By Jas Singh
My hero in life has always been my Dad. As far back as I can remember, I’ve always looked to him for answers. From the first time I had to stand up to a bully in the playground to learning how to apply for a job, Dad’s advice always seemed to help.
Yet funnily enough, my father wasn’t particularly lucky or highly experienced in dealing with people. My parents started a family when they were very young and my Dad had to put his career as an engineer on hold so he could work two jobs to support a family. He ended up working in one of those first jobs for over 30 years. Working over 12 hours a day as a manual labourer in a factory (often many more), he had little time for education or socialising.
Yet one thing my Dad could do is tell a story. As a boy he had loved reading – and whenever we did get the chance to spend time with him we used to love listening to his stories. I can still vividly remember sitting on our small sofa with my brother and sister, whilst he would take us to ancient Greek times to tell us thought provoking fables or off to Medieval England to enjoy the antics of Robin Hood.
No iPads, no gadgets, not even any books. Just him, us, and our stories.
Yet for some reason, the lessons I learned just seemed to stick.
I guess just like any child – sitting and listening to stories, were some of the best days of my life.
Great leaders have always been great story tellers. Whether in religion, business or politics – the ability to tell an inspiring story and motivate others to action remains one of the most powerful tools in leadership.
Here are some reasons why leaders tell stories.
1. Stories engage us
Nowadays with so much information and data bombarding all of us, it’s often a challenge just to get someone else’s attention.
Whether it is scrolling through our emails whilst simultaneously on the weekly numbers briefing or listening to a sales rep whilst thinking about what to have for lunch, our minds are becoming harder to engage.
The great things about stories however is that they are a two-way form of communication. They force us to sit still for a minute – to listen. And then they do something that no power point presentation or annual sales target can ever do – they engage our emotions.
Stories engage us – and what’s more since we are inundated with numbers and data in every form imaginable all day, stories are actually a welcome break from our normal day.
Great leaders understand a good story captures attention.
2. Stories create context
If someone asks you to simply donate $5 to an African charity, some people might but the majority of people won’t. However, if you see a short clip of a small child suffering who needs your help – the entire story of their struggle from being born in poverty to losing their parents, to now needing critical drugs just to stay alive – all whilst trying to smile and enjoy life, the response is totally different.
It’s why charities and governments use high-impact and often tragic short story clips to try and influence human behaviour in a positive way.
Numbers and figures on their own – however metrics focussed you may be – will always have limited affect. Often, they require context – in the form of stories. Only when we understand why something needs to be achieved – and what part we have to play in the story, what the implications are – will we be motivated to act long term.
Great leaders do this regularly. They make sure everyone knows what part they have to play in the story.
3. Stories build relationships
A relationship is simply an emotional connection. The deeper the connection, the stronger the relationship.
Stories engage us by triggering our emotions. Especially stories we can relate to – stories of love, of family, of inspiration, of loss. And as they trigger our emotions, stories not only engage us, they also become a part of us.
When we think of those we love the most – our family, our friends, or lovers – it’s usually because of the memories and experiences we have enjoyed together. Or put another way, the stories we have had. Often, these stories can be so powerful and deep that we can cling on to them forever – even if things have changed for some time. We’ve all used a business associate because of “the stories” we have had together even if there may be a slightly better offering on the market. Or forgiven a loved one for a serious act, because of the great stories we have previously had.
Great leaders understand that a powerful story will connect more effectively than any set of figures or instructions.
4. Stories spread
In my profession as a hiring specialist, I’ve still yet to come across a job spec that drives candidates crazy.
Neither have I ever heard of a PowerPoint going viral.
Yet stories spread faster than you can say amazon.
As social creatures, we love to share things we feel others will find interesting or useful. We check the internet, social media and message each other every day to share stories we believe others would like to hear about. A story develops and grows in the mind of the listener. It is automatically retold. We may even use a story to show others what we believe in – and even who we believe we are.
Great leaders use positive stories to empower others. They realise that the affect of a powerful story is not limited to when it is told. If it is truly moving – truly emotional – it will spread and grow, increasing in influence and impact.
A good story is always re-told.
Everyone loves a good story.
The hard part is coming up with the right story at the right time.
Hiring managers can gain much from focussing on those who can tell affective stories – it’s one of the most powerful ways to connect with others.
What’s your favourite story?
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