks at everything and sees how to run a narrative thread through it. We are constantly looking for meaning and stories engage us intellectually and emotionally. Neuroscience details that we are rationalising being – not rational beings. We cannot separate emotion from logic and so all decisions we make have to certain degrees an emotional under current.” 

International research shows that storytelling has a strong impact on the functioning of the brain. Due to the way neurons connect a story can activate part of the brain that allows the listener to turn the story into their own ideas and experience and therefore making it more personal and relevant to them.

The brain releases dopamine when it experiences an emotionally-charged event making it easier to remember and with greater accuracy. When processing facts, only two areas of the brain are activated (Broca’s and Wernicke’s) whereas a story will engage greater areas of the brain including the motor cortex, sensory cortex and frontal cortex.

Wade Jackson saw that “stories help cut through all the information we're drowning in and get us to remember and therefore act on the important stuff”. His five key tips on how to create a compelling story are;

1. Know what kind of story you want to tell – is it a Purpose, Vision, Strategy, Values, Relationship building story? By understanding what you are trying to achieve, you can select a story to suit.

2. Be genuine – don't try and fake it. Your whole life is a collection of stories, you probably haven't realised what a powerful tool you already have at your fingertips.

3. Be relevant. Use topics or themes that have relevancy to your audience as this will help them engage with the story or the message you are trying to portray.

4. Be surprising. Sometimes the strongest message can be the outcome that you weren’t expecting. A slight disruption within a story can make it more interesting and a little jolt never hurt anyone when connecting them with a compelling experience!

5. Practice. It may be a natural talent but that doesn't mean it doesn't require constant practice and development. Look to use stories consciously and deliberately for maximum effect.

As business leaders, by using effective and compelling stories we gain the benefit of being able to have greater impact, influence people’s opinions or connect with them at a deeper level and when we are all faced with increasing pressures, larger demands and constant changes in our workplace – the ability to tell a good story becomes paramount for our ability to deliver. As Howard Gardner from Harvard University quoted “Storytelling is the most powerful weapon in a leader’s arsenal”.

But don’t just believe my story on this.… go searching and you will find plenty of great stories that will help inspire you to start sharing your own stories to help achieve the results you are wanting for your team, role or organisation.

 

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