What’s Your Story? How to Make Storytelling a Powerful Leadership Tool

Storytelling in business leadership is a long-standing tradition. Look no further than Ford Motor Company’s innovation in manufacturing or the industry-changing launch of Apple Computers. Today some of the most successful companies in the world use storytelling as a leadership and branding tool. At Nike, for example, all the senior executives have been trained in storytelling.

Leaders use stories for many business situations. You can’t simply tell employees to “embrace change” or “get motivated” or “start loving your job.” (Well, you can try but you’ll probably fail.) Storytelling can be very effective for inspiring the organization, setting a vision, teaching important lessons, or defining culture and values.

But storytelling is not just for large multi-national companies. Small organizations and individual leaders can benefit from telling their own stories. So where do you start? Consider the significant moments that have stayed with you over the years. Why are they so powerful? Are they a moment of deserved but unexpected recognition? Was it the pride you took in helping someone else succeed? Was it working with a team and overcoming insurmountable odds? Or was it your biggest failure or missed opportunity?

These are the stories that form the fabric of your professional life. Review those moments that made you feel the most proud, the most humbled or where you learned the most. Think back to English class. Your teacher defined a story as: “A hero struggles to overcome obstacles to reach an important goal.” Keep these tips in mind as you start to build your personal or business stories:


  1. Set it up. Make sure you lay the groundwork for the story by explaining the context, the players, the challenge or situation to be overcome.
  2. Get to the heart of it. People connect to real situations, real urgency, real fear and uncertainty. Don’t be afraid to look vulnerable or foolish in your story. People will naturally empathize and identify with you. Hitting an emotional chord creates drama and all good stories have a dramatic arc.
  3. Paint a picture. Be specific and descriptive. Describe the setting of your story, the weather, the song that was playing in the elevator, the suit your boss was wearing, etc. Add dialogue. Details keep stories engaging and memorable.
  4. The element of surprise. Surprises not only get your audience to sit up and pay attention, they make your story more memorable. Lead them down a path and then put a twist in the story. Your audience will remember it, and enjoy it more.
  5. Keep it concise and natural. Avoid business-speak and jargon. Remember, you are not giving a power point presentation, you are telling a story. Let it unfold like one. Let the narrative feel natural, but keep it concise.
  6. Finish strong. This is the pivot from the story itself to the “moral of the story is…..” If you’ve told it well, you won’t need to spell it out. End with a resolution that motivates your listeners to action.

Remember that storytelling is a skill and one that you can improve over time. But you have one huge advantage – people love to be told stories. We learn it early in life and it never leaves us.

People will tell stories about your company – and about you personally – whether you want them to or not. So take control and tell your story first.

If you need help crafting your personal story or your organization’s story, contact us at https://www.powersresourcecenter.com/contact/

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