“In telling value laden stories from past experiences, organizational leaders and managers show their human sides.”
Powerful Tales I was recently invited to train high potential leaders at the talent summit of a large manufacturing multinational. This particular organization strives for a culture that encourages inspirational leadership. In the training, we invited the senior managers to tell stories that centered on the main cultural themes that the organization promotes.
The stories, based on their personal experiences, reflected the alignment between their personal values and those of the organization, and left participants feeling positive and inspired. Though there was confusion and anxiety at first among the Chinese managers (as storytelling as a means of influencing leadership is rarely used), in the end it was an exciting experience for them to experiment with this alternative leadership tool.
Influencing Both Halves of the Brain
As human beings, our brain has two halves: one for “thinking” the other for “feeling”. In attempting to influence others, managers are normally tempted to convince. When we influence others by convincing, we address logical thinking and make others use the “thinking” rational part of their brain.
However, we can have a more powerful effect when we can express inspirational messages that simultaneously address both the “thinking” and the “feeling” part of the other person. An inspirational pitch with stories, pictures and metaphors will spark the other person’s imagination. When we inspire others, we reach their hearts and souls. We create new and creative ideas and trigger positive feelings. An inspirational pitch is most powerful and effective when there is alignment in what the speaker thinks, feels, and says.
Authenticity and Connection
The organization we worked with stresses connection with people in leadership behaviors. Part of the connection comes from authenticity. Consequently, in our training with the high potentials, we focused on training authenticity and being real so that the senior managers could learn how to connect with their employees in a personal way.
In telling value-laden stories from past experiences, organizational leaders and managers show their human sides and demonstrate to their employees their deep-rooted belief systems, and the things that touch them the most. Thus, connections with people are built naturally through presenting the authentic self to others. And storytellers guarantee their authentic effect on the audience because they are not performers but are themselves part of the story .
The Synthesizing Mind
Dr. Howard Gardner, a psychologist at Harvard University, describes five mind-sets that are important for the future. The most important one is the synthesizing mind, which connects and combines things. This synthesizing mind is not only reflected in the way that it incorporates the ideas of the speaker, but also in the way that it incorporates the ideas of those being influenced so that people feel they are being involved. Dr. Gardner concludes: “stories constitute the single most powerful weapon in the leader’s arsenal.”
Storytelling as an inspirational pitch is particularly effective when it is linked with organizational visions and cultural themes and used in times of organizational change. In effect, it is a good starting point for getting all stakeholders involved in a dialogue. Influencing through inspiring is based on building rapport, a harmonious relationship characterized by mutual trust, respect, and understanding. When personal and organizational values are subtly transmitted in stories of personal experiences and presented in an emotionally charged way, the impact can be immense. It is a less forceful way of gaining buy-in from others and people are naturally aligned and willingly inspired.