Strengthen Your Leadership With Storytelling

To lead in a world of complexity, uncertainty, and ambiguity, tech executives must invoke emotions in others — which is why many leaders rely on one of our oldest communication techniques: storytelling. Tech leaders can tell stories for a variety of reasons, such as to explain a strategy, show how technology enables customer value, or attract new talent to the organization. Once you figure out what is important enough for you to say (your purpose), you then determine the type of story you need to support that purpose.

Stories Of Origin, Change, Values, And Vision

According to storytelling expert David Hutchens, there are four core types of stories that leaders should tell. A vision story describes a better world enabled by technology change. A values or origin story communicates your technology organization’s alignment to the firm’s values and cultures. A change story creates inspiration for technology innovation to enable the firm’s strategic goals.

  • Vision story. Describe a desired future state with a vision story. Paint a vivid picture of the future that you desire by asking the audience to “imagine a world where … ” or “imagine if we could … ” or “what if we had that here?” Peter Senge called the gap between reality and vision the creative tension that inspires the organization to act. The vision must be inspirational, aspirational, and continuously evolving, rather than a fixed, concrete target. Leaders must clearly and consistently communicate the vision at all levels to ensure that all employees are aligned. Successful transformation requires a virtuous cycle connected to the leader’s vision. A compelling vision story provides the energy required for behavior change to bring the organization closer to achieving progress. The failure of leadership to clearly articulate a compelling vision will doom any transformation before it has truly begun. Align people around a strategy or transformational change with a vision story through which they can imagine the future possibilities and their own personal journey to that destination.
  • Values story. Being committed to values requires consistency and visibility from leadership in how they act and communicate to their organization. Show how you live by your qualities, beliefs, or morals with a values story. Align your company’s or organization’s values to example stories of what people have done to demonstrate values. Effective tech leaders demonstrate and communicate the firm’s values across the technology organization to align technology to the rest of the business. Values stories help develop your team’s culture and/or identity and a focus on being customer-obsessed. Employees who are inspired by their company’s values and understand how their work contributes to the company’s success undertake work that interests and challenges them.
  • Change story. Create a culture of innovation and learning with a change story. Trust, vision, and energy are at the core of change leadership. Effective change leadership defines the end state, removes obstacles, and releases resources. Great change leaders paint a compelling picture of the post-change state, thus creating the energy required to overcome any friction in the transformation process. They build trust with stakeholders to facilitate the process of letting go of legacy behaviors and forming new habits. Build trust by openly sharing stories of failure and learning with a spirit of transparency, humility, and authenticity. Doing this helps create a culture of learning and continual improvement and encourages innovation.
  • Origin story. Demonstrate your identity and culture with an origin story. Mobilize your people around your identity and culture by reminding people “what it means to be us” to create passion to move forward. An origin story explains where the organization came from (the founding story) and acts as an anchor for change. The best cultures provide employees with a connection to a shared purpose and a sense of belonging. While the business must change, the importance of its culture and origin is what keeps people together.
(photo by Etienne Girardet on Unsplash)