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Lead with a Story: A Guide to Crafting Business Narratives That Captivate, Convince, and Inspire Hardcover – Special Edition, August 10, 2012
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"Stories are flight simulators for our brains, and in this book Paul Smith brings you a story for every important challenge you and your team will face at work. If you master these stories, you'll master your challenges." -- Chip Heath, co-author Made to Stick and Switch
"A compelling book that will help bring alive the power of storytelling to make a meaningful difference in your business or your life." -- Sara Mathew, Chairman and CEO, Dun & Bradstreet
"Lead with a Story is now my go-to source for stories that inspire change across a broad range of business challenges. This is a must-read book for any leader who wants to up their game by leading through inspiration." -- Andy Murray, Founder of Saatchi & Saatchi-X and Mercury11
"I got your book late yesterday and started reading it after supper. I finished it this morning at 8:15. I couldn't put it down all night! This book is everything I had hoped it would be...and more." -- Jim Bangel, former Corporate Storyteller, Procter & Gamble
"This book offers the most storytelling success stories I've seen between two covers. It is invaluable for any leader who wants to inspire, motivate, or persuade." -- Annette Simmons, bestselling author of The Story Factor, and Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins
Storytelling has come of age in the business world. Today, many of the most successful companies use storytelling as a leadership tool. At Nike, all senior executives are designated “corporate storytellers.” 3M banned bullet points years ago and replaced them with a process of writing “strategic narratives.” Procter & Gamble hired Hollywood directors to teach its executives storytelling techniques. Some forward-thinking business schools have even added storytelling courses to their management curriculum.
The reason for this is simple: Stories have the ability to engage an audience the way logic and bullet points alone never could. Whether you are trying to communicate a vision, sell an idea, or inspire commitment, storytelling is a powerful business tool that can mean the difference between mediocre results and phenomenal success.
Lead with a Story contains both ready-to-use stories and how-to guidance for readers looking to craft their own. Designed for a wide variety of business challenges, the book shows how narrative can help:
• Define culture and values
• Engender creativity and innovation
• Foster collaboration and build relationships
• Provide coaching and feedback
• Lead change
• And more
Whether in a speech or a memo, communicated to one person or a thousand, storytelling is an essential skill for success. Complete with examples from companies like Kellogg's, Merrill-Lynch, Procter & Gamble, National Car Rental, Wal-Mart, Pizza Hut, and more, this practical resource gives readers the guidance they need to deliver stories to stunning effect.
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There was a time, notes author Paul Smith, when a personal computer was “considered a toy and unworthy of a place on any serious leader’s desk.” That has long passed, and Smith explains that so too is our suspicion of storytelling.
Sharing the key issues of this book with my colleagues at Gateways I was surprised how many of these mature ex-corporate directors were using story telling actively in their work.
Nike refers to all their executives as “corporate storytellers,” and Notre Dame and De-Paul University are teaching storytelling as part of their management curriculum. Other companies that use storytelling as a primary leadership tool include Microsoft, Motorola, 3M, Saatchi & Saatchi, Berkshire Hathaway, Disney, Costco, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Southwest Airlines, FedEx, Procter & Gamble, Kimberly-Clark, and The World Bank.
Storytelling has always been a part of a leader repertoire in the past. The Celtic culture had bards and Druids, the Norsemen told sagas, Mongolians and Siberians listened to the tales of the shaman, and the Ute tribes of America made accomplished storytellers their leaders.
The reason for the importance of storytelling is hardly surprising. Communication is successful when it is impactful and is remembered by the listener. Good stories are impactful and memorable. To prove this point, consider when last you returned home and shared with your partner an outstanding PowerPoint slide. Then consider when last you shared a story.
The value of this book lies in three areas. The first is that it has a collection of over 100 usable stories. The second is that it describes how to create good stories. The third is where to use good stories to increase your leadership effectiveness. Five leadership themes are presented together with insightful stories that assist and dealing with the issues.
Three stories presented in the book will illustrate the value.
There is a much-used story of three men laying bricks. A passer-by asks each one what he is doing. The first says he is just laying bricks. The second describes the dimensions of the wall he building. The third explains he is building a cathedral. An argument breaks out between the first two about an extra brick one has laid. The third bricklayers explains to the other two that since they will be plastering anyway, it really does not matter, and they can get on with the next layer.
The story can be used to explain to a group why a clear understanding of the purpose of their work is so important. Without the understanding of purpose, the bricklayers might well have wasted time doing what did not need to be done.
“If you understand the overall objectives of your organization and how your work fits into it, it not only helps you do your job better, it enables you to help others do their job better” explains Smith. This novel twist to a well-known story will make explaining why understanding purpose is so vital in a way other forms of explanation could not achieve.
Many leaders have experienced the frustration of trying to get busy colleagues to read an important document that requires their understanding.
Staff at Bristol-Myers Squibb once created a future story and printed it in the format of London’s Financial Times newspaper, which they knew was their president’s newspaper of choice. The paper was slipped under his door with the headline: “Bristol-Myers Squibb Named Top-Ranked Global Pharmaceutical Company.” In the article they described what they wanted the president to know of their 50-page strategy document.
This story inspired similar tactics at Xerox Corporation, Braun, and Procter & Gamble for a similar purpose. Only relating such a story could have inspired the use of this tactic.
When first grader is told that the bus he takes home has changed, it is a stressful experience. There are so many, and mistakes are easy to make.
When the Dad saw his child could not sleep after being told of the change, he dressed the little boy up in his school clothes as if he was at school. “Pretend you’re in class, and the teacher says it’s time to go…” They went through the process; the child was calm and then went to sleep.
