Storytelling for Leaders: How To Build Credibility and Inspire

You have a vision, a mission, and a plan to turn your product or service into a reputable, profitable operation. You’ve secured funding, suppliers are in order, and your orders are rolling in. But one thing keeps holding you back — a motivated staff and the relationships that can turn your idea into success.

Sifting through operations and management, you come up empty. You finally ask yourself, “What’s the problem?”

The answer might lie in storytelling.

Once an alternative or supplement to a children’s lullaby, storytelling has become a crucial component of businesses. From inspiring and motivating your staff to building loyal clientele to forging beneficial relationships, storytelling engages, inspires, and relays your vision to others.

Not everyone has the poetic chops of Bob Dylan, Shakespeare, Steve Jobs, a TED Talks presenter, or even a business author, but great storytelling isn’t elusive. It requires practice, attention to detail, and oratory skills. If you lack a compelling story to build credibility, express your vision, sway employees to buy into your idea, and build effective leadership, good storytelling is the vital tool you’re missing.

Discover how to utilize the art of storytelling for leaders and tell the tale that makes your business unique.

What Is Leadership Storytelling?

A woman telling a story to a small group of people

According to Forbes contributor and Leadership Story Lab founder Esther K. Choy, leadership storytelling is the “strategic sequencing of facts and emotions” relating to your business. Through personal stories, business stories, and your vision behind the business, you instill emotions and intrigue among your audience — employees, clients, strategic partners, or others.

However, even the best business leaders often struggle with effective storytelling. Rather than spinning a great story that hooks an audience, they recount chronological facts that read more like textbooks.

Instead of reading like an encyclopedia, storytelling for leaders focuses on the characteristics of a good story — rising action, a climax, and a satisfying denouement.  For example, you may present a problem people face, how it makes them feel, and how your product or service fills the void in their life or provides a solution.

Along the way, you visit the compelling aspects that keep an audience interested. It’s not a regurgitation of facts. Storytelling centers around human emotion and engages people. They make others think, they linger after the fact, and they leave a person wanting more — all in a way that’s not replicable on paper.

As a coup de grace, storytelling in leadership presents your charisma and character in a positive light. This showcases how much you care about your business, your ability to adapt and overcome, and persuade others to follow you by example.

Why Storytelling for Leaders Is an Integral Part of Your Organization

Business storytelling skills are more than a persuasive speech or public speaking instrument. They’re a leadership tool that every entrepreneur, business owner, CEO, or co-founder should possess. While demonstrating your character is an integral portion of this, the power of storytelling has myriad advantages beyond that.

Building Trust

Being a trustworthy leader encompasses many aspects. It involves accountability for your actions, being consistent and dependable, and constantly supporting your employees — even in the shadow of mistakes and errors.

Though actions can build trust, storytelling is just as effective. Great leaders can project their transparency and human qualities — including their misgivings, mistakes, and struggles. The more real you are to your employees in your stories, the more receptive they are to your message and vision for the future.

Knowing Yourself

Telling a story about yourself is no easy task. Self-reflection is a must and knowing how to spin a story to get the desired reaction is even more difficult. However, the time spent crafting your story is an insight into your insides — what makes you tick, what type of person you are, and your strengths and weaknesses.

Don’t shy away from storytelling for leaders for fear of finding something out about yourself that’s unflattering. The more you dig into your psyche and experiences, the more you can show your struggles, how you overcame them, and the message that speaks volumes to your audience.

Motivating Your Team

Team-building is a facet that can cause productivity and morale to skyrocket. But finding ways to motivate your team to a synergetic level of great proportions requires a personal touch.

Storytelling for leaders demonstrates your authenticity, vulnerability, and transparency in one compact sequence; it shows your human side. Much like when you view employees as people rather than workers, they’ll see you in the same light. Instead of being a cog in the machine, employees tend to become more motivated and work harder for someone they respect and revere.

You can also reinforce your organization’s goals and values, recognize the efforts of your team members, and present messages that may otherwise be overlooked.

