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May 18, 2017

Values, Vision and Motivation: Storytelling for Executives

Concerning leadership stories, not only heroic moments, memorable speeches, presentations and yearly conferences of the highest execs count. Storytelling can be integrated on many levels within the daily business to revive the most important aspects of management: to challenge, to encourage and to give feedback. It is the stories about extraordinary achievements of team members, about experience that could only be made through failure or shared values that make for successful leadership moments. Executives need to get peoples’ attention and trust to push their team forward. Advice, feedback and strategy have to have an impact on the audience to get implemented. The following examples demonstrate how and at which occasions storytellers can bring their management style to the next level!

Explaining the company vision with alternative storytelling formats

One of the most important tasks for every executive is preparing their team for the future. The company vision functions as a compass to constantly focus on. But how do you motivate your team to notice your vision in the first place and take it seriously? In his book Lead with a Story the US-based author Paul Smith demonstrates the effect of a vision using a story: At a construction site, a woman meets construction workers and asks them about their job. While the first one grimly answers: „Piling stones“, his colleague smiles brightly and says: „I’m building the world’s biggest cathedral“. Two answers that couldn’t be more different and clearly show how an understanding of the higher goal can help to make better decisions, be a better team lead or just appreciate a given task in general. Other original formats  help to transport the company’s visions: How about publishing a newspaper highlighting the vision and most important milestones as headlines of the future instead of using a 50 page strategy paper that hardly anyone will read? Or instead of painting a theoretical model of the future, why not portrait how a typical work day for each section would look like, if the vision is set in action? Employees will get a much better picture of how the vision impacts their personal working environment.

Communicating company values and culture with anecdotes and stories

Values are the most important link between all involved parties and shape the community between clients, employees and management. Similar to the company culture, listing the values will only get you a theory if the given values are not lived by within the company. What values such as integrity, sustainability, justice, uniqueness, freedom or optimism mean to each company individually will not be transported by bullet points but rather through examples and stories. Being successful as a management means making people believe in and live by the company’s values. For creating a successful leadership storytelling the most important thing is to find, collect and spread anecdotes that show and cultivate the company culture.

Following employees’ feedback along the hero’s journey

Unfortunately a lot of employees still feel like asking for feedback, advice or help equates weakness. The hero’s journey can help managers and their teams to change this attitude. The idea is to make the employee the hero of the story and understanding the company as a mentor. After all: Even Luke Skywalker or Frodo would have never been able to start their adventure. Not to mention succeeding without their mentors (Yoda, Gandalf). No one is being treated as a loser or side-kick if he seeks help of their mentor. On the contrary: The mentor’s role is essential. Since he is there to motivate the hero to start new challenges and supply him with the needed knowledge and tools to do so. With such a feedback culture employees feel less intimidated to ask superiors or colleagues for help, if they can find the right questions through the hero’s journey:

  • Where does he come from and where does he go?
  • Why does he want to go there? What is his goal and his reward?
  • What obstacles and opponents are in his way?
  • What weaknesses come to light that he wants to overcome?
  • What knowledge and tools can the mentor provide to help him overcome the obstacles? How can the mentor train the hero?
  • What does the new world look like after his adventure?

The story of a company is not written by just one person. To provide a consistent storyline it is important to live storytelling within the company. And furthermore that employees understand the values and visions behind their work. This way they can pass this down further to create a healthy company culture that unites people with the same attitude. Storytelling creates the base for employees not just to identity with the product but also the brand and making them more convincing when talking to clients.

Carolin Behrens