The skill of telling a story has become an essential skill for leaders.  In many ways, it is the skill that allows a manager to become a true leader – especially in the eyes of their team. 

Moving from Informing to Inspiring

Managers tell their staff what they have to do.  Leaders make them want to do it.  It is necessary to effectively inform your staff about correct processes – but this can very easily become methodical and ‘dry’ which severely compromises the listeners’ retention.  Putting the information in a narrative format makes it more engaging and real.

It also provides them with a way to explain it to others.  From primitive times – even before writing – story was used to pass on learning from one generation to the next.  It is a natural skill regardless of the level of education.

Moving from Sharing an Outcome to Sharing a Vision

Stories don’t just have to be about the past.  Telling the story that brings your vision alive can help everyone ‘get on board’.  If staff can truly understand the outcome you want, you can give them greater autonomy about how they get there.  This leads to the truly engaged employee – using all their creativity to help the team achieve the desired goal.  The best way to get the vision from your head into their heads is with story.

Moving from Demanding their Attention to Deserving their Engagement

As manager you can insist on their attention; but you can only hope about their retention.  So many managers spend a large part of their day mumbling to themselves, “But I told them that,” after they have had to correct some staff member on a procedural matter.  Well, you did and they listened to you at the time…but it didn’t get retained.  When listening to a story, more of our brain is involved which not only increases engagement, it increases retention

Moving from Hiding Your Mistakes to Helping Others Avoid Them

The best stories are often those about the mistakes you made in the past.  These are often the most engaging and the most memorable; but, most of all, they are the stories that contain the greatest learning. One of the most common factors stopping those in senior positions from sharing stories of their mistakes is that they believe it will diminish their authority in the eyes of their subordinates. 

Four years ago, Bill Gates admitted that using Ctrl-Alt-Del to log into a PC was a mistake.  He also said that their focus on the much-maligned Vista operating system in 2008-9 meant they missed the boat on mobile accessibility.  Another huge mistake.  Did this hurt his credibility? Of course not.

A carefully-chosen and well-told story about a mistake you made that taught you an important principle is not only an incredibly powerful way to reinforce that principle to others; but it also enhances your confidence and charisma.  This is because only confident people aren’t threatened by talking about past mistakes and sharing such information will make others more keen to listen to you next time.

Taking the time to identify the stories from your life that will help your staff understand important principles will significantly enhance your leadership qualities.  It is a skill inherent in all of us; but sometimes it takes some effort to rediscover it and use it in a business context.  Any effort will repay you many times over.

Article Contributed by Kevin Ryan, Managing Director of Training Edge Australia and an international speaker with Training Edge International.

To find out more on how powerful the use of storytelling can be in business setting and connect to your listeners, register today for the workshop “The Art and Science of the Business Narrative” on 17th July 2017. Sign up today at to enjoy early bird prices!