The secret talent leaders need for storytelling

I have been reading about leadership and storytelling. I'm looking for that special insight that tells me how the magic of stories has been plucked out of my son's Harry Potter books and landed in the mysterious world of management consulting. 


I'm sure you know what I've read. That stories are more attractive to an audience, and easier to remember than lists of facts. That stories are persuasive. That since the dawn of civilisation people have passed on information from generation to generation through stories, so we are hard-wired for this form of record keeping. And that stories can be funny and personal, and emotional.  And therefore that leaders should use this wisdom to communicate their strategies and plans.


All true of course, and so intuitively true that it almost seems unnecessary to point it out. And yet, apparently it's so missing from our corporate leadership capabilities that it's possible to make a living teaching leaders how to tell a good story. 


Possibly the challenge is the same one I've faced throughout my organisational change career. It's that the story needs to be about a character the listener can relate to, if it's to deliver all these fabulous benefits. And how many senior leaders have the knack of putting themselves into the shoes of individuals in their workforce?


It's a rare CEO, CIO or CFO that turns to me and says "Well, imagine what this is going to be like for Joe in the warehouse. He took years to work out our complex clipboard and forms process, now he's being told to manage it all totally differently. He probably feels like he might not be that great at it, and since he's pretty close to retirement he's wondering if it's worth the bother learning a new way." No, actually it's more likely that the executive team have underestimated how difficult it might seem to Joe, and suggest we communicate to Joe how much more efficient the new systems and processes will be.  So part of being a change management professional is to understand how Joe might be affected, and then to find ways to tell the story so that both the execs and the warehouse team can understand what the future looks like.  The better I understand Joe, and the better I tell his story, the better I am at my job.


Oversimplifying, I know.


So here's the thing. The capability we need our leaders to have isn't just good storytelling. It's having a knack for telling someone else's story rather than their own. It's a put-yourself-in-their-shoes capability. What is that - empathy? A special talent for intuitive impact analysis? 


All I know is that when your Change Sponsor has this talent, their stories are more likely to hit the mark, and your change program is onto a winner.


Leisha Boyle, Director, Change Mania