Lead With A Story

Learn how to motivate and inspire people through the art of storytelling.

Storytelling precedes essentially every other invention. It’s also not surprising since stories have this cool power to catch our attention and make us feel things while taking us into a weird, yet exhilarating and enchanting world.

However, stories aren’t only a fun way to pass some time or to put in a little excitement in your life. They can also be very important tools. The thing is, storytelling was actually one of the first and top ways to communicate important information and stimulate behavior. That is no exception in today's day and age.

This text tells us about the power of story along with all of the features in them that make them captivating. You’ll also learn why and how companies are currently utilizing the power of storytelling in order to drive your behaviour along with the things that you can do in order to implement storytelling within both your life and career.

Key takeaways from this text:

  • Why there are speakers that bore you to sleep
  • Why a runner’s injury didn’t shut down their drive to finish the race; and
  • How you can tell a story that would attract any person.

Storytelling is an important aspect of any successful business.

Q:How come many of the longest-running TV shows are actually soap operas?

A:This is because people can’t resist a solid plot, regardless of whether it’s a drama such as a soap opera or a captivating book. In other words, we can become completely enthralled in a good tale.

However, it’s not just the writers or the screenwriters that have benefited from storytelling. Many other business have as well such as Nike, Microsoft, FedEx, and Costco. Every single one of them have got their own corporate storyteller.

However, who are those corporate storytellers and exactly why do those businesses need them?

Stories are crucial features in a corporate message towards both customers and staff members.

For the majority of human history, storytelling has been the main method for relating knowledge. Prior to when the printing press helped make the mass distribution of text possible, the majority of information was passed on orally, in the form stories.

Storytelling comes with many unique benefits over forms of communication:

  • For one, any person can either tell a story or learn from a story. A solid story can completely change someone, it doesn’t matter the age or how educated they are.
  • On top of that, stories are often unforgettable. It’s pretty difficult to recall a fact or a statistic, but the psychologist Jerome Bruner says that if you put those facts into a story, there’s a 20 percent chance of you more likely remembering them.
  • Lastly, stories can attract any kind of learner.
  • There are actually three kinds of learners: visual learners make up 40 percent, auditory learners make up 40 more, and then the last 20 are kinetic learners. Stories appeal to each one of them, but the story’s imagery is what impacts visual learners, vocabulary impacts the auditory ones, and then emotions and feelings are what help kinetic learners connect to the story.
  • You can clearly see that stories are a good way to pass on knowledge. In fact, it’s such a good way that businesses have included them into their strategies. In the next section, we’ll get in deeper about the certain areas in business that can be enhanced with a story.

Capturing customer stories can greatly improve your customer service.

When was last time that you either had an amazing or a brutal customer service experience? Did this cause you to praise the customer service representative in the “how are we doing” box or did you write a nasty review on Yelp?

If you’ve ever left a review, then you’ve actually helped that business out. Those stories are a really good way for consumers to give companies an insider view of how to properly do customer service. Take, for instance, the story of Ray Brook. He was visiting Portland, Oregon for a couple of days for some meetings.

Since he didn’t live in Portland, he had to get a car so he rented one from National Car Rental. As soon as he got to the counter, to his complete surprise, he found out that his driver’s license had actually expired a few day before, which meant that they couldn’t legally let him borrow a car.

This was a big dilemma for him as he didn’t know how he’d get to all of his meetings.

The following day, as he was waiting to get his new licence, the staff at National Car Rental had agreed to drive him from meetings to his hotel, back and forth. They had even driven him to the DMV so that he could renew his license.

Brook was obviously very impressed with the quality of the service that they had given him so he ended up writing a letter to the CEO of National, praising their actions.

Very pleased, the CEO had started to use this story at speeches for all of his employees throughout the country. Brook’s story of employees giving it their all and more helped transform company’s standard that was expected of National employees.

