I’m not big on history, usually. However, for reasons I do not now remember, I found myself reading two books about the history around the founding of our country, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution. I started reading before all the present political drama. And I’m glad that happened since it gave me a way to put context around the current public dialogue. That’s a different story, though, and one not germane to this blog.
The founding fathers were good leaders. And for the purposes of this post, the point about stories is those good leaders were also good storytellers. Even successful leaders who are inclined toward introversion are good storytellers.
The point of a story is to draw the listener in and engage their imagination. The genius of telling a story is that the listeners can each fill in the details in a way that utilizes their experience. It makes the story real for them and allows them to picture the future state the leader is trying to achieve.
I have found this to be very effective when trying to initiate change in an organization. Asking employees to imagine how the future will be without a story to help set up some details is a bit like putting a blank paper in front of someone and asking them to write something original. Most folks are much better critics than they are creators. They need some help in getting started.
It turns out that there are common topics for stories that many leaders tell. The details of the story are particular to the leader and the organization, but the point or topic of the story is often the same.
- Where we came from (a founding story)
- Why we can’t stay here (a case for change)
- Where we’re going (a vision story)
- How we’re going to get there (a strategy story)
- What we believe (a corporate values story)
- Who we serve (a customer story)
- What we do for our customers (a sales story)
- How we’re different from our competitors (a marketing story)
- Why I lead the way I do (a philosophy story)
- Why you should want to work here (a recruiting story)
Obviously, these stories are developed and refined over time. And learning how to tell a story well is a skill that can be honed over time. I know that there are Toastmaster groups in my vicinity that focus on storytelling. While those groups are usually focused on entertainment stories, the skills learned are directly applicable to business stories.
Another hot topic in the business community is that of the organization’s culture. As you can see, the set of stories listed above will go a long way toward defining the culture of your organization. In that regard, I believe that stories 1, 3, and 5 must be especially compelling. I agree with Peter Drucker that “culture eats strategy for breakfast. I even go a bit further and state that a CEO has only one major task, and that is to actively manage the corporate culture. Stories are a great way to do that.