Storytelling as a management tool

Storytelling has been around as long as humans. It is ingrained in all of us. This is how we transmit tacit knowledge, teach our children values, recapture ‘glory days’ and inspire future generations. Storytelling is not a new phenomenon – it’s just that ‘management’ is never seen from a narrative angle.

Possibly the first REAL focus on this was for a series of case studies and articles that Ivy League universities presented, demonstrating how “storytelling” was something leaders should do to simplify, capture the “heart” of their teams. and also, above all, linking them to the future that the leader wants to paint. More than ever, organizations needed to find ways to really get people involved; and simply dumping laborious statistics, graphs and presentations just wasn’t enough – 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 while ‘storytelling’ is possibly not the kind of ‘theory’ that business schools teach, even academia today is getting used to the notion that storytelling is indeed an essential skill that all leaders need to have.

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

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

You see, business is, above all, a human endeavor. Business is run by PEOPLE, and people LOVE stories – it’s that simple. If you can tell a good story, you will have an attentive audience. However, here’s the point – a good story isn’t just a good story. It needs to be rooted in honesty, genuineness and also something that resonates with others. A good narrative is not just about making up a fantastic story. You need to be able to get people to connect to it and also help them connect the dots.

Senior leaders often make the mistake of making a ‘story’ something you count as a ‘fill-in’ to ‘color’ the fact-based presentations they make. This is NOT the narrative we are referring to. Storytelling, as a technique, is making ‘story’ something that is an integral part of the presentation you are making, allowing those who are listening to become co-investors. Better yet, you need to make the audience PART OF THE STORY and, using the techniques we usually use in consulting, co-author that story.

History in its highest and most valuable form to a company paints a clear picture of what it will become. In short, “Making the business like history” becomes the company’s strategy.

The INVOLVEMENT you get when you make those you want (to execute strategies, plans and changes) become co-authors of the story is far, far greater than when you “disdain” them as mere employees. This makes all the difference between stagnant progress and the galvanizing support that makes plans happen. The level of support you get, as well as how deeply involved people are in the execution process, increases tremendously when you make the team PART OF THE authorship of the story you want to tell.

So IF you are a leader who wants to make a HUGE impact by gaining support and executing strategies (instead of strategies becoming things no one believes), storytelling is a skill you must learn

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CREATING SOMETHING LIKE A VISION WITH STORIES 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 is likely to be, the greater the changes needed. Even though we segregate these things for academic purposes, in reality, all of management is interlinked, as are all aspects of leadership. You can’t really separate Vision Processes from Engagement, Change, Motivation, Planning and Execution Processes. EVERYTHING is interconnected.

Therefore, change is omnipresent and intrinsically linked to all aspects of leadership and management. In fact, change is possibly the hardest endeavor a leader has, and changing culture is possibly the hardest change to attempt. However, unless you organize around a central theme of change, your strategy will fail. The quote: ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast’ will not be something to merely praise, it will be something you live for. Given how central and important change is to every other aspect of leadership, this is one of the places where narrative becomes extremely important.

Narrative allows for simple visualization of the kind of future a leader is trying to create; and engaging key stakeholders in the storytelling process allows them to engage in the effort on a logical, intellectual and, equally important, emotional level. Getting everyone to see the same future and getting there collectively is an extremely powerful way to gain buy-in. Without adhesion, the future tends to be just within our reach.

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

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