In our most recent story session, we explored the important role that storytelling plays in effective leadership. Here are the big four take-aways:
1. What is leadership?
“To lead successfully, a person must demonstrate two active, essential, interrelated traits: expertise and empathy.” – William Pagonis, 2001
In our latest Write the Talk research we studied numerous leadership models to uncover the common denominator. What was it? A human focus.
Leadership success is a combination of the traits that you have and the skills that you require.
2. What role does empathy play?
“…a failure to focus inward leaves you rudderless, a failure to focus on others renders you clueless, and a failure to focus outward may leave you blindsided.” – Daniel Goleman, 2013
Emotional intelligence is a well-understood framework for understanding empathy. Read about the three key areas here.
3. The science of human connection.
Story is a powerful empathy-builder, creating a unique emotional response in both the storyteller and audience’s brains.
- Listening to a story creates an emotional response in the brain. Tension in the story produces cortisol, which keeps our attention
- Character-driven stories encourage the production of oxytocin, the love hormone
- Dopamine is a neurotransmitter associated with reward and satisfaction
- Mirror neurons cause us to copy others and produce the same emotions as them. This happens in the brains of the speaker and their audience.
- As the cortisol and oxytocin mix we feel empathy and transportation ‘to another world’ occurs, which creates a shared experience.
4. Can you lead without story?
“The most powerful person in the world is the storyteller. The storyteller sets the vision, values and agenda of an entire generation that is to come.” – Steve Jobs
The basic story plots allow you to influence how your audience feels when you tell them a story.
- Origin stories inspire curiosity about a brand, organization or leader’s origins. A well-told origin story satisfies the audience’s desire to connect the dots between past and present in an inspiring way.
- Rags to riches. The protagonist acquires things like wealth, power or a mate… before losing it all. They regain it again when they become a better person. These stories promote empathy and empowerment.
- Quest stories: The main character (and friends) set out to acquire something important, facing many obstacles along the way. Instil a sense of restlessness as the audience wishes for quests of their own.
- Rebirth stories evoke optimism. An important event forces the main character to change their ways, making them a better person. They’re all about second chances or the opportunity to transform yourself or business/brand.
- Overcoming the monster stories: The main character sets out to defeat a force for evil that’s threatening them or their home. In business, the monster can be a competitor, a big issue in society or new regulation.
To communicate effectively, build a library of personal stories based on the basic plots. Start with your origin story and connect the dots from there.
Leaders need to tell and listen to more stories if they’re to achieve the levels of empathy modern leadership requires. It’s a good job that story is a learnable skill.