Storytelling has been recognized as a powerful leadership tool for some time. When promoting storytelling in a commercial setting, the main benefit attributed to it is its potential to deliver information to the audience in a quick and memorable manner. As neuroscientist Paul Zucker’s research shows, stories give listeners “a better understanding of the points the speaker was trying to make and a better ability to recall them weeks later.”
However, storytelling has the potential to have a greater impact. Since COVID, we’ve seen a growing interest in personal narratives and taking a human-centered approach to organizational structure.With the popularity of Brene Brown’s leadership text audacious in the extreme Testimony: Relationships are an important part of personal and professional development. Brown explained, “Connection is why we exist…it gives purpose and meaning to our lives.”
It is a culture of storytelling that can drive this connection of focus on purpose and meaning. The three books on the following must-read list are for leaders who want to understand the full potential of creating a storytelling culture. While these books are clearly not business storytelling books, if you read them, you’ll gain a deep understanding of why storytelling is a game-changer for any organization that wants to empower its people to connect, speak up, and think creatively.
In this article, you’ll find three books that show how stories not only allow us to share information in memorable ways, but also drive meaningful connections. Read together, these titles form the basis for understanding how narratives can help us see ourselves more clearly, connect authentically with others, and communicate our messages in meaningful and memorable ways.
These books may not be available at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore, but they are all available on the used market. If you’re interested in the power of leadership storytelling and creating a culture of storytelling in your organization, add them to your must-read list today.
Career Counseling: A Narrative Approach Larry Cochran (SAGE Publishing, 1997)
Scholarly publications by Larry Cochran Career Counseling: A Narrative Approach Opens the door to thinking about how the stories we tell about ourselves influence our career choices. This book effectively connects the power of narrative to the business world. Understanding how stories help us know and understand ourselves will enable you to tell stories that create connection and cohesion in the workplace.
Cochran’s theory has moved the field of career counseling beyond assessments and personality tests by allowing people to learn more about themselves through storytelling. Cochran argues that with the aid of narrative-building tools, people are able to investigate and understand the hidden web of influences that are shaping them into who they are becoming. Without these narratives, we tend to rely on clichés or what we’ve heard others say before to understand our own trajectory. Narratives can help us reflect on and understand our own inner choices. Although written for an audience of career counselors, the frameworks are also applicable to other areas of business leadership and self-awareness.
Why did I choose this path when I’ve spent years working on other things? How should my team prepare to work with me as their new manager? What is the one thing I want everyone to know about me, personally or professionally? These types of questions are the ones that everyone around us wants to know, but no one asks. Being able to write a story about your own career—and help others on your team to do the same—will help jump-start the process of interconnecting and create cohesion in any team.
try this: Use the IRS Storytelling Tool to create a story to answer the following question: What experiences (not necessarily related to your profession) have you experienced that have influenced your perception of work?
Tell Me a Story: Narrative and Wisdom by Roger Schank (Northwestern University Press, 1995)
Artificial intelligence technology is making headlines again as OpenAI released their new chatbot that can answer almost any question. This pioneering tool may be credited to Roger Schank, one of the pioneers of AI research.While he may seem an unlikely source for learning storytelling, in 1995 he wrote a seminal article called Tell Me a Story: Narrative and Wisdom. In this book, Dr. Schank explores how narratives reflect our collective intelligence and how they affect the way we interact with others.
While arguing that AI must be based on real human intelligence, Schank reveals how humans are hardwired and store information in stories. For example, humans “index” stories to create relationships. When you hear a story about someone making an embarrassing mistake on their first day at a new job, you make connections to your own similar index stories that contain similar elements, if not identical material. Embarrassing mistakes, first day at work, critical thoughts about trying to make a positive impression might bring back flashbacks to your first day in high school, or the time you witnessed a co-worker’s faux pas during orientation. These index connections create empathy and strengthen relationships.
Dr. Schank’s extraordinary insights into relationships, interactions, and collective intelligence help business leaders understand why it’s so important to be able to tell effective stories to create cohesive organizations and connections between colleagues. In addition to Cochran’s research, Schank has shown that stories not only help us understand ourselves, but also help us build relationships with others, helping us understand each other, persuade and make decisions together.
try this: As a team-building exercise, play “Story Bingo.” Create bingo cards with numbered squares – one square for each member of the team. Everyone will be assigned a number. Everyone will share their personal stories prepared in advance in random order. If the story reminds you of a similar experience yourself, you can overlay the numbered squares belonging to that team member. It’s also a great way to practice active listening. The first person to cover all the squares wins.
How to Be Fun: 10 Simple Steps by Jessica Hagy (Workman Publishing, 2013)
in the book how to be funny, award-winning artist and author Jessica Hedge reveals the power of simple lines, circles, and titles to convey rich meaning. This book forces readers to have fun, be creative, and express their ideas visually. Although adding a drawing to a conversation is a deceptively simple communication tactic, its impact can be huge. A simple, hand-drawn Venn diagram becomes an invitation to engage in conversation – sparking new ideas and questions.
By being specific about what’s on your mind, you invite your audience to use their brains more. Not only are they picking up your words and tone of voice, they’re now using the part of their brain that processes visual information. Just as our brains are wired to tell stories, neuroscientists have discovered that humans can process an entire image and its meaning in as little as 13 milliseconds.
The story and simple visuals are “sticky”. We remember them. With the right story and the right visuals, business leaders can convey a memorable message and meaning to their audience in a fraction of the time.
try this: Map a visual representation of your company culture. Here are a few examples to get your juices flowing.
Through the ideas in these three articles, you’ll learn why storytelling is an incredible tool that can help your team connect, speak up, and think creatively. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Gain a deeper understanding of leadership storytelling through practice and by reading other storytelling books, like those on this reading list for innovators, entrepreneurs, and leaders.