The evidence of the power of stories is all around us. Consider the Chicken Soup for the Soul series by Jack Canfield. By 2009, over 100 million copies had been sold with stories of mothers, prisoners, teenagers and veterans, among others. It’s no wonder that great leaders embrace the power of stories and use them to influence in their work.
Stories have the uncanny ability to move people regardless of race, age, gender, culture or whatever else might divide people. Stories have a universal appeal and the ability to explain concepts, ideas and values without being preachy or directive.
Though the art of storytelling has long been and continues to be a powerful tool in all cultures, unfortunately it has become somewhat of a forgotten art. The good news is that you already have two stories that you can readily call upon your own story and the story of your organization.
The most important story you tell may be your own. You might be saying, “I don’t have any good stories” or “I can’t tell a story.” The fact is that you do have a story. We all do. Consider the following three sources for your own story:
What is a pivotal point in your life when you overcame a fear or altered your course?
When was there a moment of synchronicity that changed you or your life?
Who or what helped shape you into the person you are today?
These are phenomenal sources for stories. As Boyd and Crossland wrote in The Leader’s Voice, the key is to “make sure the words are yours. Push them from the very bottom of your soul. The performance will take care of itself.” Speak from the heart with passion and emotion. Just like you have been drawn into other people’s stories, people will be drawn into your story.
You also have powerful stories to tell about your organization every organization has them. They typically involve people who begin with a dream, encounter challenges and crises, and then learn from them. Stories become a part of the glue that unifies a community, helping followers remain true to their vision and values as well as celebrate their development.
Take two minutes to recall a story that inspires you to work in your particular organization.
For example, I used to work at Western Union, whose primary business is allowing people to transfer money throughout the world. Stories were a constant source of inspiration for our work. When our team leaders told us about how a man was supporting his family back in Central America or how a family was sending money to the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina so their relatives could rebuild, we were inspired and rallied together to meet a tough challenge or short timeline.
There’s an old anthropological saying that goes, “whoever tells the stories, defines the culture.” Culture is composed of a group’s tone, values, vision, mission, style and priorities. And those all are things that great leaders can influence.
Find stories and learn to tell them and you’ll find your leadership voice. Not only that, but when you turn around you’ll see that you’ve also found your followers.