Does your family read from a beloved book every holiday? Are stories repeated every year when your family gathers to celebrate? Did you sometimes beg a friend or relative to tell a story because you enjoy so much how they tell the story? What can leaders learn from this ritual about the power of stories?
Stories have always been how humans share information, connect, and teach. Stories help us make sense of change, understand ourselves and others and motivate us. A good storyteller creates a reality for us of what was, what is and what could be.
In her book, Kitchen Table Wisdom – Stories That Heal, author Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D. writes “All stories are full of bias and uniqueness; they mix fact with meaning. This is the root of their power. Stories allow us to see something familiar through new eyes”.
Leaders need to cultivate that power of storytelling. It can be a superpower that inspires, motivates, and guides your team. All of us want to understand the why behind what we are doing. Leaders who utilize storytelling to share a vision, explain a change, guide a team tap into a time-honored tool for making sense of our world.
In Harvard Business Review’s November – December 2023 issue, authors Frances Frei and Anne Morriss discuss “Story-Telling That Drives Bold Change”.
The first step is to deeply understand the story you want to tell and then figure out how to tell the story simply. A client recently shared with me that when he wants to communicate a complex topic, he uses the “8-year-old test”. If his 8-year-old understands the message, then he knows it works.
The second step is to set the context for the story. The authors emphasize that it is important to “Honor Your Past”. Talk about what has gone well and what has been achieved. This lets your listeners know that you understand what their experiences have been.
A crucial part to this second step is to also acknowledge where things didn’t go well, and mistakes were made. This transparency helps people see that you will own all the past, the good and the bad. It may also be your jumping off point for introducing why change needs to happen.
The third step is to explain the why for a change. What is it that you hope to gain? Why is there a need to do this now? What will the future look like? Then put the goal in simple and compelling terms that your team will remember: 10% increase in sales; 50% reduction in errors.
The fourth step is to share the change in detail. Describe the path forward and the steps that need to be taken. And most importantly, be optimistic about achieving the goal. The authors cited in their article that “According to Gallup research, just 15% of U.S. employees “strongly agree” that their organization’s leadership makes them enthusiastic about the future.” Emotions are contagious, so spread your optimism about the success of your goal to your team or organization.
Probably the most important recommendation in this article is to “Repeat Yourself”. The power of repetition cannot be underscored enough. We live in a busy, distracted world with many things vying for our attention. When we repeat our stories and messages they sink in more deeply and become more ingrained into the fabric of the team/organization. We can all remember something that a family member used to say all the time for exactly that reason, it was repeated often.