Everything you always wanted to know about storytelling and leadership but were too afraid to ask
“I didn’t make things worse.”
This is how Sir Martin Narey described his time as Director General of the Prison Service of England and Wales during one of our Leadership Masterclasses. Not what one ordinarily hears from a leader but then Sir Martin is no ordinary leader. He’s an inspiring individual and an accomplished storyteller, and the core narrative he uses to describe this chapter of his leadership story – the last-choice-for-the-job, unheroic, lonely leader failing to make the difference he so passionately aspires to – is compelling but it’s also a fiction. A fiction in the way that all stories purporting to be about reality are fiction. Because creating coherence from the raw mess of lived life involves choosing what to include, what to exclude and what framing will best martial the chaos.
Of course Sir Martin is not the only leader on Connect we rate as a storyteller. Which is why each year we wonder if we’re missing a trick not covering storytelling directly within Connect. Each year we mull it over and throw around ideas. Yet each year, despite knowing that most of the leaders and organisations we admire deliberately create, curate and use stories to great effect, we put it aside.
Why is that?
Well, partly because it’s a complex topic and perhaps ironically we are never quite sure where to start. And partly because our style at Wavelength is more learning by osmosis than by instruction. But also there’s a seductive power to stories and those who tell them well, that makes us nervous – do we overlook extraordinary leaders and extraordinary organisations because they are less adept at creating and telling stories? It’s quite likely we do.
Anyway, this year rather than ignore this hot topic we thought we’d share some of what’s been written and said about stories, storytelling and business, in response to some of the things we’ve heard Connect members pondering in the past.
Or, if you’d rather marvel at the art of the well-told story then make sure you’re sitting comfortably and start your journey below…
We all love a good story but is there any science to explain why stories are such a powerful way to communicate ideas and information?
Why your brain loves good storytelling (HBR article) This is your brain on communication (TED Talks)
So it’s all about emotion? Fine but surely at work it’s logic and data that rule?
Why storytelling is the ultimate weapon (Fast Company article) Decisions are emotional not logical – the neuroscience behind decision-making (Big Think article) The power of storytelling & making an emotional connection (video)
OK, OK I get it emotions trump information for us malleable humans. Just tell me there’s a fool-proof formula for developing narratives and telling stories?
Narrative Vs stories (article) 7 tips for storytelling as a leader (Fast Company article) How to tell your story so the world listens (book) Science of storytelling: why and how to use it in your marketing (Guardian article)
Brilliant. Now I know how to put together a half-decent story but I want stories that will inspire action – perhaps there’s something I can do to be a better teller of stories?
The four truths of the storyteller (HBR article) Spinning a story of Mama (TED Talks)
Hmmm… I’m starting to think the story I should be rewriting is the one I tell myself and others about me as a leader – got any advice on that?
The two kinds of stories that we tell ourselves (TED Talks) The stories that we tell ourselves (NYT article)
Right, got it but one last question – is there a downside to this whole cult of the story and storytelling…
Be suspicious of stories (TED Talks) Leadership – the power of stories and the problem of false narrative (Forbes article)
Written by Helen Trevaskis. Alongside helping Wavelength design Connect, Helen is a social innovation and behaviour change consultant.
Connect is our leadership programme that inspires, develops and connects leaders whose professional paths would not normally cross. With clients from large corporates, social enterprises, charities and the public sector, we bring together a diverse community of 90 top leaders to learn alongside and from each other.
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