Why great leaders are great storytellers


Storytelling can make or break any initiative. A poor storyteller can downplay the best ideas, while a strong storyteller can present a daunting concept with compassion for their audience.


Connection happens when employees see past the details of a task consequences and when they feel connected to the moral purpose of their work, they behave differently. That’s where leaders play an essential role – it’s their responsibility to provide employees with a connection to the human purpose they serve. The good news is that storytelling is something we all do naturally, starting at a very young age. However, there’s a difference between good storytelling and great storytelling.


Changing the perception of work


Stories enable leaders to communicate organisational values as lived experiences rather than abstract principles. They have the power to move people and inspire change by evoking shared values that motivate others to action. The truth is that how people feel about work is only partly about the actual work, it’s about how they see their work - and storytelling plays an important part in creating this connection.


The leader’s authenticity and awareness are at the root of all great storytelling. By crafting a story that they are passionate to tell because it serves a real purpose, their stories have bigger impact on their audience. Storytelling is a powerful tool to embrace authenticity, as opening up about personal experiences and illustrating vulnerability creates a safer space for employees to be themselves and make mistakes - the type of psychological safety that defines a highly effective team.


Research shows that once a task becomes familiar, our brains devote far less cognitive resources to it, and because of that, we disconnect. By creating an emotional connection to our work, we feel part of the bigger picture and better understand the purpose of our individual contribution, as well as build stronger relationships that can transform performance.


Creating an emotional connection


Psychologists generally agree that there are six basic emotions: anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, and surprise. The more leaders understand how and when their own emotional levers are pulled, the better they will understand how that works for their team and the more effectively will they be able to connect those emotions to the stories they tell. When leaders continuously question themselves to understand their own emotional reactions to stories, they become better storytellers who share authentic stories that reach and move people where it counts.


As Jeff Bezos has said, “You can have the best technology, you can have the best business model, but if the storytelling isn’t amazing, it won’t matter. Nobody will watch.” An impactful story not only allows us to connect with people in real life, create emotional connections and trigger our listeners’ attention, but it can also create an authentic message about the organisation that can become part of the culture and values.


Leaders should never assume that employees will automatically follow their lead just because they have a formal title – they must win them over on a personal level. 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 simon@askacumen.com.