Great leaders share one common and highly underrated trait, they are outstanding storytellers. Take a minute, recall the most dynamic leaders in your career. I bet their use of short stories and vivid examples was inspiring right?
It's also one of the most common missing skills in the career toolbox of senior managers who are trying to move up but continue to find roadblocks in their way. They have a difficult time inspiring their teams to action and also gaining support at a peer level.
Leaders must be effective at three levels in the organization (up, peer, down) to advance. Being a convincing storyteller is critical across all levels of an organization.
Look, the old cliché "a picture is worth a thousand words" is thought provoking but the reality is "a thousand words is worth a picture". Great leaders are able to turn their vision into words and those words become inspirational stories.
Good storytellers get their audience looking at a movies as they tell stories. The great ones get everyone watching the same movie. The difference between good and great is the congruence. That is getting everyone headed in the same direction and in sync.
Being a good storyteller takes preparation and practice. At the core, it's the same structure and process as if you were answering one of those behavioral questions in a job interview. It requires a situation, the activity, and an outcome. The secret ingredient is affiliation. Getting the audience to put themselves in the story.
One of the best practices in preparation is to do a quick 3I's exercise. That is to isolate the issues (the problem or goal), identify the institutions involved (the people, groups, associations), and have a deep understanding of their interests (what's in it for them!).
If you've constructed your story so that the outcome creates a visual that addresses the 'what's in it for them', you've created that important affiliation.
Ten years ago I was running an organization that had gotten a bit Powerpoint slide deck happy. A 15 minute presentation was 10 slides filled with numbers, graphs, words, words, and more words. Leaders were quickly losing their audience to their phones, notes, and grocery lists on their way home from work. Something had to give.
How could I get our leaders to become better storytellers?
No more words. That's it! All Powerpoint presentations going forward could only be constructed with photos, video, or graphics. No words on slides beyond the title. No one is reading slides in front of the audience again, they will be telling stories.
Ok, it was a bit extreme and not everyone is comfortable or receptive to learning through storytelling, but it did significantly change the way leaders presented important material moving forward.
Want to become a more effective storyteller? Next time you have a quick update of 2-3 slides, put a deck together of only photos and don't show someone what they need to know, tell them the story instead.
The big takeaway is that we need to stop presenting slides and start telling inspirational stories. We need to get out of our comfort zone and get practicing great leadership!