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Storytelling Is an Essential Skill for Inspirational Leaders and Companies

Storytelling Is an Essential Skill for Inspirational Leaders and Companies

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By Bjorn Mercer
Program Director, Communication, Humanities, Music, Philosophy, Religion and World Languages Programs, American Public University

There are many skills we need to be successful in our chosen careers. Publications such as Harvard Business Review, Forbes and Business Insider often have articles about the skills you need to be successful.

However, there is one leadership skill that is rarely discussed: storytelling. This skill can give you a subtle advantage in your career and life.

What Is Storytelling?

Storytelling is the ability to understand and communicate the story of your organization. It’s an extremely important skill for every leader, manager and employee to learn.

In addition, storytelling is not about controlling the narrative, being deceitful or listening to yourself talk. It’s about speaking to a group of people and being authentic in the way you communicate.

When you tell a story, you connect your message to your organization’s mission, your department’s goals and your customers. You can also connect your message to your own life and deliver it in a positive, motivational manner.

Storytelling Motivates an Organization’s Employees

Sometimes, storytelling is the best way to communicate complex organizational changes or abstract concepts. It can also motivate your employees by connecting what they do every day to the goals or your organization.

In a 2011 Forbes article about leadership storytelling, author Steve Denning notes that storytelling by leaders definitely motivates people. He states, “Time after time, when faced with the task of persuading a group of managers or front-line staff in a large organization to get enthusiastic about a major change, storytelling is the only thing that works.”

Developing Your Storytelling Skills

So how do you become a good storyteller? The key is practice, self-reflection and authenticity.

Practice is easy. Just lead meetings and communicate the mission, vision, purpose and objectives of your organization again and again. Practice, practice and practice.

Self-reflection is more difficult. After every meeting, reflect on how well you did and make corrections without being too hard on yourself. It also helps to have a trusted peer who can give you honest feedback on your performance.

Being authentic is the real challenge as you develop your storytelling ability. If you are being a fake, seem contrived or try too hard, even unintentionally, people can always see through the facade.

You have to be authentic when you speak to a group of employees and communicate difficult concepts or topics. People will always respond positively, even to bad news, if you communicate the message authentically.

The next time you have to talk to a group of employees, think about storytelling. Try these tips:

  • Stay on message.
  • Focus on your people.
  • Clearly communicate the content.
  • Motivate through enthusiasm.
  • Be cognizant of time limits.
  • Add a dash of charisma.
  • Weave disparate concepts into a story.
  • Above all, always be authentic.

If you follow these tips, you will engage your employees and communicate your core message every time. Need proof? Watch Malcolm Gladwell talk about choice, happiness and spaghetti sauce, Ken Robinson about education, or Simon Sinek on why good leaders make you feel safe.

Start a management degree at American Public University.

About the Author

Dr. Bjorn Mercer is a Program Director at American Public University. He holds a bachelor’s degree in music from Missouri State University, a master’s and doctorate in music from the University of Arizona, and an MBA from University of Phoenix. He writes about leadership, management, and why the humanities and liberal arts are critical to career success. Dr. Mercer also writes children’s music.

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