Why Storytelling at Work Matters

Recently, I heard the CEO of a major hospital system, Sven*, speak to a room of more than 300 leaders in his organization. The room was full of doctors, nurses, and administrators, all prepared to hear Sven lay out the strategic plan for the year.

Hospital CEO Speaking to Staff

But Sven didn’t have any PowerPoint slides. None. Zero.

And he didn’t give a 5-point approach to profitability, weighed down with charts, graphs, and statistics ad nauseum. Instead, he showed the room a photo of his daughter – a tiny newborn in the NICU 18 years earlier.  And he shared a story, his story, of how she was headed off to college that fall because of the kindness, competence, and empathy of a group of people nearly two decades before that gave him hope, and his three-pound preemie daughter life.

The room was silent.  And the audience was inspired, rallying around a mission that Sven shared: To create that feeling for every patient.

Now that’s why storytelling at work matters.

4 Tips for Storytelling at Work

If you’d like to give storytelling a go, here are a few tips:

  • Data doesn’t inspire. Storytelling does. While it can be helpful in decision making, data is dry. Strong leaders use the data as a foundation, and then they wrap a compelling picture around it. Just as Sven did – if he’d presented a deck of 20 slides in 8-point font, the leaders in the room would have feigned interest (best case) and made a grocery list in their heads while he was talking (worst case).  Instead, the room was full of rapt listeners.  Better yet: they were inspired to rally around the cause.
  • Stories engage the right brain. The left brain is logical, linear, and verbal. The right brain is creative, holistic, and visual – the very plasma of stories. And stories have been used for millennia to transfer information and meaning – from mythology to folklore, and even songs. How is it possible we’re still hearing about Poseidon? Hansel and Gretel? Even Robin Hood? Because stories are sticky. And now Sven’s story about his daughter?  Legendary.
  • Stories become your brand. A leader’s repertoire of stories become the foundation of how others see him or her.  And, therefore, how other see his or her organization.  Powerful stories show humanity, connection, and the kind of vulnerability that is essential to building relationships.  And who doesn’t want that? Because…
  • Building trust matters. And stories are vehicles for trust. When a leader stops overwhelming people with data or refrains from bragging about his or her own accomplishments, then the stories can do the talking.  And when stories talk, people relate…and that builds trust that is universally connecting.

What stories do you have in your leadership toolkit?  I’d love to hear them – and celebrate with you as you inspire, engage, and build trust.

*The names have been changed to protect the innocent.

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Avatar for Amber Lineback

Amber Lineback

Amber will tell you that her passion is learning — in all its forms. “I believe it happens when we bump into something different,” she says, “Whether it is experiencing a different culture through travel or helping a team work through conflict. Growth is a life-long process, and there’s a wise saying that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. I get a kick out of being the student as much as being the teacher.”