The thing is, a solid customer-service story doesn’t really do much if no one has heard it. Therefore, when you’re the leader, you can take advantage of a good opportunity to learn just by guaranteeing that customers have got a place where they can write down their experiences.

For instance, you could make a “story box” on your site, giving customers self-addressed envelopes to help them share their stories or just go through customer review websites to read through nice stories about the business.

Often the best way to spread a company’s values and culture is through stories.

How many companies agree to “put their customer first” or state their their staff are “the most important part of the business”? Those shallow messages are very common, so both customers and staff understand at this point that they are completely insignificant.

A business’s values and culture are best shared via captivating stories, not with some hazy slogans or empty promises.

There’s a great example of this from back in 2011, when the revolution in Egypt had taken a destructive turn for the worse. Foreigners living inside of the country started to head to the airport. The thing is, though, because of the instability, the majority of flights started to get cancelled. One of the people trying to leave were Rasoul Madadi, a staff member from Procter & Gamble (P&G), along with his family.

Trying to get out, Madidi contacted P&G. They had promised to do everything that they could, purchasing him and his family tickets for five flights in order to make sure that the cancellations wouldn't stop him from leaving.

As soon as a flight left, the company had promised that Madadi would get accommodations and supplies as soon as he landed. As you can see, they truly put him first.

Stories such as those are way more effective than slogans such as “we value our employees”. It really shows the business’s real values and actions, instead of just their words.

Stories also assist employees with understanding what is actually expected of them. This is very important as these expectations at times are different from the real rules. For instance, businesses can say that they provide flexibility for staff that are about to have kids. However, people still are often afraid that they’d end up on the losing end of the deal.

Stories are a really good way to get rid of the divide and boost staff’s confidence in the business. For example, P&G shares stories on their site about some new moms who have used it and who have benefited from their flexible work policies in order to show clearly to the rest that they aren’t afraid of using that flexibility to their advantage.

Use stories to forge strong relationships between diverse team members.

The majority of us that work for big businesses don’t really know our co workers well. We may become good friends with one or a few of them, but we most likely don’t get into deeper conversations past “Pretty terrible weather today, am I right?” or “Did you watch the game last night?” with the rest of the staff.

If you’re the leader, you want your staff to work on creating relationships. How can you get over this obstacle? One way that you can do it is through stories.

Getting people to share their stories with each other can be one of the top ways to create strong relationships inside a team.

Take, for instance, Jamie’s story. Even though he was the head of his team, he couldn’t figure out how to make real friends with any person at work.

One day, during a team bonding session, each one of them had to share a story. Jamie had taken advantage of this opportunity to tell them a bit about his life. He talked about how his brother had dealt with bipolar disorder and how he eventually ended up dying by suicide.

Due to this story, the team had all teared up. This had also gotten them to become closer to him because they realized that there was so much more to him than just the fact that he was a co-worker. The thing is, he’s a human being much like everyone else, filled with complexities and depth.

His own story had assisted with transforming him from someone that they didn’t know besides the fact that they shared an office space with them, into a person that they could relate to. This helped make a strong bond between the team and himself, causing him to be happier in his workplace as well as causing the team to work even harder for him.

Additionally, stories can assist with creating a diverse team. There’s no question that in the business world, diverse teams are the ones that do way better than homogeneous ones, so it’s crucial to diversity both your groups skills and experiences.

However, creating this kind of team can be complex since some people act in a negative way towards other people without even knowing it. Stories, on the other hand give members of the team a way to share things that they aren’t comfortable with in a way that actually assist others with understanding and thus altering their behavior.

Rule books are no substitute for a good story when it comes to making and spreading company policy.

Let’s be honest, have you ever actually read through every document that details both the rules and the regulations of your business? Most likely, even if you do end up being in C-level management, you haven’t? However, how do you actually learn all of those rules?

Probably the most clear way to do so is through trial error, so you just need to do what you think is right and then alter your actions after any criticisms. Although this may help some people learn some things, this way you’ll really learn a few things. How many rules does your typical staff member end up breaking in reality?

