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How to use leadership storytelling

Storytelling is a trainable skill that enhances a leader’s presence, drives motivation and performance. We are all naturally wired to tell stories through our decisions and behaviours, as well as wired to read into the behaviours of those around us. Stories are a universal language that everyone can understand. They stimulate imagination and passion and create a sense of community among listeners and tellers alike.

Neuroscience research confirms that irrespective of the way we present the story – words, gestures, or pictures – our brains create connections with the specific people and their feelings in the story. This connection is much more impactful compared to facts and data and our memories are more intensive and last longer. In fact, information is up to 20 times more memorable when shared in a story, as most people forget more than 40 percent of the information by the next day and 90 percent a week after.

Sequencing facts and emotions

Because leadership storytelling occurs in a business context, it naturally incorporates facts and data, but presented in a way that triggers emotions. Stories help to solidify abstract concepts and simplify complex messages, making them easy to understand and digest. By allowing leaders to strategically sequence facts and emotions, they can motivate and empower others, and lead more authentically. Stories also help leaders to understand themselves better, as well as being understood by their teams. They allow to convey lessons, instill organisational values, and acknowledge individual contributions.

Leaders should never assume that their direct reports will automatically follow their lead because of their titles and the formal power of their roles. They must win them over by inspiring them to increased levels of performance and trust. Leaders who tell stories communicate a compelling vision about desired outcomes and behaviours and helps to shape the way their teams think, which is a critical step in changing the way they act. Tapping into people’s emotions and baring both the good and bad is how stories inspire and motivate, and eventually, drive action. As they say, logic makes people think, emotion makes them act.

Linking storytelling and emotional intelligence

Emotional engagement directly collates with performance and commitment, and it helps individuals to thrive during times of uncertainty. Recent research suggests that emotional and social competence are essential components of effective leadership, particularly when it comes to navigating the uncertainty and ambiguity their teams currently face. When asked to talk about their leaders, employees across various cultures and roles were consistently focused on how these leaders made them feel, while qualities traditionally associated with leadership, such as intelligence, expertise, or skills were rarely mentioned. When employees have a strong connection with their leaders, they are more likely to identify with the organisation and culture. Remote working is taking an emotional toll on employees, and stories can help leaders to stay connected and engage with their teams.

A leader without the skill to tell a great story is missing the opportunity to persuade and motivate others. At Acumen, we pride ourselves in offering development that gives managers practical tools to help solve real-life challenges. We offer an extensive menu of courses, workshops and coaching programmes, ranging from communication skills through to executive leadership development. In most cases we design the interventions specifically for each client, but we also offer a wide range of off-the-shelf programmes for those who prefer this approach. For more information about our programmes please contact Simon at


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