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Storytelling Leaders: The Art of Inspiring Action

Leadership Development

Every leader needs to be a storyteller. They must develop a keen ability to capture personal experiences or those of others and narrate them compellingly to inspire action. Effective storytelling isn’t just about recounting events—it’s about communicating in a way that the audience can relate with. Beyond learning from setbacks, challenges, and successes, leaders must excel in oral communication to make a meaningful impact.

Storytelling Leaders

So, are you following the “rule of three” in storytelling that can make all the difference, as a leader?

First, create an emotionally engaging story with a clear message. Think of situations or characters that your audience can relate to. Structure your story with a beginning that sets the stage, a middle introducing the challenge, and an ending that reveals a call to action.

For instance, when I conduct a session on developing a positive attitude, I often share J.K. Rowling’s journey. Imagine her hardships while on state aid, facing rejection after rejection from publishers with her first Harry Potter book (the beginning). Then, picture her resilience paying off when Bloomsbury finally published her work, leading to her skyrocketing fame and success (middle). Ultimately, her perseverance meant her daily income surpassed that of the Queen of England (the climax)! The message is clear: Be optimistic and persistent. A positive attitude will yield positive results—eventually.

Second, be genuine in your narrative. Authentic stories build trust and connect with the audience at a deeper level. Share your own experiences, including failures and lessons learned. This shows that you are not ideal but real and grounded, rather than an idealized superhero.

To illustrate, during a career counseling session for students, I share my mistake of specializing in Finance during my MBA, despite my Humanities background. I disliked number crunching and balance sheets, leading to dissatisfaction in my first job with a finance company. It took me a decade to bag a job in Human Resources, my true passion, where I finally thrived. By demonstrating my vulnerability, I make a powerful point: Choose your subjects and career paths carefully, as they will shape your professional life for next few decades.

Third, end with a call to action. Conclude your story with a clear and motivating call to action. The audience should easily understand what steps to take next. The more specific you are, the more actionable the advice becomes.

For example, in a session on Leadership, I recount an anecdote about Dr. Satish Dhawan and Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. Dr. Dhawan faced criticism himself when a missile launch failed but gave credit to Dr. Kalam when the next project succeeded. I conclude with: Great leaders look in the mirror when mistakes are made but look out of the window when successes are achieved. So should you—take the blame when the team errs and give them the credit when things go well. These are the traits of a true leader.

When your audience claps or gives a standing ovation after hearing your story, it’s a clear sign they are emotionally moved and inspired to act. Even the body language of your audience provides feedback—they admire you and are willing to follow your lead. Some may even voice their approval and commitment openly.

So, keep documenting stories in your mind. Use them to shift perspectives and influence the behavior of your team members as a great leader. Ultimately, good stories by great leaders form the organization culture where employees learn and thrive.

All the best!

Learning from Leaders