Storytelling as a management tool

Storytelling has been around as long as humans have. It’s ingrained in all of us. It’s how we pass down tacit knowledge, teach our children values, recapture ‘glory days,’ and inspire the next generations. Storytelling is not a new phenomenon at all – it’s just that ‘management’ is never looked upon with a storytelling angle.

Possibly the first REAL focus on it was down to a series of case studies and articles that the Ivy League Universities showcased, demonstrating how ‘storytelling’ was something leaders ought to do in order to simplify, capture the ‘hearts’ of their teams, and also, above all, bind them towards the future the leader wants to paint. More than ever before, organizations needed to find ways to truly engage people; and simply pouring out statistics, charts and laborious presentations just wasn’t cutting it – people were ‘getting it’, but not really ‘getting excited’ about it.

To be a good leader, it is essential to be a good storyteller; and though ‘storytelling’ is possibly not the kind of ‘theory’ management schools teach, even academia today is warming up to the notion that storytelling truly is an essential skill all leaders need to have.

HOW CAN YOU GET ‘SENIOR’ LEADERS TO TAKE STORYTELLING SERIOUSLY?

It’s easy to find positive accounts about the impact of storytelling. Many leaders used storytelling as a powerful tool to inspire and galvanize organizations. Elon Musk, the late Steve Jobs, Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi – all of them used storytelling fabulously well to share the vision they had in their mind to those they worked with.

You see, business is, above all, a human endeavor. Businesses are run by PEOPLE, and people LOVE stories – it’s as simple as that. If you know how to tell a good story, you will have an attentive audience. However, here is the thing – a good story isn’t just a good story. It needs to be rooted in honesty, genuineness, and also, something that resonates with others. Good storytelling isn’t simply cooking up a fantastic tall story. You need to be able to get people to connect with it, and also, help them connect the dots.

Senior leaders often make the mistake of making a ’story’ something you tell as a ‘filler’ to ‘color’ the otherwise fact-based presentations they make. This is NOT the storytelling we are referring to. Storytelling, as a technique, is making ‘the story’ something that is integral to the presentation you are making, enabling those listening to become co-investors. Better still, you need to make the audience PART OF THE STORY and, using the techniques that we generally use in consulting, become co-authors of that story.

Story in its highest and most valuable form for a business paints a clear picture of what the business is to become. In short, “Make the business like the story” becomes the company’s strategy.

The INVOLVEMENT you get when you make those whom you want (to execute strategy, plans, and change) become co-authors of the story is far, far greater than when you ‘talk down’ to them as mere employees. This makes all the difference between stalled progress and galvanizing support that makes plans happen. The level of support you get, as well as how deeply people get involved in the execution process, increases tremendously when you make the team PART OF THE authoring of the story you want to tell.

So, IF you are a leader who wants to make a MASSIVE impact by garnering support and executing strategies (rather than strategies becoming things no one buys into), storytelling is a skill you must learn.

CREATING SOMETHING LIKE A VISION WITH STORYTELLING IS AT LEAST THINKABLE – BUT MANAGING AND DRIVING CHANGE?

The truth is, any Vision you want to achieve requires some level of change. The more ambitious the Vision, chances are, the bigger the changes required. Even though we segregate these things for academic purposes, in reality, all managing is interlinked, as are all aspects of leadership. You can’t really segregate Visioning Processes from that of Engagement, from that of Change, from that of Motivation, from that of Planning from that of Execution. EVERYTHING is interlinked.

So, change is something that is omnipresent and intrinsically linked with all aspects of leadership and management. In fact, change is possibly the toughest undertaking a leader has, and changing culture is possibly the hardest change to be attempted. However, unless you organize around a central change theme, your strategy will falter. The quote: ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast’ will not be something to merely pay lip service to, it will be something you live. Given how central and important change IS to all other aspects of leadership, this is one of the places storytelling becomes critically important.

Storytelling enables simple visualization of the kind of future a leader is trying to create; and involving the key stakeholders in the storytelling process enables them to be invested in the endeavor at a logical, intellectual, and equally importantly, emotional level. Getting everyone to be able to see the same future, and how to get there collectively is an extremely powerful way of earning buy-in. Without buy-in, the future tends to stay just our of reach.

This article is part of Luminary Learning Solutions‘ Guru Guide. You can read the full guide here.

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