We are all born storytellers as well as listeners and most of us consciously and sub-consciously leverage storytelling. The key lies in learning and mastering the art
Last week I met this visionary leader who built a very successful institution in the latter part of his life after recovering from a significant health issue. Out of curiosity, I asked his team, “what makes him so great?” They replied “He is a very dedicated leader. He is passionate about his work and most importantly he has a story for everything and all of them are very inspiring”.
The art of storytelling is one of life’s most powerful skills. A well-told story can be inspiring, energize us for a cause or even emotionally connect people and communities beyond boundaries. Over the centuries, this is the way we humans have transferred knowledge & wisdom and shared our culture & heritage. It may have started with verbal stories, moved to paintings (remember cave paintings!), then scriptures, books, photographs and now with the arrival of Internet, there are infinite ways to access stories.
So, what is the magic behind stories? Are we wired this way or is it just a matter of habit? I believe that while a well thought out argument, a theory or a formula may appeal to the left side of the brain, a good story has the ability to connect both the left (rationale) and the right (intuitive) side of the brain.
What can we learn from great storytellers? I have observed a few things: Their stories always sound genuine and convincing. They are not improvised. They are deeply personal and capture their reflections - generating empathy and building trust! Mahatma Gandhi and Steve Jobs are great examples of individuals who built trust by sharing their reflections through their personal turmoil and experiences. What made their stories inspiring was that they were not “perfect”. Their flaws made them human. They could energize people and give them hope and a dream to achieve. Arabian Nights, Walt Disney’s animation films and in more recent times, Harry Potter, stand tall, for their grandeur and attention to detail. If you ever hear Ellen Degeneres, notice how her sense of humor and self-deprecation connect immediately with her audience.
Is it only words that tell a story? Leonardo Da Vinci could do it through his paintings. As Wikipedia says about Mona Lisa, “the best known, the most visited, the most written about, the most sung about, the most parodied work of art in the world”. If you have seen the picture of “The Kissing Sailor” taken in Times Square after Japan’s surrender to America, you will be convinced that there is more to storytelling than just words.
What can we do? It starts with understanding our role. As Human Resources leaders, we share the responsibility of developing talent, coaching leaders and energizing employees. At the end, we should be able to maximize employee potential to achieve organizational goals. With human resources becoming the most critical resource for any organization, there is always an opportunity for us continue to enhance our effectiveness.
A career coaching discussion with an employee or a group session with new managers and many others can be so much more powerful if the approach is not prescriptive or giving a how-to list, but more of sharing experiences and learnings through them. We are all born storytellers as well listeners and most of us consciously and sub-consciously leverage storytelling. The key lies in learning and mastering the art… happy storytelling!