The Five Stories Leaders Tell

The ability to tell a compelling story has been part of the human fabric since ancient times. In today's business world, many are rediscovering its value. For example, Hollywood legend Peter Guber has just published a new book called Tell to Win wherein he makes the case for stories. As Guber puts it:

"More and more, success is won by creating compelling stories that have the power to move partners, shareholders, customers, and employees to action. Simply put, if you can't tell it, you can't sell it."

This "power to move" is the action of Leadership. As Warren Bennis famously said, Leadership is the ability to translate vision into results. Stories help leaders do just that.

Here then are Five Stories that Leaders must be prepared to tell if they hope to move others to results.

1. The Idea - Every one of us has a "bright idea" now and then. This story tells about a time when you had an idea, maybe a solution to a dilemma your company was facing, and how you presented the idea to others to gain their support. Were you successful? Did they resist your idea? Were you able to overcome their objections? Even if the story ends with the idea being shot down (Hey, that's life on the Idea Food Chain sometimes), this story can illustrate such aspects of practical wisdom as imagination, patience, persistence, communication, and selling skills.

2. The Ordeal - Every one of us suffers through an ordeal at one time or another. A difficult and possibly painful (even if only psychically so) time of stress. This story tells about a time when you, and perhaps others, had to suffer through a prolonged trial, such as the uncertainty that comes with an impending acquisition by another organization. What did you do to help yourself, and others, through this trying time? This story can illustrate such aspects of practical wisdom as optimism, hope, vision, fortitude, and solidarity with others.

3. The Transition - Every one of us has had to adapt to a change. Maybe there was a merger and you found yourself working for a new employer, adjusting to a whole new organizational culture. Did you rise to the occasion? Did you seize the opportunity? Did you learn as fast as you could? Did you prove yourself to the new regime? This story can illustrate such aspects of practical wisdom as adaptability, flexibility, customer-focus, results-focus, organizational savvy, and learning.

4. The Setback - Every one of us has been knocked down. Maybe it was a minor setback such as enduring a budget cut. For many others, it may have been a major setback such as a termination. Did you stay down? Or did you get up, get creative, get moving, and galvanize into action? This story can illustrate such aspects of practical wisdom as belief in oneself, courage, facing adversity, resolve, creativity, and resilience.

5. The Team - Every one of us has been part of a team at one time or another. Though you may not have been the team leader, it may have occurred to you that there is no "I" in TEAM. That it takes everyone to succeed. When you realized that you shared responsibility for the leadership, and for the ultimate success of the team, you broke through (whether you knew it or not) to the essential meaning of leadership. This story can illustrate such aspects of practical wisdom as teamwork, taking responsibility, following, and leading.

Compelling stories have the power to inspire, to excite, and to influence others. Stories are a leadership practice.

More than ever before, as a leader, you must be ready and able to craft and deliver stories. The power of a story can go far beyond recounting a past event to illustrate an achievement. A well-told story also demonstrates your practical wisdom and reveals the essence of the storyteller.

Posted by Terrence Seamon on March 7, 2011. For more tips on storytelling, leadership, and change, contact Terry. Visit his website and invite him to speak to your organization.


Great post, thankz, keep the good work going.

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