Whenever someone tells you “stories are an important part of leadership,” you do what most people do: you nod and shrug and wonder what the heck anyone means by that. And yet, we use stories informally every day. Your business meeting with prospects breaks for lunch and what do you do? Tell stories of your families and where you’re from, or seek out what each of you have in common. (These are belonging stories in my Three Story Types for Business.) Everyone knows they should be doing something, but what? Why? And how?
Stories Transfer Leadership DNA
When I launched StoryLeader™, I realized I needed a way to explain the core benefit of the leadership training practice. What we do when we tell business stories is we transfer leadership DNA throughout the organization. The goal of the stories then becomes ensuring that people at all levels understand what kinds of goals and intentions their leadership has in mind, that people closer to the front line understand what decisions their leadership might make in a given situation, and that with everyone operating from the same perspective, friction is reduced to a minimum.
If you run an analytics group, one of your core mission stories might be about how your organization’s role is to act as a “backup brain” to the groups you support, and that your primary function is to absorb and relieve all their primary brain worries while being alert to prompt for future threats and trends. The more your team thinks about what it means to be a “backup brain,” and that “absorbing worry” is a core function of that brain, they’ll align their decisions and efforts accordingly.
2020 is About Upskilling and That Requires Growth Stories
In the fast world of transformation culture, organizations have to be able to shift quickly with new opportunities, adapt and be more resilient. As human capital starts to account for as much as 50% of a company’s value (source), it becomes important that leaders tell belonging stories so that people feel valued, included, and most vitally part of the solution for all and any challenges that arise.
Employee retention is an exercise in storytelling matched by actions that support the story. The third story type in StoryLeader™ are called growth stories. Sometimes, these are corrective or lesson tales. Other times, they are the stories that empower us or invigorate us during the challenging parts of our work.
Studies say over and over that when an employee starts to seek employment elsewhere, it’s almost never an issue of pay. More often than not, disengagement comes when the employee no longer feels like they are working on meaningful work. The right growth stories and belonging stories (fronted by action that shows that employee a path to being part of solid execution) are more vital than any dollar or title increase.
Telling Stories is Now a Participatory Sport
The 2019 movie box office revenue for the US was $11.9 billion, but if you add worldwide revenue, the number goes up to $42 billion. That’s a pretty decent figure for movies as entertainment.
Until you realize that the video game industry took in $120 billion last year. Before you scoff and think of yourself as not a video game person, mobile games accounted for $64.4 billion on its own, dwarfing traditional PC or console games.
Why am I sharing this? Because storytelling (movies) has become far more interactive (video games). That means we as leaders have to learn not only how to tell a business story, but that we have to build participatory stories where everyone absorbs and acquires the leadership DNA you intend to transfer.
No, you don’t have to create video games to tell business stories (they fail horribly when people try). But you do have to learn how to tell a more participatory story. (I can help!) Stories must be crafted to be more bite-sized (like a series of text messages) and with room for others to participate and lead from their own level, while retaining the core importance of the mission stories that form the organization’s objectives and intentions.
What Does This Do?
Working on business stories improves decision making, cuts down on rework, reduces friction, and obviously saves time and money in the process. By learning the simple (but not easy) skills of telling better business stories that reinforce the organization’s mission, people’s sense of belonging, and everyone’s path to growth, leaders can focus more on vision and clearing roadblocks. Smart leaders let stories do the heavy lifting, and what I shared in this article is why.