Once upon a time…
When we hear that phrase, it brings back magical memories of someone reading a story to us during childhood. Suddenly, we have warm thoughts of fantasies, fairy tales, princesses, and pirates.
Storytelling plays a big role in the Art of Participatory Leadership. I was inspired to write this blog after meeting and hearing Bob Keiller talk, delivered in story form about leadership and the core vales. Bob is the Chief Executive of Wood Group plc, a British multinational oil and gas services company with its headquarters in Aberdeen, Scotland. He truly engaged the audience with the two stories he told, sparked by a sat-nav and then a banana, the later was the spring board to the groups core values the DNA of business – they’re a global gold standard that guides thinking, determines behaviour, and allows the Wood Group to adapt to local needs.
Stories and storytelling have always been part of how human beings pass on knowledge, share wisdom, and create new ways forward.
Our brain are simply wired for stories and that’s why they work in so many contexts.
There are stories we need to stop telling – stories of fear, of hate, of divisiveness, blame and shame. But there are also those we need to start telling. We need to tell about what’s working, about collaboration, about our dreams and the power of relationship. If we do, then connection and engagement will follow.
In an age of 24/7 news cycles, an increase in media channels which didn’t exist a generation ago, and the connections that technologies allow us, there are also key reasons for us to be aware of, work with, and shape our own stories. When we incorporate storytelling practices and techniques into our organisations, our lives and our family, we are more able to grasp the attention of those around us.
When we unleash the power of people through storytelling, we build connections in a world that may be connected but not necessarily communication-rich.
Where do we find our stories? Stories are hiding everywhere! Think of yourself as the Chief Story Archaeologist, the maker of a story. Perhaps you need a story about one of your organisational values in action or how someone overcame a challenge. When you know what you are looking for, you’re more likely to find it.
Look, listen and ask, observe people in action. Where could that story be hiding? Listen to what people are telling each other; perhaps the story is embedded in what they are saying. Ask questions to find out where a story might be found.
Explore your own life experiences; our lives and families are a rich source of material, especially when you can tell stories about what worked, what didn’t and what you learned that made you who you are today.
You may find a source of inspiration in the news, in a movie, in a book or a conversation that occurred over dinner. The themes you find will help to spark new ideas. Setting out your intention and staying curious will help you find the bones of a story, then it is up to you to arrange them in order to make your point.
Well-told stories will always have certain traits in common, which are layered and woven in such a structure: use of key characters, a theme or plot and a cultural setting. These traits eventually come together to create a narrative that is:
Credible, Compelling, Consistent, Coherent, Character-driven
Stories, whether written down, acted out, or delivered orally, form the backbone of any society. Stories communicate cultural value and important myths, and often convey history from the point of view of the storyteller. They engage our interest on a primitive level, and they act as a filter for new information. They are a connector, and a powerful way of synergising what’s going on. The key is harnessing their potential.