By LAVEENIA THEERTHA PATHY
As a kid, I remember eagerly waiting for meal times. It wasn’t the food I anticipated, but the stories my mother would tell me to get my attention.
Being a new parent myself, I’ve come to realise how important it is to think on your feet; searching your brain for music, nursery rhymes, and even composing music and stories spontaneously just to get your little one’s attention.
Upon reflection, it hit me how much stories actually shape us.
We thrive on the narration, the content, the lessons and how we etch personal meaning to these stories that would later be used to guide us in life.
There is a certain magical element in stories as well as the storyteller.
However, we lose sight of something very basic as we get older because our attention is consumed by more important things. We focus on the process of getting things done and leave very little room to inspire ourselves as well as others.
These stories, whether fictional or based on experiences, when shared, can change the perspective of many. It is the beam of hope everyone looks for in their own lives to attain that goal, chase that dream or stay motivated.
Leaders as storytellers
Asia has always been known for its high power distance work culture. For many years, leaders have always been separated from employees; be it in the way the office spaces are designed or how they connect with their employees.
Employees hardly knew anything about their leaders; whether they have their own family or what their hobbies are. Leaders were always seen as unapproachable, someone whom you only liaised with for work related matters, with little room for personal exchanges.
This creates high power distance between a leader and their employees in a way that dehumanises them.
However, with more Gen X and Gen Y taking on leadership roles today, an emphasis is placed on flat structured organisations and leaders being more approachable to create a positive working culture. It is vital for leaders to also become inspiring figures to their employees.
Research shows that employees today, especially millennials, are more loyal towards organisations that match their core values and have a significant impact in the community.
If that is what the future workforce is looking for these days when they join an organisation, then it matters who their top leaders are and what they do.
Steve Jobs was known to be a controversial leader as his methods were debatable, but he definitely would not be dismissed for being a fantastic and persuasive storyteller.
He was convincing in selling his products because he was actually trying to solve a real problem – a problem that consumers did not know they had.
Because he was motivated by something real, it did not take much for him to convince people why they needed his products. His storytelling method became the essence of why his products became highly marketable and in demand.
Likewise, it is vital not only for top management but also divisional leaders to constantly be an inspiration to their employees to help them stay motivated and true to the vision of each department or organisation and this can be attained through storytelling.
Employees need to know the ‘why’. What are they working towards; what is the impact if it is reached; and how as a team, they can reach their goals.
If their leader, their anchor, isn’t able to paint that picture and constantly motivate them using emotions, it is unlikely for employees to follow suit or possess the fuel to go the extra mile.
Authenticity in storytelling
Storytelling simply put, concerns matters of the heart. The heart is what makes us human as we feel emotions through the sharing of stories from experiences and aspirations.
By sharing these stories, it helps employees identify if someone’s intent is genuine, and then decide if they want to board the ship with their leaders through thick and thin.
In his book titled True North, Bill George defined authentic leadership as a leadership style that matches a leader’s personality and core values.
The leader is honest, ethical and practical. An authentic leader is steered by his heart, often empowering others. The leader also engages in continuous personal growth and inspires others by drawing from his/her own personal life.
This is where the aspect of storytelling comes into play.
These charismatic leaders are not afraid to be open and vulnerable in front of their employees and share life-changing stories, mistakes they have made, failures that turned them hardy as well as intimate and personal details of their lives, as long as it may inspire others.
They don’t really have a single leadership style as everything is situation based; making them highly adaptable leaders. Because of their honesty, values, and purpose that aligns with the organisation, they tend to captivate their employees with their genuine nature and ethical leadership qualities.
Leaders who are storytellers are often authentic leaders who share their truth, live their passion, and drive people to thrive in their own element.
Mastering the art of storytelling
The key to being a good storyteller is tapping into your own personal and emotional experiences. As individuals, we should engage in daily reflections to analyse our behaviours and choices to guide future life decisions.
Through reflection, we don’t just understand ourselves better, but it gives us an opportunity to track progress or any form of regression and see how far we are from our goals.
Journaling can also be a useful tool to help pen out our reflections.
In addition, these daily reflections help us form a story with varying plots, identify end goals, and steep curves and challenges to overcome. It enables an individual to identify with their emotions, check in with themselves and decide how to progress further.
Lastly, it is also important to bear in mind that each individual is shaped by their own upbringing and experiences. This means it’s significant to find a common ground with others through stories despite the differences we may have.
For example, if there is an idea or vision that you would like to get across, try to tie it to emotions as that will be a more persuasive approach for people to feel compelled to stay on track instead of just communicating points across.
Tap into your imagination and creativity and help them envision what success would look like when something is accomplished.
Have them describe what they may be feeling, how they will be celebrated, and what it would mean for each of them if they give it their all. This will help them form a personal conviction to a particular goal/task.
Essentially, stories are how we remember things. Bulldozing your way through a presentation, point after point, will not inspire everyone.
However, enveloping key points with stories, tying it in with the human emotion and tugging on their heart strings will leave you with more attentive and committed employees who are able to understand their own purpose, values and how they can contribute towards organisation goals.
Laveenia Theertha Pathy is a youth worker, writer, leader and change-maker who is passionate about people, sustainability, learning and growth. Still in the process of overcoming her fear of cats, she’s eager to make a difference in the world, one small step at a time. Connect with her by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.