Storytelling: A Leadership Tool

What does storytelling have to do with leadership? When you consider that great leaders are also great communicators and great communicators are effective influencers, the connection begins to makes sense.

Some of the world’s greatest influencers have also been magnificent storytellers, such as John F. Kennedy, Maya Angelou, Nelson Mandela, Henry Ford, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sheryl Sandberg, Brene Brown, and Oprah Winfrey.

Successful companies such as Microsoft, NASA, the World Bank, Motorola, Netflix, Airbnb, and Zappos intentionally use storytelling as a leadership tool. Nike’s senior leaders are designated storytellers. 3M has gone as far as banning bullet points and replacing them with a process of written “strategic narratives,” and Procter & Gamble has hired Hollywood movie directors.

Why storytelling? We grew up on stories. They are not merely something we do but who we are. Our brains are wired for stories. In a Harvard Business Review article, Paul Zak states that stories cause the brain to produce oxytocin, a chemical related to feeling empathy and a desire to cooperate.

Multiple studies have shown that hearing a story triggers the same areas of the brain that are stimulated when we experience the actual event.

The story becomes the experience in our brain, and leaders can use stories to help inspire, lead through change, communicate a larger vision, set goals, define culture, encourage collaboration, establish values, teach important lessons, and more.

Finding a truthful story to tell by scanning back over your life experiences is the first place to start learning to tell stories. Great leaders believe in their own stories.