So the executive looked at me askance, wondering if what I was saying was really true.
“So you want me to learn to tell stories…really?!”
Yes, and I wanted him not just to tell stories, but to be a storyteller, one able to explain his vision in a way that allowed everyone who worked with him, from the boardroom to the mailroom, to feel and live his vision.
Being a good storyteller is important. Our research at CCL tells us that successful senior leaders are very adept learners, doers, and teachers. They possess learning agility in adapting to different ways of approaching problems; they are excellent at making things happen through vision and delegation, and they are good teachers of others. Our research and experience with executives also tells us that being a good storyteller is key to the above three items. Storytelling is more than just telling what happened. It is a reflection of agility, a window into how things get done, and always has a key learning piece for teaching.
One of our facilitators has even started a new trend when meeting a new person: instead of asking them, “What do you do?” ask them “What’s your story?”
This is why we needed this executive to reflect on his leadership vision and story. Doing this is both harder and easier than developing a true corporate strategic vision statement or anything like it. What it does is offer executives an opportunity to think about their leadership behavior and their idea of a vision. It should be short, imply action, and authentically reflect both their inspirations and aspirations for that area.
The story extends the idea of the vision. Key to this is the AIM of the story. Executives need to focus on the Audience, the Issue, and the Message they want to convey. Looking at the story in this way enables the executives to structure their message in a manner that appeals to the broadest audience.
Storytelling and writing is a chance to create an environment for leadership and also set the context within which the audience then develops their vision and their story. In this way, they develop agility (thinking through the story), get things done (what the story and vision mean) and teach others (this is what is important to me and why).
Thus, a short story can have a broad meaning and great impact.
After all that the executive looked at me, sighed deeply and reflectively, and said,
“Let me tell you a story…”