‘Telling stories’: when you read that phrase, do you think of stories as in entertainment – or stories as in fibs?
Our brains crave stories. They crave the sense-making qualities of stories. Stories are essentially data rearranged into a way that is satisfying to our brains. Even wacky, ‘out there’ stories make more sense than the nothingness and chaos of a cold, grey Tuesday morning in early January.
That’s why the telling of stories can so easily be abused. Our desire to have something made sense of is as strong, if not stronger, than our will to appraise the veracity of the story that makes sense of it. This is something that the likes of Donald Trump and other ‘post-truth’ adepts like Vladislav Surkov are accused of. It’s why the ‘troll factory’ exists.
But storytelling can also be nurturing, nutritious and generous. As leaders, how can we make sure that this is the kind of storytelling we undertake with our teams?
Everything in moderation
If you’re just getting accustomed to the power of storytelling, avoid the temptation to go overboard. Storytelling is supposed to bring lightness, lifting up a situation with a narrative thread. Self-indulgent embroidering, on the other hand, only brings heaviness.
Storytelling for authenticity
Remember that storytelling is not about fiction – it is about making sense of a situation and joining the dots for those so that people discern meaning. Sometimes ones of those dots is an admission that, ‘Well, this is a mess, isn’t it?’ If sense cannot be made of a situation, acknowledge that and try to reset the narrative.
Keep things regular
Storytelling is not for special occasions: it is a mode of discourse that you should get into the habit of. As a leader, it’s not enough for situations to make sense to you if they don’t make sense to your teams. Storytelling helps you to bring your teams with you.
Humour is (almost) always welcome
I noticed this tweet from Melissa Benn the other day and her observation that her father included some wry humour even in the course of what was a life-and-death speech really touched me.
Storytelling builds your brand
Storytelling does not just make sense of situations, it also makes sense of you. The way you interpret the world and your business becomes a way for people to understand what you’re all about.