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The connection between storytelling and trust

Leadership research shows that having a 90-day plan with milestones along the way increases a leader’s chances of success. But while these plans are great tools, employees will evaluate leaders and what they bring to the table long before they hit those milestones. First impressions form quickly, and they matter - and depending on their personalities, leaders respond very differently to the increased visibility and performance pressure.

One of the key roles of leaders is to compensate for the potential connection gaps that complex organisations create and provide employees with a meaningful connection to the purpose of their work. Because people’s perceptions of their work are only partly about the work itself. They are equally about how they frame their work, as changing the frame changes the perception. And nothing changes frames faster than a story.

The building blocks of trust

Trust is one of the most essential forms of capital leaders have. Building trust, however, often requires thinking about leadership from a new perspective. Whilst the traditional leadership narrative is about the self, leadership really isn’t about leaders themselves - it is about empowering other people because of their presence, and about making sure that the impact of their leadership continues into their absence. People are likely to trust a leader when they believe they are interacting with their authentic self, have faith in their judgement and competence and when they feel they are empathetic. When trust is lost, it can usually be traced back to a breakdown in one of these three drivers.

Research suggests that authenticity contributes to both overall well-being and engagement, with 80 percent of self-reported authentic employees believing authenticity improves the workplace. Further, they believe it leads to improved relationships with co-workers, increased trust, higher levels of productivity and overall, a more positive work environment. However, being an authentic leader can feel challenging at times. Particularly in global organisations, many leaders work with people who don’t share their cultural norms and have different expectations for how they should behave, and it can often seem as if they must choose between what is expected and what feels authentic.

The authentic narrative

Telling a compelling story is how leaders build credibility for themselves and their ideas. It’s how they inspire an audience and lead an organisation. Leadership storytelling helps leaders change the way their teams think, which is a critical step in shifting the way employees act. Leaders who tell stories also communicate a compelling vision around the desired result. If they want to see a behaviour demonstrated more often, sharing stories about people who exhibit the desired outcome provides a clear example others can relate to.

However, to trigger and keep their listener’s attention, leaders need to understand their audience well enough to be able to identify relevant stories and tell them in a way that evokes the anticipated response. Demonstrating the understanding of the challenges, context and culture of the audience helps to build trust and presents alternative scenarios and perspectives that they wouldn’t have considered otherwise. But crafting a compelling and authentic narrative is one thing, and communicating and delivering it in an engaging and inspiring way is another. In the era of remote working, a strong narrative requires consistent communication, inside and outside the meeting room.

Storytelling can make or break any initiative – a poor storyteller can downplay the best ideas, while a strong storyteller can present weak concepts with enthusiasm and compassion and win their audience. 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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