The Five Essential Business Stories Every Leader Should Possess

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Storytelling is an art form that traces its origins back to the time of earliest man. For thousands of years now, communicating information through story has been an effective way for human beings to pass along messages, teach lessons and define cultures. Anyone working in today’s business environment can benefit from the use of storytelling as a communication tool. When delivered effectively, a story resonates emotionally with a listener and impacts the way they think or feel about a subject or topic.

An article in the MIT Sloan Management Review discussed research that showed how storytelling, when used in executive development, actually outperformed many other initiatives with regard to leadership skills. A good story not only makes a message more memorable, it can also help you clarify meaning and illustrate a concept or idea. Stories enable us to grow as individuals and can often be more powerful for an organization than a company vision statement or motto when it comes to defining a culture or promoting company values.

One recent study found that when managers used storytelling to resolve conflicts and address issues with their teams, they were more successful in reaching the specific outcomes they desired. When situations are complex, stories can simplify information and make it easily understood and accessible. A good story or anecdote can make a point quickly and cover concepts or ideas that otherwise may have taken hours to explain.

We all possess hundreds of stories from our lives and experiences that can be drawn upon in business to influence others. In the keynote speeches and executive coaching sessions I do around the world, I discuss the power of narrative and break down the following five types of stories every leader should possess in their communicator’s toolbox to impact audiences and build relationships:

The Origin Story

This is a story that provides a window into how your company came to be, articulating its values and priorities. For example, the origin story that details how and why the company was formed is always insightful for someone unfamiliar with your organization. Also, the story of how you became part of the organization or how you first became interested in your given field is a good tale to have ready to share with a prospective client or interviewer.

The Value Story

This is a story whose purpose is to generate excitement and develop trust by clearly establishing the value your company has delivered for clients or customers in the past and how the work you do benefits your customers, the community or society at large. Identify the benefit you or your company can provide to a listener and drive that point home through the telling of your story.

The Crucible Story

This is a story that describes a challenge or demanding situation your company has encountered and how your organization was able to adapt and overcome it. For example, this could include the emergence of a new competitor, a sudden downturn in the economy or a rapidly changing marketplace. Stories such as these show flexibility, resilience and tenacity: all traits that will be admired by a customer or prospective client.

The Solution Story

This is a story that demonstrates how your organization identified a problem or customer need and addressed it through the use of your products, services or expertise. With this type of story, you establish a pain point experienced by a previous customer and detail how you or your organization provided a fix or solution. This type of story can be used to persuade a potential customer to sign a deal or consider a proposal by showing a clear example of how you provided value for a previous client.

The Pie-In-The-Face Story

This story proves that you are fallible and human by detailing how you or your organization made a mistake or fell short in some way. It could be a personal story displaying self-deprecating humor or a mistake or miscalculation made by your company. With this type of story, you share a personal failing or professional disappointment that helped shape you, as well as the lessons you or your organization learned as a result of having gone through it.

We all possess a myriad of stories based on our individual life experiences and each of these stories can be shared to inspire or enlighten others. Think back through the experiences of your life and try to pinpoint one story for each of the categories listed here. Each of us has countless stories within us, all waiting to be told, including every person you come in contact with: your boss, your accountant, your mailman. They all possess a unique reservoir of stories from which to draw inspiration.

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As you sharpen and refine your own abilities as a storyteller, seek out the stories of others, especially those passed down from bosses or coworkers within your organization. These stories can be shared with peers or team members who will then pass them along as well. Become a story collector and get comfortable sharing stories and anecdotes. Every story you tell is a gift, as is every story shared with you by others.

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