Storytelling and leadership

Posted by Shawn Callahan - June 16, 2008
Filed in Business storytelling

It’s obvious to most people that good leaders are good storytellers. Stories help inspire action because they transport the listener to experience the events recounted in the story in a way that conveys emotion, context and a picture of what happened, and why is happened. We remember these stories. They help change our minds and in doing so, change our behaviours. Storytelling is an important skill for leaders.

But it’s not the only way to use stories to help leaders improve their capabilities.

18 months ago we started a narrative-based leadership development program for a global pharmaceutical company. We collected 150 stories of good and bad management behaviour from the staff and then use these stories in a two day program. Twelve managers attend every month and one of the activities we do with them is to facilitate a conversation around the question, which stories are most significant?

One of the stories often selected as significant is a seemingly simple account of a woman whose manager stops whatever he was doing whenever she visited his office, moves to a table in the middle of the room and invites her to sit down and then totally focusses on her. She felt that she was being listened to and her ideas were important. It was remarkable for this woman because other managers didn’t do that. The leaders in the program often choose this story as significant because they feel that if only they could get more managers doing this it would create a groundswell of change.

A few weeks ago we refreshed the stories for this company in preparation for a new phase of leadership development, and lo and behold, staff told stories of how their manager, whenever they knock on their office door, he or she stops what they’re doing, comes out from behind their desk and… you guessed it… focuses totally on them and their issues.

Imagine if we conducted the leadership development program by listing the behaviours a good leader displays and then tried to persuade them with logic and reasoning. Change is unlikely. But in this case the leaders worked things out for themselves and inspired themselves to change.

Both approaches to using stories to enhance leadership capabilities are important.

If you want to help your leaders be better storytellers, then get them along to our Storytelling for Business Leaders workshop or we can bring it to your organisation.

If you want to learn how to collect and make sense of stories as a way to change behaviours them come along to our Business Narrative workshop.

We run these workshops in Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney, Brisbane and Perth, or anywhere else in Australia or the world for that matter :-)

About Shawn Callahan
Shawn is one of the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on:

One Response to “Storytelling and leadership”

  1. Nicky Fried Says:

    Stories are a great way to illustrate behaviors – and not just for managers.
    Stories can be used to illustrate behaviors that support organizational goals/objectives. There are leaders at all levels in organizations.