The Power of Storytelling

Nearly thirty years ago in the deep dark mists of time, a man by the name of Steve returned to the company he had first started inside his parents' garage.

It was a company he had built up from just a single idea, and a healthy dash of self-belief, into quite a reasonable venture, although with some hiccups here and there, before being unceremoniously booted out.

Upon his return, after an eleven-year absence, this persistent man quickly staged a boardroom coup and became CEO once again.

This time he made sure to turn the company around, making it one of the most creative, innovative, best known, and hugely successful companies of all time.

Who was this man?

The man in question was Steve Jobs, the company was Apple, and he achieved this magnificent feat by using the simple yet incredibly powerful act of storytelling.

While Jobs had been away, he had worked for a computer animation studio by the name of Pixar, and it had utterly transformed the way he thought about business. Pixar is known for creating mega box office hits like Toy Story, Monsters Inc, and The Incredibles. They are professional storytellers, and they taught Jobs one crucial lesson, that storytelling is EVERYTHING.

Jobs utilised the power of storytelling to tap into his customer’s stories. Apple's advertising became all about focusing on what their customer wanted, what their challenges were, and how they could solve them.

Storytelling as a tool for leaders

In 2005 Steve Jobs gave what is now a legendary speech known as the Stanford Commencement Address to recent graduates where he told three stories from his life. He used the power of storytelling to urge these young graduates to follow their dreams, learn from challenges and think outside the box. The video of this address has been viewed over 35 million times and inspired people all over the world.

The use of storytelling to communicate experiences with the intent to educate, inspire and move people to action is an essential skill and tool for business leaders and one that is increasingly being taught in leadership training today.

Let’s take a look at five reasons why having the ability to narrate a great story is a fantastic tool for achieving better outcomes as a leader.

1. Capture people’s imagination

A captivated audience is an engaged audience. Good leaders tell stories that are authentic and share information that has value and meaning.

2. Demonstrate empathy and authenticity

Exhibiting strong emotional intelligence (EQ) is imperative for being able to lead, advise and empower others. It is an attribute that provides the means to understand and bond with others.

3. Inspire positive change

What separates a business leader from a manager is the ability to stimulate growth and change rather than just maintaining the status quo. Having vision and creativity to imagine a better tomorrow is a vital skill for leadership. Sharing that vision through storytelling will help encourage others to work with you for the achievement of those dreams.

4. Share a sense of purpose

Stories of our own experiences, of overcoming failures to find success, can help instil a sense of purpose in others. A sense of purpose is an essential quality for our wellbeing. An excellent example of this is from the classic book Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. The author’s true story of his survival inside several concentrations’ camps during the second world war. “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” -- Victor Frankl

5. Shift mindsets

Limiting beliefs and perspectives of others can impede a business leader’s efforts to affect change. With a story, we can invite people to suspend their limited ideas about what is possible both in the world and in themselves. When we shift our beliefs, it opens up room and opportunity for real change to occur. 

Three fundamentals of telling good stories

To develop strategic storytelling skills, begin with understanding the three fundamentals of compelling storytelling.

  1. Have a clear intention and find the best and most engaging story for making a connection.
  2. Keep your story short and memorable to capture attention.
  3. Conclude with a phrase that reinforces the desired action or intention, e.g. “That’s what healthy change looks like to me.”

If you are wondering what a short but powerful story sounds like here is Steve Job’s third and final story he gave to Stanford University:

"For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: 'If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?' And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Knowing that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.

Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart."

By understanding and utilising the power of storytelling, you will be able to engage any audience of your choosing quickly and with clear intention, using it as a powerful tool both for the wellbeing of others and for creating lasting significant change that benefits our world.

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