Just so that you can close that gap that stands between personal experience and company policy, leaders can take advantage of stories as a way to let their staff know what they can and can’t do.

For example, when new P&G staff start working, they are given the story of two staff members who had taken advantage of the business’s free cafeteria service for trainees. Even though they had been working with the business for some time, they still kept sneaking in so that they could get a free lunch.

For a little while, they got away with it since security in the cafeteria was pretty lax and you didn’t have to show your ID in order to show that they were trainees. They just believed that only those who actually were given that service would enter.

However, in the end of it all, their strive to get something for nothing ended up turning for the worse for them. They had come to the cafeteria so many times that employees started to question them so they contacted management, who eventually caught them red handed and fired them.

What does this story teach? It shows that regardless of whether staff have read the rule book or not, they won’t get away with taking advantage of the business’s kindness.

All that you need is a basic, yet captivating story to make a policy nice and easy to understand.

Stories can be used to inspire employees, even when times are tough.

Think about taking a long project that you’ve worked on so much and you’re close to the finish line, but then you start slowing down your work so that you can go onto another, newer and more exciting project. Your manager, on the other hand, doesn’t agree with the decision. What can they do to motivate you to keep working on the project and putting in one hundred percent of your energy into it?

They could tell you some meaningless motivational phrases about “giving it your 110 percent”, or they could choose to tell you an inspirational story. We can take some inspiration from history by looking into the famous story about John Stephen Akhwari, a runner from Tanzania.

When Akhwari was running in the Olympic marathon of 1968, he had dealt with a fall which had dislocated his knee. He could’ve just given up right on the spot, gotten medical treatment, and gone home. However, he didn't. He just went back up onto his feet, in pain, but kept on going.

A whole hour after the winner had passed the finish line, Akhwari finally came into the stadium to the cheers of those who had remained until the end.

As soon as he finished, he had been asked what kept him going. He said, “My country didn’t send me 5,000 miles to start this race, they sent me 5,000 miles to finish it.”

Leaders can utilize this story, or other stories like it to help inspire people and get them to keep going all the way until the finish line with the knowledge that people will respect and admire them for the perseverance.

These kinds of stories can also assist people with not getting off of a ship the second they sense trouble. Managers can encourage employees to keep going forward with stories of businesses that have gone through difficulties, but they kept moving forward, ultimately reaching success.

For instance, when P&G had first introduced Pringles, sales were good initially but they quickly began to decline. Although they could’ve gotten rid of the project to find one that would’ve been easier to keep profitable, they kept on going with it. They had improved their recipe at the customer’s requests from feedbacks and so they reintroduced the item. Now, they’re one of the best-selling chip brands.

A successful story is comprised of only three ingredients: context, action and a result.

At school, we’re taught that a story has to have a beginning, middle, as well as an end. Scientifically, you need context, action, and a result, the acronym of which is CAR. In other words, what applies for kids is the same for businesses, too.

Let’s begin with context:

  • The context of a story is very important since without it, the audience isn’t aware of what’s happening.
  • However, what do you need to give context? A great place to begin is where as well as when the story happens. This assists the audience with figuring out whether or not the story is either true or debatable.
  • Additionally, you have to set who your protagonist is, what they want, and who or what the antagonist is.
  • Whenever you’re setting the context, it’s crucial that you try your hardest to make sure that your audience can relate to the store to the maximum. The greater that the audience members can relate, the greater the chance that they’ll notice, so you should most likely eliminate fanciful worlds filled with superheroes and kings.
  • As soon as everything is set, you can take action. That’s where the hero goes up against their enemies that block them from reaching their goals. Inside of your story, this may be an employee that’s fighting against their boss so that they can give their revolutionary business strategy a shot.
  • There’s no need for you to overwhelm your readers with the specifics. All you need to do is restrain them with a nice mixture of both success and failure for the main character.
  • Lastly, you end up with the outcome of your main character’s actions, which happens to be the conclusion of the story.
  • Who ends up on top between the hero and villain? It’s at this point where members will end up learning the moral of the story, such as whether they should go in the main character’s footsteps towards victory or take this story as way to learn a lesson without ever having to do it yourself.

