Want to Tell Great Leadership Stories? Break These 3 Golden Rules at Your Peril

As I sat with Leanne in a café on The Strand in London, we began to talk about telling stories in business. “Huh storytelling,” she said. “We tried that in our business and it was awful!”  Leanne is a Brand Director for a large healthcare company. “Awful?” I questioned....

Written By : on October 7, 2015

As I sat with Leanne in a café on The Strand in London, we began to talk about telling stories in business. “Huh storytelling,” she said. “We tried that in our business and it was awful!”  Leanne is a Brand Director for a large healthcare company. “Awful?” I questioned. “So tell me more?” “Well Senior […]

As I sat with Leanne in a café on The Strand in London, we began to talk about telling stories in business. “Huh storytelling,” she said. “We tried that in our business and it was awful!”  Leanne is a Brand Director for a large healthcare company.

“Awful?” I questioned. “So tell me more?”

“Well Senior Leadership told us all that we should be telling stories not just making slides (fair point we thought) and so people started telling stories – but they didn’t work – it made the audience squirm.”

“Ouch!”  Now I was really curious to discover more about this foray into storytelling.

Leanne continued, “Well for example we were working on a medicine for a particular disease and so one guy told a story about his Dad who was suffering with this condition. It was so personal for him that he became emotional.  It’s understandable when his Dad is ill that he’d feel emotional about it. Who wouldn’t?  But at the end of the story – there was an awkward silence and I noticed that other folk seemed to be shuffling as uncomfortably as me.”

From Leanne’s example, I could see that the three golden rules of great storytelling were inadvertently being broken within her organization;

If you think about any story – a movie you’ve watched or a novel that you’ve read – you’ll notice that stories have a core structure. They start with a character who has a conflict or challenge, then tension builds and finally there is a resolution and with that comes the message or moral of the story.

The story that you’re telling must relate to a challenge that has been resolved.

In personal storytelling, it’s only when you have resolved or overcome a challenge that it becomes good storytelling material. Then you can use the wisdom from your experience to inspire others. When you’re still living through a challenge you’re in the tension stage.  You can’t share the resolution of your story with people because you’re not there yet!  So instead, your audience is left hanging in the uncomfortable suspense of an incomplete narrative.  The supportive ear of a friend or therapist may be helpful here but as a story it’s not yet suitable to take to an audience.

You need to have emotionally dissociated from the story.

The second challenge has to do with your emotional relationship with the story. If you’re still living through the personal pain of a story or have only recently resolved it then it may still be quite raw for you. Indeed, regardless of the time elapsed, if you’re still associated with the emotions of the story and easily overwhelmed by them, then it’s not the right time to share it with an audience.

To inspire people with a story you need to be dissociated from it so that you can take the audience on the journey that you experienced, without leaning on them emotionally.   Being dissociated is different to being disconnected. When you’re disconnected you become a talking head and its hard to reach your audience. Dissociation means that you’re objective and compassionate.  Therefore you have enough emotion to touch your audience but the emotion doesn’t have you.

Your story needs to have a compelling message.

Before you select a story to tell, be clear about the message you want to communicate.  Then choose your story wisely.

The wisdom from any story comes from recognizing what you learned from it. Having discovered the treasure in your story, you’ll have wisdom to share with people and they will see themselves in your story.

So in a nutshell – when you’re right in the midst of living through a challenge it’s not yet a story to be told.  However with resolution, dissociation and learning you have the elements of a great story, ripe for inspiring others.

Back at the cafe on The Strand, as Leanne and I came to the end of our conversation on storytelling, she broke into a smile. “Yes, that’s exactly what was happening in our organization,” she said. “People were responding to the Senior Leadership call for storytelling by sharing their personal pain. They weren’t sharing a story with the wisdom they’d gleaned from it. So storytelling is a powerful tool when it’s used in the right way!”

About the Author:
Claire Taylor is a Corporate Storyteller/Speaker, International Business Consultant, Trainer, Author of The Tao of Storytelling – 30 Ways to Create Empowering Stories to Live By and Co-founder of The Story Mill – a business that uses storytelling and advanced communication tools to propel businesses to even greater success by enhancing business relationships. If you’d like to follow me on LinkedIn please click here.

 

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