Improving Credibility

Like respect, credibility isn’t given. It’s earned. While credibility can take years to accumulate among your customers, employees, and stakeholders, storytelling for leaders can streamline the process.

Credibility goes hand-in-hand with trust. With a well-crafted and compelling story, you show the value you add as a leader to a particular service, product, or organization. You’re reliable, plausible, and believable, adding to your allure while fostering the respect of those around you.

Boosting Leadership Communication

The ability to tell your own stories in a way that excites and fascinates is a superb tool to put in your leadership skills bag. While it relates to trust and motivation, it’s also an extraordinary tool for leadership communication and interpersonal skills.

Vision and mission statements may provide insight into your product for investors and customers. Still, for employees to “buy into” your vision, you need that extra jolt of electricity — something that telling stories can do on a more personal level.

Boiling Down Technical Information

If you present a PowerPoint to a client, stats, tables, and data are all important to sales. But what if you could condense technical information into something far more tangible? That’s just what storytelling for leaders is all about.

When you master storytelling, you’re not reading off slides or providing figures, you’re offering valuable information about your product or service and what makes it better than the competitors. The story doesn’t just solve a problem — it sticks with the person who makes the final decision.

Highlighting Values and Positive Behaviors

The values of your organization are the guiding principles and beliefs that govern your business. To have a value-first brand, you must instill these values and behaviors within the organization.

An employee handbook is the first step toward putting your values and practices in place, but let’s face it. A handbook is a rather mundane way to present these ideas, and furthermore, something that few employees are likely to read from cover to cover.

If you want to motivate employees, present your values, and boost positive behaviors, storytelling is an intriguing method that will resonate with your employees.

4 Tips To Master Storytelling for Leaders

A man telling a story to a large audience

Great storytellers are a rarity in the business world. It’s a creative pursuit that’s often left to the arts. But even if you don’t fancy yourself as a creative being, you can still use a few ideas to perfect the art of storytelling. Employ these tips to christen or improve your journey into the storytelling realm.

1. Connect to Your Audience

The first step toward connecting with your audience is defining who it is. Who are you talking to, and why would they find your story valuable?

After you define the audience think of ways your story connects to them. You can start with familiar situations, stories of your roots in the business, or obstacles you had to overcome to get where you are. Remain humble, but use these connections to gain the attention of your audience.

2. Use Humor

Humor can almost always lure your audience into your story. It takes the boredom and tediousness out of some topics and spins them into something that elicits a chuckle. Think of it as a hook. Just as comedians start off their stories with details and tidbits of humor leading up to a punchline, so can your storytelling for leaders, employees, and others.

3. Keep It Brief

Stories that drag on and on will lose the attention of your audience, just the same as a movie that drags on for three hours or more. You certainly want to share the minute details that realistic stories contain. Still, you must keep your tale efficient, straightforward, and specific.

Contextualizing the story from the beginning can also show how it relates to your company, vision, and background without drawing out the story to agonizing lengths.

4. Practice

Unless you’re a scheduled speaker, the opportunities to tell your story are almost entirely by happenstance. You never know just when the right moment will strike. As a result, you need to have your story down in a succinct and alluring manner. The only way to do this is to practice.

Whether you’re commuting, have a few minutes in the shower, or you’re working out, act your story out. Think about what you’re saying, how you say it, and the relation to your audience. The more prepared you are — even among distractions — the better your stories when the time comes.

A Leadership Story Is Only Part of the Equation

Storytelling for leaders is an invaluable tool that can make a difference in almost all aspects of your business, but it’s far from the only tool. In many cases, you need leadership skills and leadership coaching to harness the power of storytelling.

So if you’re apprehensive about telling stories at your business, engaging in leadership training might be a great segue into your first story. Discuss your doubts about your storytelling abilities and leadership skills, how you chose to resolve the situation, and how it’s changed you for the better. No matter your story, spun in a positive and uplifting manner, it’s sure to motivate, persuade, and inspire.

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