1: “Organizations often seem immovable,” Stephen Denning writes in The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling.  

The good news?  

“They are not,” he notes.

So, how can we possibly move the immovable?

“With the right kind of story at the right time, they are stunningly vulnerable to a new idea,” he observes.

His book provides a guide to finding and telling the right story at the right time. His premise? The most effective way to lead people is often by telling a story.  

“Stories are trapdoors, escape hatches, portals through which we can expand our lives and learn about other worlds,” he writes. “They offer guideposts to what is important in life. They generate meaning. They embody our values.”

If we have an idea we want to put forward. . . If we want to change the world. . . Then, we are wise to tell stories.  

Versus giving people reasons. This idea is accurate not only in business but for “schoolteachers, health workers, therapists, family members, professional colleagues—in short, anyone who wants to change the minds of those around them,” Stephen notes.  

2: Storytelling is a core competency of leadership, Stephen observes. “The importance of storytelling as a leadership tool has become generally accepted, even in big organizations,” he notes. “Management fads may come and go, but storytelling is fundamental to all nations, societies, and cultures and has been so since time immemorial.”

Leadership is different from management. “Traditional management has focused more on means than on ends. Traditional managers usually take an agreed-on set of assumptions and goals and seek to implement efficient and effective ways of achieving those goals,” he writes. “They decide what to do, on the basis of agreed-on hypotheses, generally proceeding deductively.”

Leadership is different. It is “essentially a task of persuasion—of winning people’s minds and hearts,” Stephen observes. “Typically it proceeds inductively by argument from one or more examples toward a more general conclusion about the goals and assumptions we should adopt toward the matter in question.”

Which is why storytelling is inherently suited to the practice of leadership.

Storytelling is more than simply a communication tool. Stories are a catalyst for action. Stories help leaders define who we are. They boost “confidence in our integrity” and communicate how we will act in different situations.

Does this mean that reason and analysis are not important? Of course, not. “Storytelling doesn’t replace analytical thinking,” Stephen writes. “It supplements it by enabling us to imagine new perspectives and is ideally suited to communicating change and stimulating innovation. . . Abstract analysis is easier to understand when seen through the lens of a well-chosen story.”

As leaders, the question is not: Should we tell stories to move people to action? Instead, we ask: Can we “use storytelling unwittingly and clumsily—or intelligently and skillfully,” Stephen suggests.  

3: The best news? We can learn to become better storytellers. And in doing so, we can learn to become better leaders.

“Leadership is not an innate set of skills that a few gifted individuals receive at birth,” he writes. “Narrative patterns can be learned by anyone who wants to lead from whatever position they are in—whether CEO, middle management, or on the front lines of an organization, or outside any organizations altogether—anyone who sees a better way to do things and wants the organization to change.”

We will acquire new leadership capabilities if we consistently utilize the tools Stephen lays out for us.  

When we communicate who we are and what we stand for, others come to know us and respect us for that. Because we “are attentive to the world as it is, our ideas are sound,” he notes. Because we “speak the truth,” we are believed. Because we make our “values explicit and our actions are consistent with those values,” our values become contagious, and others start to share them.  

Because we “bring meaning into the world of work, we are able to get superior results.”

More tomorrow.


Reflection: What is a significant challenge or opportunity I am facing? What story can I tell to move people to action?

Action: Tell it!

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