Equally important to creating a powerful future vision is how that vision gets communicated to your people. This is where the art and skill of storytelling becomes very important. Done well, storytelling can be a powerful catalyst for driving transformational change. Effective leaders tell stories that position them and their organizations as change agents instead of defenders of the status quo. People have been telling stories for millions of years so there is nothing new here, right?
Yes, but leaders responsible for driving transformational change must be able to create stories by putting facts into an emotional context. They must be able to use these stories to motivate hundreds or thousands of employees to achieve more than they thought possible. Unlike other methods of influence, such as persuasion, bribery, or charismatic appeal (all push strategies), stories are pull strategy. Stories allow people to decide for themselves, which is one of the great hallmarks of effective influence.
Good stories share four basic features. 1) A strong sense of a plot: they story should provide listeners with a sense that the organization is going somewhere exciting. 2) Meaning that drives action: employees should be able to say “I know what to do in my area because it fits with my values and where we are going.” 3) Multiple, consistent versions: each person who hears the story (e.g. executive, manager, employee, business partner) should be motivated by it in different, yet compatible ways. 4) Inevitable: listeners should come away thinking “it had to happen that way.”
So what exactly makes an effective story? Effective stories are
- Simple – listeners are not overwhelmed with detailed facts and information
- Relevant – the purpose and theme of the story matters to those who hear it
- Inclusive – everyone can see themselves in the story
- Emotional – the story excites, delights, surprises, or otherwise moves the listener at an emotional level. It engages multiple senses.
- Friendly, not cynical – even sad stories should leave the listener feeling hope, understanding or satisfaction
- Shared by many people – the story is interesting and important enough to be shared over and over again. The best stories gets more compelling when they are shared and refined as part of a dialogue before being passed on.
Stanford Professor Sebastian Thrun helped build Google’s driverless car, driven by a personal quest to save lives and reduce traffic accidents. In this video from a Ted Talks 2011 conference, Thrun uses many of these effective storytelling techniques to communicate his vision.
>> Watch the Video: Sebastian Thrun on the Vision for Google’s Driverless Car (TED Talks 2011)
Tips for creating a compelling story
- Convey your own personal energy, excitement, and conviction. Use phrases such as, “I feel…,” “I’m doing this because…,” “I want to go for this…,” or “I know we can do this”
- Provide context. For example, use a global perspective to raise ambitions about the scale of the opportunity.
- Be clear on your rationale for change. Draw on both burning platform (we have to change) and shining beacon (we are changing because of what we can achieve).
- Use simple language that is relevant to your audience. For example, translate terms like “shareholder value”into what staff will actually experience and deliver.
- Show personal commitment. Make it clear what you will do differently and what you will do to support staff during the change.
- Use tested rhetorical techniques if you can build them into your own style. For example, use repetition for emphasis: “I believe we can do this, I believe we have the skills to do this, I believe we need to do this.”
If you’d like to read more about the art of storytelling, check out Annette Simmons’ book The Story Factor. The Story Factor explores hundreds of examples that show when, where, how, and why story transforms relationships.
If you liked this article, please share it using one of the links below: