Leadership is storytelling

Humans tell stories. Rarely do we tell these stories by sitting down with someone and say: “let me tell you a story my dear friend…”. No, but we express the story that we want to tell about ourselves through the decisions we take, how we behave and what we aspire. We experience our live as stories and we tell stories by how we live our lives.

A great story touches and moves you. They literally move us, because every good story is a journey and it takes us with it.. Great stories give meaning to our lives (i.e. religion), they enable us to identify with the protagonist and thus motivate us to do things we haven’t done (like a great documentary) or they give us metaphors how to navigate the complexities between good and bad, light and darkness, ego and consciousness (i.e. Star Wars, yes, really). 

I would claim that leadership is nothing but storytelling. Great leaders manage to tell multiple stories on multiple layers that are all coherent: the organisation, the individual and the external world. 

Within the macrocosm of the communities we live in, an organisation can be described as a single entity. Leaders who are capable story-tellers manage to see and describe the organisation as the protagonist. They can clearly describe what journey the organisation is on and why this journey is worthwhile. They can paint the picture of the obstacles that are necessary to overcome and how the sacrifice and effort is worthwhile because reaching the destination is not just nice, it’s important and necessary. 

On the individual level within the organisation, great leaders are capable of telling each employee the story of them as the protagonist; how what they do is enabling the organisation to reach the goal. 

Towards the external world, leaders can tell their potential clients and customers the story with THEM as the protagonist and their organisation as the support to reach THEIR goal. You are (or your product is) not Luke Skywalker. Your client is Luke Skywalker. You are the light-sabor that enables Luke to fulfil HIS journey; HIS story. Allegro has just achieved this beautifully in their Christmas Ad. For those who haven't see it: An old man orders over the internet a book to help him learn how to speak English and mostly we observe him do just that. In the end we learn that he went through this difficult journey because he wanted to connect with his small grand-child that grows up in England. Allegro is basically never shown, we only later realise that he ordered the language-learning book on the platform. What a beautiful way to be a light-sabor. 

A common mistake many leaders make is that they think of themselves as the protagonist of the story they tell. Those leaders never spark the intrinsic motivation of their employees and so they have to motivate with money, force and pressure. Leaders, who understand that they are not the protagonist but the guide (think of Dubledor, Gandalf or Obi Wan Kenobi) are capable of leading without force. 

Stories are incredibly powerful and we tell them whether we want to or not. Every leader should ask themselves what story they tell and if it’s the story they want to tell; if it’s the story that they should be telling if they want to reach their goals - not alone but with others.