A Good Leader is a Good Storyteller

If only I could never open my mouth…until the abstract idea had reached its highest point – and had become a story!

Zorba the Greek

Since joining my current company, I have been emphasizing several concepts, such as “trust but verify” and “field-centric” (what happens in the operations is most important since that is where the money is made).  Among several concepts for sales, I have been pushing on “when the customer says yes, shut up and stop selling.”

It was early December, one of my direct reports and I were trying to convince my boss about some bonus payments for deserving employees.  After several minutes, my boss agreed.  I then proceeded to further explain why he had made such a wise decision to say yes.  After about 3 minutes of listening, he turned to me and said simply: “stop selling.”  Beet-red and embarrassed, I finally shut up.

This story drives home several points:

  1. I am far from perfect
  2. I need to remember what I preach and actually practice it
  3. Shutting up after getting the sale is a good thing to do

But, the broader point is that telling this story drives home the message in a far more memorable way then just writing: “When the customer says yes, shut up and stop selling.”

As leaders, we tend to rely on our logic and present dry facts about what we should and should not do.  We can do better; we can tell stories.

“Storytelling is by far the most underrated skill in business.”  Gary Vaynerchuk

Stories are vital to leadership.  A good leader needs to be a good storyteller.  Why?

First of all, the human mind appears to be primed to listen to, learn from, and remember stories.  Evolutionary psychologists would attribute this to the tens of thousands of years that our ancestors have been sitting around a fire at night sharing myths and stories.  When we hear a story, we are interested and engaged.

Second, stories move an idea from something abstract to something concrete and visual.  We have been trained to visualize a story in our head from the time that we were first read to as infants by our parents.  This visualization in our heads embeds the story deeper in our mind than mere facts can ever do.  When we hear a story, we are more likely to remember.

Third, as the old sales proverb states, facts tell, but stories sell.  Sales professionals have known about the power of stories for years.  A sales consultant colleague of mine, Paul McGhee, explains it well:

Selling is telling the right stories.  Some stories are best told with pictures, some with numbers, some with analogies, some with comparisons, some with customer quotations, some with 3rd party data and some with internally observed metrics.  You don’t tell every story every time.  But if you…tell the right stories at the right time in the right way – you win more.

Finally, stories can give context that helps make an idea more easily understood.  A story can be an example.  A story can be an analogy.  A story shares a little about the storyteller, humanizing him or her.  And, a story often explains the “why” behind the idea.  In short, as author Matthew Kelly writes,

If you wish to win people over to your team or to your point of view, do not go to war or argue with them – tell them a story.

By now, have I convinced you of the power of storytelling?

If so, it is time for me to shut up.


About David Shedd

David has been a President - CEO - COO of an up to $350M group of manufacturing, distribution, specialty retail and services companies, having led 22 different businesses from turnarounds to start-ups to fast growth companies.
This entry was posted in Communication, Leadership, Sales and Marketing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s