The narrative leader
Presenting purely rational arguments is not enough to influence people on a sustainable basis. How to use storytelling to develop your influence?
An ancestral tradition, storytelling has been from time immemorial the principal means by which human beings have passed on their knowledge and values. The great religious books, such as the Bible, the Torah, the Koran, etc., used stories to communicate values and a specific vision of the world. The great ideas of the Greek philosophers – notably Socrates – have come down through the ages in all their nuances thanks to fabulous storytellers such as Plato. Tales and legends communicate our convictions and values, just as grandparents pass down what they believe and hold dear in the bedtime stories they tell to their grandchildren. Nietzsche showed that a group defines its identity around its chosen stories. Indeed, business organizations form their culture primarily through anecdotes and events that are told and retold by the people who work there.
There is nothing surprising about this. Storytelling is the means of communication most closely aligned with the way the human mind works, explain the experts. Indeed, we remember best the observations to which we ascribe meaning. Stories create meaning by bringing dry facts to life and building a logical interconnection between the various elements that comprise them.
“Telling tales” often has a negative connotation. Some stigmatize storytelling as manipulative, that is, as a way of persuading others through the imagination, rather than reason or intellect. Thus, the story naturally has a limited role in the rational universe of business. Very few leaders dare attempt to hold the attention of an audience long enough to tell a story intended to serve as lasting inspiration. Indeed, most managers prefer the reassuring structure of a logical and factual “PowerPoint” presentation, which naturally leads people to the desired conclusion.
That being said, there is a growing realization that a purely rational approach is not sufficient to influence people on a sustainable basis. Just as marketing creates story lines to give meaning and continuity to a brand, many leaders today would like to capitalize on the power of stories. What is currently known as “narrative communication” or “storytelling” is thus now returning to center stage.
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