By | Sreekanth K Arimanithaya | Global Talent and Enablement Services Leader, EY Global Delivery Services
Like all introverts thrust into the leadership limelight, I often struggled with words. But over the years, they have become something that I have come to love dearly – they allow me to express, communicate and, more importantly, connect. As a leadership trait, it is extremely handy. And storytelling is something that helped me make the transition into public speaking.
Tapping into the fondest and most cherished memories from my childhood, I vividly recall listening to stories told by my parents and grandparents. They did not lecture me on morality or the message – they simply told stories. And what I picked from those stories has been foundational to my belief system. But what strikes me in retrospect is also my ability to recall them clearly to date. So, it brings us to 3 fundamental questions:
- What makes a great story?
- How to be a good storyteller?
- What does either of these have to do with leadership?
Capturing the imagination
There are many books, talks, and guides on the power of storytelling. But if I must put it in my words, it is something that connects, is simple, and has a recall value. In a world overstimulated with content, where there is a constant chatter – what you remember, what resonates with you – is a good story.
How can you tell a story?
As counterintuitive as it may be – better speakers do not make better storytellers. It is not the words, it is not the stage, it is not even your performance. Of course, all these help, but they are the compelling factors. To tell a powerful story, you must:
- Be authentic: Be true to your thoughts – it does not have to sound right; it must feel right. Tap into your experiences and share both wins and vulnerabilities.
- Be aware: Understand who the audience is. Make what you are telling contextual. Everyone listens and interprets information based on their experiences. So, some part, if not all of your story, needs to be something they can relate to.
- Have a message: A story needs a message, a journey. At least in leadership talks, it needs to inspire action if not intent. To put it simply, it needs to convey a point.
- Connect the dots: As leaders, we often deconstruct complex visions for large teams. So, it is essential to both share the big picture and inspire individual action.
- Speak from the heart. The sum of all facts is powerful but what is more magnetic is the emotion. When what you do and say aligns with your Purpose, your passion translates into a story far more powerful than what can be taught.
- Have simplicity in thought and words. While there have been complex literary works, there is nothing like simplicity when it comes to storytelling with the intent to influence. Remember, what can be understood and easily repeated lasts longer.
All said, we are looking at storytelling as a core leadership skill as leaders emerge as influencers. The focus today is on holistic skill sets which blend your unique competencies with classic tasks. LinkedIn recently added dyslexic thinking amongst skill sets. This broadens the way we look and interpret the world around us. It is symbolic of the times we live in where the right and left-brained distinction is fast blurring. When we look at the skills markets, there is a higher demand for people with blended skills combination and temperaments. Many great mathematicians have been exemplar musicians. But the aberration is fast becoming a rule as we encourage more classic humanities competencies into applied sciences and vice versa.
So, to conclude, as we work together more collaboratively, it is important to take people along. To take people along, you need them to understand your vision – making storytelling a key competency. I also believe that you are already a good storyteller. For you to tap into it, you need to simply find your Purpose, the right story, and of course, the audience.