There seems to quite an influx of articles on the power of storytelling and a significant increase in the use of the word ‘story’. Even the Financial Post in Canada wrote recently that storytelling is core leadership skill. So is this just the latest fad or should it be taken very seriously by business leaders?
Seven years ago, when I left the relative security of my corporate job to set up my own company, one of the first things I did was to meet with my financial planner. She advised me on the need for critical illness insurance as I would no longer have access to paid sick leave, and went through all the logical reasons why and the benefits.
I could see it made sense, but I still wasn’t convinced and I was literally not buying it. Then she told me about another client of hers who ran her own business and, sadly, had been diagnosed with cancer. Faced with this devastating news and receiving her payout, she did the one thing that she had wanted to do all her life: she bought a convertible.
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Now that is not something I would buy, but it made me think of the things I would like to do in that situation – and I ended up investing in the critical illness insurance.
Why did the story and not the facts have a greater impact on me? Because facts and figures only inform people; they do not change behaviour. If they did, no one would smoke or speed and we would all eat properly and exercise every day. The reality is, we don’t – well I don’t, at least.
Storytelling in general has been around for tens of thousands of years and successful leaders, teachers and salespeople have always used stories. What’s new these days is the investment in and systematic approach to training people in the use of storytelling within business. It was way back in 2006 that human synergistic research (American author Patti Lee-Hoffmann’s In Great Company) stated that “storytelling is one of the most effective ways of creating connections between individuals and between individuals and the organisation.”
So when it comes to deciding whether business storytelling is a fad or a must-have, I guess only time will tell.
What I do know is that I have seen so many leaders use business storytelling to connect better with their employees and get their messages across more effectively, to know that it is a skill well worth investing in, and it’s a skill that has successfully stood the test of time.
And even if you still think it is a fad – just like wheatgrass shots, eating sushi and wearing Lycra – it doesn’t mean it is bad for you. OK, I take back the wearing Lycra.