“Stories not only teach us how to act – they inspire us to act. Stories communicate values, through the language of the heart, our emotions. And it is what we feel – our hopes, our cares, our obligations – not simply what we know that can inspire us with the courage”
The stories we tell about ourselves; about others; about the work we do, all tell people what we stand for. If our story is compelling and engaging others will be inspired to join with us and take action. Because there is little we can achieve alone this is critically important.
So often we get caught up in the strategy and intellectual aspects of our projects, the measurement and the cost rather than the narrative and the relationships that will carry us forward. We think that no-one is really interested in hearing us talk about ourselves. We couldn’t be more wrong. People really do want to hear what motivates others, we want to know why we should care, what we can do, how we can make a difference. For me stories are what hold my attention and when they are authentically shared, stories motivate me to join the cause and give my support. This is what Jennifer Aaker is getting at in her lecture about the power of stories at Lean In. Studies show we are wired to remember stories, much more so that data and facts.
What the leader cares about (and typically bases at least 80% of his or her message to others on) does not tap into roughly 80% of the workforce’s primary motivators for putting extra energy into the change programme. Scott Keller and Carolyn Aiken (2009) The Inconvenient Truth about Change Management.
Denning discussed the way that organisations focus more on facts and figures to influence change. Increasingly I have seen this to be the case. But I’ve also seen just how persuasive stories can be. Story telling is the intersection of leadership and influence. In a story, the teller vividly brings a situation to life in a familiar context, using it to insert the subtle influencing techniques.
an appropriately told story has the power to …communicate a strange new idea easily and naturally and quickly gets people into enthusiastic positive action. Denning, S. (2007): The Secret Language of Leadership, Jossey Bass.
We’ve all seen the way stories are like gossip; getting the viral traction and embedding quicker into the fabric of an organisation rather than the messages contained in typical PowerPoint presentations. Storytelling is the ancient art of engagement and influence, fundamental in all cultures and a crucial skill required to master the art of the influence that is so critical in large scale change.
“Story was crucial to our evolution; more so than opposable thumbs. Opposable thumbs let us hang on, story told us what to hang on to.”