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January 02, 2019 Wednesday 02:27:57 PM IST



Leadership is mainly about motivating others to make a story come true. Hence, if you’re leading people, you’re telling them a story. Storytelling is the instrument that addresses emotions of individuals; not their rational mind. It has the potential to surpass barriers people create to safeguard themselves against the external world and innovative ideas. Remarkable storytellers have a great competitive advantage. They are going to recruit better, they will be sweethearts in the press, they are going to raise money effortlessly and at higher prices, they are going to handle astonishing business developer partnerships, and they are going to have a strong and solid corporate culture. In a nutshell, they are more likely to deliver a positive investment return.

Some of the most successful organizations in the world use storytelling very deliberately as a leadership tool. They do this in numerous ways. Many have a strategic corporate storyteller whose job is to identify and share their most significant stories. At Nike, in fact, the entire top management are designated corporate storytellers. Other firms impart storytelling skills to their executives. Kimberly-Clark, for instance, provides three-day workshops to teach its multi-step programme for creating stories and giving presentations with them. 3M barred bullet points and substituted them with a method of writing “strategic narratives.” P&G has appointed Hollywood movie directors to teach its senior executives how to lead better with storytelling. Experiences of four master corporate storytellers are given below.

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs understood the importance of storytelling and it was one of the main reasons as to why his product launches were considered legendary. On January 24, 1984, Steve Jobs announced the first Macintosh during Apple’s annual shareholder meeting. His first words upon approaching the microphone set the narrative and introduced the main antagonist, IBM. According to his narrative, the villain is a force that is targeting its last hindrance—the hero who is the last entity that can defend freedom. He used a similar technique during the 2007 introduction of the iPhone. Before Jobs revealed the new phone and described its features, he spent three minutes introducing the antagonist, the current category of smartphones. This was classic example of his narrative skills. First introduce the problem (villain) followed by the solution (hero). The problem was that the culprits were not too smart and not easy to use.  According to Jobs, the iPhone’s interface wasn’t just an upgradation but a real revolution.

Bryan Chesky

When the chief executive officer of Airbnb, Bryan Chesky announced Trips, a service facilitating Airbnb customers to book tours and experiences, he also provided an instructive lesson in storytelling. The service itself was designed deliberately too, with story as its motivation. According to Chesky, a character starts in their normal world. They surpass the threshold to this new magical world, where they meet individuals. Then, they have a moment of transformation and they return to the ordinary world. Chesky says he recognized that shared lodgings and places — Airbnb’s bread and butter — is just one part of the journey. Customers recollect the magic of an experience.  He skilfully creates a close relationship with his audience, sharing photos and memories, and asking the audience to intentionally call to mind their own. The service of constructing magical experiences is then presented naturally and effortlessly, because the audience’s fantasy, reminiscences, and emotions have been involved.

Elon Musk

Elon Musk, from the start of his career, displayed an impressive ability to persuade investors to put at stake large amounts of money on what must have seemed highly uncertain, even impractical, business propositions. Mr. Musk is remarkably good at explaining what he wants to do in plain language that captures people’s imaginations. On April 30, 2015, Elon Musk presented the Powerwall, a home battery system that is charged by using electricity produced from solar panels. Even though there was nothing really ground-breaking about the lithium-ion battery technology, Musk set an unforgettable pitch. His presentation altered the audience’s perception of batteries — similar to a situation where Steve Jobs communicated about a new laptop, or introduced the iPhone. Musk starts his presentation with recapping the audience about how today’s power is created. Then, before revealing anything about his firm’s real product, he explains why today’s electricity grid is not accurately working. Finally, only after more than 6 minutes, he comes up with the product, the Tesla Powerwall.

Richard Branson

Maverick entrepreneur Richard Branson has spoken on numerous occasions about his great respect for storytelling, and his belief that other entrepreneurs should be educated as to how to leverage on storytelling as a valuable technique in their business arsenal. In an interview, he said that the Virgin story — its success, failures, opportunities, and challenges — is what attracts individuals to its products and services, as well as enticing employees to join the Virgin family. According to him, Virgin would be nothing without their story. Ever since he started business with Student Magazine, he has been spellbound by the intersection between storytelling and entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurs who make a difference are, in effect, proficient storytellers. Branson has evidently passed on his fondness for storytelling to his senior leaders. In 2017, devoted an entire month to storytelling, helping to coach entrepreneurs about the use of storytelling for attracting investors, serving customers, and guaranteeing corporate social responsibility.

As the world becomes larger, storytelling makes it smaller, bringing individuals together, linking them through shared themes, empowering one to share values and insights, and kindling passion. Powerful stories fire our imagination, move us to make brave decisions and inspire astonishing success. With stories, leaders can motivate employees to outshine, align themselves with stakeholders and communities and involve more efficiently with customers. Storytelling isn’t a style accessory that leaders can choose to wear or not. Factually, leadership is all about storytelling and leaders have to be exceptional storytellers. As rightly said by Alexander Mackenzie, never had there been a time when business was so hungry for storytelling than the present.

Dr. Manu Melwin Joy

The writer is an Assistant Professor at School of Management Studies, CUSAT

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