If you lead your staff using proven narrative strategies, you’ll get results. Microsoft does it. Nike does it. Saatchi & Saatchi and the World Bank do it. Proctor & Gamble has hired movie directors to teach their executives how to do it. Motorola, NASA, 3M, and many other well-known successful companies ALL do it.
Think about it – the common thread of storytelling reaches across industries, cultures, and generations. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you came from, story as a form of communication is ingrained in us as humans. Using a narrative framework gets the message through, every time. Richard Branson is an example of a leader with an interesting background, and who uses his personal experiences (yes, stories) to inspire and motivate. (The biography I’ve linked to, while not well-written and very long, is quite a fun read!)
Using narrative as a strategy
In working with hundreds of marketers and managers over the years, I’ve noticed that most top level leaders are left brain thinkers – logical, analytical and structured decision makers. They’re used to working in facts and hard data and so they communicate by instruction. OK, facts and figures might carry weight, but their meaning is too often lost on the very people they’re trying to motivate. Using a storytelling approach, these same facts are translated into an appealing picture of reality that people can relate to, and act on.
Applying narrative strategies gives context and familiarity, allows people to draw their own conclusions, and remains with them long after you’ve finished talking. It paints a picture, pieces together past, present and future and allows the listener to see the part they play in the bigger context. It can spark creativity and renew passion to work towards a common goal.
Our 6 essential narrative strategies for leaders
Story is heart, it is craft, it is practice, it is know-how and it is emotion. These 6 stories are what every business leader needs to apply right now.
1 Where we came from.
Each one of us has a unique origin story. Sharing your personal origin story in an authentic way helps to make a strong emotional connection with your staff and inspire more humanity in your business.
2 Where we’re going.
Share your vision and motivate people to take the journey with you. Paint them a vivid picture of what the Promised Land looks like for them and the business.
3 What we believe.
Reveal your values in meaningful anecdotes, stories or experiences that really bring them to life. The key here is to make it as personal as possible.
4 Who are we here for.
Create an insightful narrative about your customers. Who they are, what they desire, how you make that happen for them. This will help you and your team gain a deeper understanding of your customers and deliver better service.
5 How we’re different from our competitors.
This is your marketing story and it should highlight and dramatise the key points of difference that you have with your competitors. Don’t just talk about functional differences, talk about perceptual differences.
6 Why you should want to work here.
The best people don’t just work for good wages and benefits, they want to be part of something bigger. Your vision and purpose.
(One of the best examples of what I’m talking about is Ernest Shackleton’s recruitment ad for his Antarctic expedition. It goes like this: Men wanted for hazardous journey, small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful, honour and recognition in case of success. Isn’t that great?)
Storytelling is not about fluffy fairy tales, and it’s not the answer for every situation. But the right story is an essential communication tool for leading people to deliver the desired results.