The most effective stories play on people’s emotions.

Regardless of what the story’s context is, a solid story articulates on its ability to bring out emotions within the readers.

The thing is, though, you don’t want to bring out any kind of emotions. You want them to get motivated from the story, so you’ll have to attract the correct emotions. For example, it’s simple for people to get teary whenever you tell them a beautiful story about puppies, however that’s not going to benefit you, granted you don’t have a pet store.

Take, for instance, Texas. In the 1980s, they had a problem with “litterbugs”. The government had tried their hardest to deal with littering by attracting emotion via advertisements that showed Native Americans crying when they saw the environment worsen due to litter.

Although it was touching, those advertisements weren’t particularly effective. Those that littered the most didn’t care much for the environment nor minority groups such as Native Americans.

Therefore, the government decided to try out another direction. They created an advertisement that featured Texas’s best sport stars and musicians by linking littering with hurting Texas. This ended up touching the right emotions within their audience, which were the literrers that were proud of their state and heritage, but hearing the anti-littering messages from the people that they look up to most helped them make that connection. As a result, littering in Texas had decreased by 72% in the time right after those ads came out.

However, how do you know the kind of emotional connections that you need to create for your stories? The majority of them come from customer feedback. The simplest location that you can locate the feedback is from customer surveys.

P&G had taken that method to advantage back in 2008 when they had asked customers how the economic downturn had impacted them. A lot of them replied by stating how they were afraid of not being able to pay bills or keep up with their current standard of living.

Therefore, if they wanted to introduce an item that would help people save money, for example, then those stories would be very useful in bringing out the correct emotions.

Fill your story with surprises to pique your audience's interest and memory.

Suppose you’re at a conference and you feel your eyelids get heavier and heavier the more you listen to the speaker. As soon as they’re finally done, how much of their story do you think you’ll remember? Most likely, you won’t be able to recall much.

In order to create more noteworthy stories, make sure you put in the element of surprise.

If you’ve got some kind of shocking pieces within your story, you need to try your hardest to put it into the introduction. For instance, if your story is located in an unsettling space, such as at the time of a revolution or on Wall Street when the stock-market crashed, then that kind of information can help you set the context. This will result in your audience being captivated from the very start.

Additionally, you can assist your audience with remembering your story by putting in something surprising at the end. Adding a surprise at the end of a story stays due to a brain phenomenon that’s called memory consolidation. At times when we experience something, our memories aren’t made right away, but actually in the time right afterward.

At the time of memory consolidation, there’s a chance that you can impact how much the memory sticks by sticking memories to a specific stimuli. One of those stimuli is called adrenaline, which comes out whenever the body experiences some kind of a rush, which often comes from shock or surprise.

As a result, your story ends in a surprise that’ll assist your audience members with recalling their memory of the story.

At times, putting surprises in the correct areas calls for a bit of creativity in regards to the structuring of the story. For instance, take the story about never giving up.

At 22, this man lost his job. When he was 25, he ran for state parliament, but he lost. When he was 34, he tried to get a seat in congress, but he didn’t. When he was 45 and 49, he ran for senate, but both times he lost. However, a couple of years later, every one of his failures were forgotten as he became the sixteenth president of the United States. This man was Abraham Lincoln.

Here, by keeping the name, you can make a straightforward story that’s significant due to the memorable surprise.

Final Summary

Storytelling is one of the top ways that you can pass on knowledge as well as encourage people. As a result, it’s a crucial tool to have in order to be a successful leader. Beginning from more effective customer service to outlining your business’s work environment all the way to establishing strong values, storytelling is a flexible tool that you can use to enhance every part of your company.

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