Storytelling Can Make or Break Your Leadership


According to the Harvard Business Review and author Jeff Gothelf — read the original article here — sharing stories with your team can help build credibility for yourself and your ideas. It’s how you inspire an audience and lead an organization.

Gothelf has found that the most effective stories all share the following five characteristics.

1. Be audience-specific.
It may sound basic, but if you want to know what your staff is curious about, what worries them and what motivates them, a series of quick, informal conversations is often the most effective way to figure it out. You can then infuse your storytelling with words that speak to their specific anxieties or concerns, while avoiding language that will come across as bland platitudes.

2. Contextualize your story.
Stories might be met with little enthusiasm because of failure to contextualize them. For example, if a company comes forward with an announcement of new goal-setting framework, it might lead some employees to ask, “Why do we need a new goal-setting system to begin with?”

As a boss, if you explain that the goals fit a broader vision of the company, its background and future strategy (aka, contextualize the decision), the employees will understand where the changes are coming from and why they are important.

3. Humanize your story.
A personal anecdote can both lighten the mood and illustrate your perspective more effectively, helping your team feel less skeptical and more open to your ideas. For example, when speaking to his leadership clients, Gothelf will bring up the six months he spent traveling with a circus. While this might seem completely unrelated to the business context at hand, stories about his time hanging out with the human cannonball always get a laugh and more importantly, his experience handling a strange new situation, building relationships, learning a new culture, failing often and ultimately integrating successfully into a totally new world often turns out to be extremely relevant to his clients — so share personal stories with staff; they will respect you for it.

4. Make it action-oriented.
It is proven that specificity reduces anxiety. If you give your team practical advice and clear direction, you empower them to take action and make your story their own.

5. Keep it humble.
It’s normal to wince at the idea of baring your failures in front of colleagues, but true humility shows capacity for growth and learning. It builds trust in your story precisely because it demonstrates that you’re not claiming to have all the answers, that you’re willing to learn and adjust course as needed.

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