The fifth of our 20 Leadership Lessons Learned in East Africa: stories do more than entertain—they facilitate faster, stronger, better connections. Well-articulated stories help with those “light-bulb” moments, allowing others to understand what we’re trying to say. But good stories don’t happen by accident; they are created with practice.

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A Sense-Making Device for Clarity


Photo by Aaron White

Coffee is a slow, meaningful experience here in Ethiopia. Beans are washed, then roasted slowly over hot coals, allowing everyone in the room to take in the aroma. The grinding takes place by hand, followed by the boiling of water and grounds together in a clay jebena pot.

It’s the point in the day where people come together creating space for conversation, with the best of these sessions centered on an artfully told story.

Stories do more than entertain over coffee, though. One of our goals is to help people understand and identify with a complicated concept, so it becomes easier when we tell a story about it.

Telling a story helps with those “light-bulb” moments in a person’s brain, allowing them to suddenly understand what we’re trying to say, whether it’s in a training, a mentoring conversation, or coaching. Those who can tell good stories will create stronger, faster, better connections with others.

Here’s why we use stories in our work:

  • Clarity. This doesn’t happen by accident. Good stories are created with practice, thought through and edited so they are clean and clutter-free.  The best stories are not necessarily the most action-packed, but are the ones that “stick” with us and provide clarity.
  • Relevance. A complicated concept such as Social Identity becomes easily identifiable in a clearly told story, especially when contextualized to the intended audience.
  • Replicable. Stories can be easily told and re-told. Because a well-articulated story follows a simple structure of events, others are able to put it to memory and retell it.

Want to give it a try?  Grab some coffee, and use it to tell a great story.

Questions for Further Reflection:

  • Can a story change your perception of the world?
  • What’s your favorite story and why?

Tell us your big ideas in the comments.

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Leadership Beyond Boundaries - Center for Creative Leadership logoThis series, 20 Leadership Lessons Learned in East Africa, was brought to you by CCL’s Ethiopia office and Leadership Beyond Boundaries, an initiative by the Center for Creative Leadership to democratize leadership development and unlock the power of human potential around the globe.

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