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Storytelling for managers: Winning the favor of employees with stories
Campfire – Employer Branding Tools 9 January 2018

Storytelling for managers: Winning the favor of employees with stories

Especially in the first days and months, new managers are faced with the challenge of meeting the expectations of their own person and reaching the audience with their own ideas. But how does storytelling for managers work in order to arouse sympathy among their new colleagues, to remain in their memory and to motivate their employees?

Storytelling für Manager

Personal stories – Connecting like values

“I am 46. I’ve been married for 22 years and we have 3 kids. And like anyone else, a lot of what I do and how I think has been shaped by my family and my overall life experiences. Many who know me say I am also defined by my curiosity and thirst for learning. I buy more books than I can finish. I sign up for more online courses than I can complete. I fundamentally believe that if you are not learning new things, you stop doing great and useful things. So family, curiosity and hunger for knowledge all define me.”
Satya Nadella, CEO von Microsoft
Satya Nadella, CEO von Microsoft

On February 04, 2014, Satya Nadella sent an email to all employees as well as the public on the occasion of his inauguration as Microsoft’s new CEO.

The goal of this email was to both gain trust, manifest values, appreciate the legacy of his two predecessors and the history of Microsoft, and provide an outlook with his own vision in 967 words. Certainly not an easy task for the newly appointed CEO.

The tool to share his vision and values was to embed them in his life story. With the emphasis on common goals and wishes, he managed to make his employees feel like mentors who accompany their customers on their digital hero’s journey. What exactly integrity, justice or optimism mean to Microsoft was not conveyed through key points, but was made clear through a well-told story with concrete examples.

“When people are given the opportunity to recognize that they share similar values, they are also able to build more productive and collaborative relationships,” explains author Paul Smith in his book “Lead with a story.” Personal storytelling, he says, helps people recognize these shared values.

Emotional storytelling for managers – imperfection leads to empathy

If you want to win the loyalty of your own team as a new manager and thus also improve cooperation and success as a leader, you must also have the courage to tell stories that evoke empathy.

A basic prerequisite for this is trust. Only then will employees follow the path set by a leader. To be able to trust someone, you have to know them. For this, however, it is necessary to throw overboard a premise that upper management still predominantly cultivates: Not to show weaknesses.

In his famous 2005 speech to graduates of Stanford University, Apple founder Steve Jobs told the following story about love and loss:

“I was lucky — I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz and I started Apple in my parents’ garage when I was 20. We worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a $2 billion company with over 4,000 employees. We had just released our finest creation — the Macintosh — a year earlier, and I had just turned 30. And then I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started? (…) So at 30 I was out. And very publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating.”
Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs’  Hero’s Journey

As the heroic journey of Steve Jobs proves, a perfect protagonist who embarks on his own adventure without fears, conflicts, challenges or even initial defeats will not become a crowd favorite.

A story is not a pitch. If managers want their audience to empathize with them, sympathize with them and support them, they need precisely these credible stories of a person who experiences both highs and lows.

Stories of experience – Shared experiences weld together

To use stories for better collaboration, professional experience stories are helpful. Especially in companies that are so large that you can’t know or see all your colleagues on a daily basis, or in small separate teams working on different projects, the power of collective stories can do wonders for problems.

In the same way, a shared experience can weld a team even closer together. Be it when you create positive experiences together in the first days or also when you start again together after defeats:

SpaceX had two failed rocket launches behind it. The third launch was scheduled for August 02, 2008. The rocket lifted off, but after the second ignition, the rocket exploded again. CEO Elon Musk, until then not known as a great speaker, stepped in front of his 350-member team.

He had always known that it would be difficult, but despite everything, they had achieved something that only a few other countries had managed, not to mention companies. The first launch was successful, he said, and now it’s time to get back up and continue there. “I, for one, will never give up – ever,” Musk said. According to legend, most employees would have followed the founder to hell with just a bit of sunscreen after this speech.

Stories that stay in the memory

Red Bull Stratosphärensprung

In order to ensure that your vision reaches your employees, you have to formulate it in such a way that it remains in their minds. In their book “Made to Stick,” the brothers Chip and Dan Heath call this overcoming the curse of knowledge. Above all, it’s about formulating the core of an idea that makes it as easy as possible to understand something.

“The United States should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth“, John F. Kennedy proclaimed on May 25, 1961, in his first address to the U.S. Congress. A statement that immediately stuck with each and every congressman.

If he had phrased the same content as follows, this significant vision would certainly not have been ingrained in people’s minds: “Our mission is to become an international leader in aerospace through team-centric innovation and strategically targeted aerospace initiatives.”

Such inspiring speeches as those of Satya Nadella, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk or John F. Kennedy are not just spontaneous, but the result of well thought-out storytelling. Storytelling is a tool that every leader must first learn for him or herself in order to apply it in daily interaction. The goal of executives and managers is to be listened to, believed and trusted, so that words can ultimately lead to action.

Whether in front of the assembled team, at a conference or when getting to know the new team members. Storytelling makes vision and ideas stick in people’s minds longer and builds a connection with the team. Leaders who want to empower, motivate and lead their employees must therefore become storytellers.

Learn how to use storytelling to convince employees of new strategies and how to use the hero’s journey as a strategy tool.

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