Telling this story to a group responsible for complex change in an organization will likely elicit the same stress reaction. Sharing the story with change agents will allow them to tackle the appropriate response to their context with understanding.
A metaphor can capture the power of a complete story.
In May 2007, CEO Scott Ford of Alltel concluded the takeover of his firm. In his presentation to the new owners he was expected to give a detailed presentation on how to run the company.
He used only two slides. The first picture was of a tightrope walker on a cable crossing the Niagara Falls. Against this slide Scott explained to the executives that “running this business was a constant balance between providing the level of customer service their subscribers demand and delivering the cash flow required for a good return on investment.”
The second slide was even more important— not to Scott , but to his audience.
his second slide was a picture of a man getting into a yellow cab on a busy New York City street— an image
Scott emphasized, is that waiting for that moment is a bit like trying to hail a cab in New York. You might have to wait a while. So when a yellow cab does pull over to pick you up, you’d better get in. You might not get another chance for a long time.
They had received an offer from Verizon to buy the company for $ 28.1 billion, and he wanted to know what Scott thought of the offer and if they should sell. Scott sat quietly on the other end of the phone with a knowing smile on his face. The executive finally broke the awkward silence with the answer to his own question, “This is the yellow cab, isn’t it, Scott?”
Lastly, let’s talk about a situation that happens far more often than we’d like to admit. What do you do when you’re asked to give a presentation but you don’t believe in the topic?
I once heard a comedian complain about a frustrating phone call he had suffered through. He had moved out of his apartment six weeks earlier and still hadn’t received his deposit check. He’d left the place immaculate , so he knew he should be getting it back. He called the apartment manager’s office. Sally
answered the phone. He told her who he was and asked when his deposit check would be coming in the mail. She said she’d have to ask the manager. After a short pause, she returned and said very matter-of-factly, “Your deposit will be returned when those funds are released.” It wasn’t her response that got the audience rolling in the aisle laughing. It was the startled look of disbelief on the comedian’s face as he dramatized his reaction to it. He wasn’t so much upset that she’d given him such a useless answer as he was shocked that she gave him the useless answer and then sat there waiting for him to respond . . . as if she had said anything of value to respond to! She clearly didn’t understand the manager’s words any better than the comedian did. But she just passed them along to him anyway. Of course, she had to go back to the manager to ask when the funds would be released, and what that depended on. Don’t be Sally. You can’t explain something until you really understand it yourself.
10 of the most compelling reasons I’ve encountered: 1. Storytelling is simple. 2 Anyone can do it. You don’t need a degree in English, or even an MBA. 2. Storytelling is timeless. 3 Unlike fads in other areas of management such as total quality management, reengineering, Six Sigma, or 5S, storytelling has always worked for leadership, and it always will. 3. Stories are demographic-proof. 4 Everybody—regardless of age, race, or gender— likes to listen to stories. 4. Stories are contagious. They can spread like wildfire without any additional effort on the part of the storyteller. 5. Stories are easier to remember. According to psychologist Jerome Bruner, facts are 20 times more likely to be remembered if they are part of a story.
Stories inspire. Slides don’t. Have you ever heard someone say , “Wow! You’ll never believe the PowerPoint presentation I just saw!” 7 Probably not. But you have heard people say that about stories. 7. Stories appeal to all types of learners. In any group, roughly 40 percent will be predominantly visual learners who learn best from videos, diagrams, or illustrations. Another 40 percent will be auditory, learning best through lectures and discussions. The remaining 20 percent are kinesthetic learners, who learn best by doing, experiencing, or feeling. 8 Storytelling has aspects that work for all three types.
Stories fit better where most of the learning happens in the workplace. According to communications expert Evelyn Clark, “Up to 70 percent of the new skills, information and competence in the workplace is acquired through informal learning” such as what happens in team settings, mentoring , and peer-to-peer communication. And the bedrock of informal learning is storytelling. 10 9. Stories put the listener in a mental learning mode.
Telling stories shows respect for the audience . Stories get your message across without arrogantly telling listeners what to think or do. Regarding what to think, storytelling author Annette Simmons observed, “Stories give people freedom to come to their own conclusions. People who reject predigested conclusions might just agree with your interpretations if you get out of their face long enough for them to see what you have seen.” 13 As for what to do, corporate storyteller David Armstrong suggests, “If there was ever a time when you could just order people to do something, it has long since passed.
Readability Light --+-- Serious
Insights High --+-- Low
Practical High ---+- Low
*Ian Mann of Gateways consults internationally on leadership and strategy and is the author of Strategy that Works.
Hooked: How Leaders Connect, Engage and Inspire with Storytelling
They're still talking about it. Wow!
I purchased this book and realized that I do know how to tell stories. I just did not know how to tell a story about my project at work - and keep it short and interesting. I love this book because it's filled with specific stories Paul and others have shared from their careers in each chapter focused on helping us find our voices while we're telling our stories. It allows you to envision yourself in that person's shoes. Every chapter ends with a summary and exercises section so you can really focus on for improvement. I have used this book as a reference multiple times to write a teambuilding proposal at work, to recommend that we make presentations less reliant on fancy charts, showing the power of metaphors over the heaviness of paperwork.
Albeit the examples are heavily P&G related, if you look past that, which is the authors experience, you get to the centre of the key messages for each chapter; all valuable for any employee and leader.
Thoroughly recommend this book and will be one I read again and again.
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As an historian, who also sometimes teaches Psych 101, I have a lifelong interest in the power of stories.Read more