I admire many people and I come back to a few as touchstones. One such person is Rosabeth Moss Kanter from Harvard. Rosabeth wrote recently about the power of narratives in leadership. She quotes:

People remember stories more readily than they remember numbers, and stories motivate action. Recent research showed that levels of charitable donations rise when donors are given statistical evidence of a problem, such as children living in poverty, but levels of giving rise even higher when donors read a story about one poor child.

Stories are an important part of your leadership toolkit. I was reminded of how important stories are when I was talking to a recent candidate about a job posting. They were going for an interview and I asked them “what story do you want the interview committee to leave with?” This situation had me reflecting about when you are searching for inspiration, when you are seeking to motivate people, it isn’t data or evidence that gets to people, it’s the stories we tell.

In keeping with my blog, here are some thoughts about how you can use stories and narrative to enhance communications at any time:

  1. Make it personal – stories should come from the heart. They should be things you experienced. Your passion and personal connection will come through. Inspiration comes from showing people how much an issue means to you and your personal stories share meaning and passion.
  2. Tell people why the story has meaning – a story takes time, but it’s really about a larger meaning. In an earlier post, I shared about the real champions in our schools are students who shine despite overcoming huge odds in their lives. I have many personal stories about students that are really inspirational – but the meaning of these stories is about a non-negotiable for me. That non-negotiable is that all students belong and all students need hope.That’s the whole point of those stories.
  3. Help people connect the story to their context – the above example of sharing a story about helping students feel a sense of belonging in their school may relate all secondary schools where we want to establish and support environments that are inclusive and safe. Connecting the story to the audience’s context is a critical piece of conveying not only the message but why the message has importance to others.

The above can be helpful in a number of situations. Reflecting back on the job interview situation, some of the best interviews I have ever seen had candidates who shared relevant and meaningful stories that we could relate to our contexts. As a hiring committee, we left not only knowing their story, but their passion came through as well.

I am not suggesting that in any situation I would tell a story. There simply are times and places that story can be a powerful communicator. You have to pick your time and place as with any tool or strategy. In addition, hiring committees are fluid things, a story may perhaps throw people off, but used at the right time and in the right way, a story can be a powerful tool for inspiration.

I have to share one piece of advice in closing when I think about narrative. Since the post really is about communication, often I see statistics and evidence used to communicate a message. My advice here would be that if there is no story behind the evidence, then there really is no evidence. Using statistics is important, but statistics themselves need to be supported by stories. If we were talking about baseball I wouldn’t say this but…we talk of children, learning, motivation, achievement – these things are more than percentages and graphs.

The next time you have to convey a difficult or complex message or if you are looking to inspire – think of a story. Why is it personal to you? What message are you trying to convey and how will your audience relate it to their lives and context? If you can answer these questions and pick your spot, story can be an important part of your communication toolkit.

Which reminds me, I was headed to Starbucks yesterday when….