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The importance of storytelling

by Ros Cardinal on December 19, 2013
Business

This year I have had the pleasure of co-facilitating the Compass leadership program for women with my friend and mentor, Fabian Dattner of Dattner Grant. At the recent graduation of the Melbourne Compass program, I was reminded again of the power and purpose in storytelling.

For their graduation, the women worked together in 3’s and 4’s to design and deliver a 20 minute presentation highlighting learnings of significance to them. They invited guests to join us in celebrating their learning.

Personal stories

One of the interesting things about the presentations were the heartfelt stories. As each of our wonderful women spoke about their intensely personal learnings, we laughed, got teary and even got goose bumps. Why?  Because the women opened their hearts to us in a way that was personal, profound and deeply vulnerable. We heard about the good, the painful and the joyous experiences in their journeys. We learned and we grew through the stories of others. In wrapping up the graduation, there were hugs and promises to be in touch as women who had met as strangers left the program as friends.

Power of stories

Storytelling is intense and profoundly powerful. As human beings we are hard wired to learn through stories. Before the dawn of the written word all of our learnings and all of our history was passed down through storytelling. But there is more to this, and something that women are innately good at, and that is the gift of exposing our vulnerability in our stories.

Storytelling is intense and profoundly powerful. As human beings we are hard wired to learn through stories

Imagine you want to learn white water rafting. Who would you trust to teach you? The author of the “White Water Rafting Manual” who can talk about the theory, or the guide who has rafted that stretch of river a thousand times and has the stories to tell you from the early days when he was learning? Before you set out he describes in vivid detail the water, the rapids, what to expect. The best learnings are from people who have been through the experience themselves, have got it wrong, have learned from mistakes and can tell you the stories about how it happened and what they learned.

It is so interesting that we often think that as leaders we should hide our weaknesses. We feel we should be strong and not admit to making mistakes, to always be “the expert” in the room.  But as I have observed many times, the most powerful learnings are from stories about vulnerabilities.

Consider the plot of any movie. Usually there is a cast of characters who experience danger, failure, mistakes, loss and then finally things turn out well at the end. Would the movie be as interesting if the bad things didn’t happen? Imagine Lord of the Rings without the tribulations of the journey, say if Frodo and Sam just went on a hike to Mordor and dropped off the ring. Or Cinderella without the stepmother, Home Alone without the bad guys, the Hunger Games without the fight to the death, World War Z with no zombies … You see my point. Without adversity there can be no heroes.

People love stories, especially stories about conquering adversity, and they learn from stories in a deep way that is hard to replicate. Stories connect human beings at the heart as well as the head.

So, as a leader consider your style. Where can you use stories, how can you weave them into your working life? When there is the need for powerful learning, have you got stories that can illustrate the point? What is your story?

5 elements of a good story

There are 5 important elements of a good learning story.

1 – It is relatable. People want to hear a real story. Something they relate to, circumstances that they might find themselves in.

2 – It has adversity. For a story to connect, people need to hear about problems, obstacles and challenges.

3 – There is a triumph. People want to hear that it turned out well in the end. When they relate your story to their own circumstance they want to see the light at the end of the tunnel for themselves.

4 – The learning. The critical wrap up. What I learned about myself and my circumstances.

5 – It is told with emotion. People will connect best with the story if they hear and empathise with the emotion in the circumstances. Now is not the time for deadpan delivery!

When have you used stories effectively? What are the best learning stories you have heard?

Image credit: Magenta Rose

 Rosalind Cardinal

Rosalind Cardinal is the Principal Consultant of Shaping Change, an Australian consultancy, specialising in improving business outcomes by developing individuals, teams and organisations.

Ros is a solutions and results oriented facilitator and coach, with a career in the Human Resources and Organisational Development field spanning more than 20 years.  Ros brings an energetic and proactive approach combined with a wealth of knowledge and experience. Her expertise spans leadership development, organisational culture, team building, change and transition management, organisational behaviour, employee engagement and motivation, strategic direction and management.

Ros is a talented executive and leadership coach, with current coaching clients at Executive and Senior levels in Government agencies, private enterprise and the community sectors. She is a sought after guest speaker and subject matter expert at events and conferences.

Ros Cardinal
Rosalind Cardinal is the Principal Consultant of Shaping Change, a Hobart based consultancy, specialising in improving business outcomes by developing individuals, teams and organisations. Hobart, Tasmania.
 
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