Category: Leadership

What makes a great story: #2 Being part of something bigger than ourselves

My last post on what makes a great story talked about the need for an element of struggle and endeavour. The next critical success factor focuses on the human need to feel part of something bigger than ourselves.

Humans are social, tribal beings. Being a member of a club, sports team, religion, political party, or supporting a movement of any kind not only helps define and reinforce our identity and sense of belonging, but gives us a purpose – something we can contribute to along with others for a greater good.

We often use the ‘NASA’ story as an example. The story goes that J F Kennedy was visiting NASA, and asked a cleaner what he did there. “I’m here to help put a man on the moon” was the answer. He clearly believed that the part he played in achieving the bigger mission was important, albeit small. Similarly, an Olympic athlete is part of a team who, behind the scenes, all contribute to his or her success – and that team plays a bigger, patriotic role in the wider Olympic movement.

In business, we work in teams, where everyone needs to feel that they play a part in a collective effort to realise an organisation’s mission and vision. They need to feel valued – that they matter, that they belong, that what they do counts. They need to feel that they’re heroes, however small the part they play. Through team dialogue, listening and encouraging ideas for new and better ways of working, leaders can and must nurture this feeling of belonging, personal contribution and ownership.

Your strategic or change narrative should act as a framework within which people can play out their small acts of heroism. And telling stories of success and achievement which clearly link back to the narrative will reinforce progress, build belief and encourage others to follow. With a clear call to arms, your strategic narrative will sit at the heart of this movement of change – a symbol of hope, ambition and commitment to a brighter future.

Who wouldn’t want to be part of that?

Creating a movement of change – activating transformation

Virtual workshop – Tuesday 5th December 2023

2pm-3:30pm GMT

(9am-10:30am ET, 8am-9:30am CT)

We are hosting a workshop designed exclusively for senior leaders of large, complex organisations responsible for driving change and significant transformations.

In our current environment, new transformational strategies typically need to be implemented every 18-24 months compared to around every 5 years in recent times. For employees, the reality of constant change can result in a state of fear, confusion, cynicism and apathy, in stark contrast to the behaviours that are needed; innovation, agility, resilience and adaptability.

Yet people and culture are often an aspect of transformation that is deprioritised or value-engineered out of investment, considered a nice to have or too hard to tackle and measure. Not having a specific approach to activate people to deliver the transformation results in slow alignment and adoption, reduction in productivity and the risk of missing critical milestones and failing to realise the value of the transformation investment.

In this session we will explore how to overcome common pain points associated with people, culture and behaviour change.

What you’ll experience

  • Gain critical insights into the psychological impact of change and transformation
  • Understand the role narrative plays in creating a powerful movement of change, and the framework you can use within your organisation to activate people behind your strategy
  • Develop skills that can help you as a leader to inspire and influence key stakeholders and your team

Who should attend?

Senior leaders from large complex organisations who are interested in how you can activate people to accelerate change and create organisational resilience during significant transformation. Join us for an interactive story-driven session with a select cohort of your peers, delivered by experts with years of experience working with C-suites of Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 organisations.

This event is exclusively for senior leaders. Fill in the form on this page to register your interest to attend.

Getting everyone on the same page

Transformation pain point no. 25 

I’ve been involved with enough complex transformation projects to know that leading these in large organisations comes with a unique set of challenges. One of the most common hurdles that we as transformation leaders often encounter is the daunting task of getting everyone on the same page.  Especially across large diverse teams, widely distributed in various locations and departments, with an executive team with different priorities, and an employee base that is already change fatigued. Presenting a united leadership that champions the vision and strategy for the project is a critical initial step for success, but easier said than done. 

What can make it so painful? 

  • Interpretation causing lack of clarity: Different departments might interpret the transformation goals differently, leading to misalignment and confusion. 
  • Communication gaps: Ineffective communication channels can result in key stakeholders being unaware of the bigger picture, leading to resistance and disengagement. 
  • Personal priorities: Team members might prioritise their departmental objectives over the broader transformational goals, hindering overall progress. 

Storytelling as the solution 

Storytelling is a powerful tool to bridge the gap and align diverse perspectives towards a common goal. Through the process of co-creating a compelling narrative with key stakeholders and leaders, rapid alignment and buy-in are established.   

With a compelling story highlighting the significance of the transformation, a united leadership can effectively communicate the ‘why’ behind the changes and instil a shared sense of purpose among all teams.  

Identifying ‘quick wins’ and sharing early success stories builds belief and momentum for others to adopt the change behaviours needed – and critically help activate teams to meet core project KPIs at each stage of the project. 

Through consistent and engaging storytelling to share the vision, and recognise individuals and teams’ contributions to the project delivery and successes, you can establish a coherent narrative that resonates with employees at all levels, fostering a sense of unity and commitment towards the transformation journey. That’s one of many transformation pain points tackled! 

What makes a great story: #1 Struggle and endeavour

We’re often asked why a good strategic or change narrative can be so compelling, why its cut-through can be so dramatic and fast, and how it can shift mindsets and inspire belief and confidence in the future. What, for example, compelled employees at two companies we have partnered with, to retract their resignations once they’d heard their internal narrative? What was it about the story we crafted for a major building society that prompted a frontline IT employee to say “this story has been life-changing”?

A good story, like any Hollywood movie, involves an element of struggle and endeavour. Our flawed hero(es) (in the business world, employees) need a challenge to overcome. They need to collectively set out on a journey to resolve that challenge and, in doing so, transform. But the threat that lurks needs to be real and ever-present – it makes the story authentic, and gives us a reason to come together in response to a call to arms.

It’s no good creating a story that merely paints a rosy picture of the company and its future. That’s simply PR spin, lacking in credibility, authenticity and a recognition of what needs to change – and what we need to do to respond. It’s threat of what MIGHT happen, if we don’t take action, which triggers the ‘fight or flight’ response, releasing hormones which create empathy and trust as we will our hero to succeed against the odds. Remember that rickety old boat in the movie JAWS, where Quint, Brody and Hooper set out to find the man-eating shark, complete with duh-duh-duh-duh music signalling a potential imminent attack to heighten the threat? Remember that feeling of tension? Great storytelling, even if the shark wasn’t particularly believable!.

Leaders can inspire trust and followship in their teams using the same storytelling techniques, especially if their personal leadership story has an element of struggle and endeavour (humility is a strength, not a weakness). It can create a powerful, visceral response. If you’re not championing storytelling as a leader, you may be missing a trick.

Reimagining Leadership

Virtual introductory masterclass – Thursday 2nd November 2023

2pm-3:30pm GMT

(10am-11:30am ET,9am-10:30am CT)

We are hosting a storytelling masterclass designed exclusively for senior leaders of large, complex organisations.

In today’s dynamic business landscape, there are ever-increasing demands to innovate, increase productivity and accelerate or pivot your strategy.  Faced with these challenges, developing the influence and impact you need as a leader is key. It is not enough for your teams to simply understand your strategy, you need to inspire them to act, whilst building the resilience for continuous change. Storytelling is recognised as a critical tool for leaders to connect people to their vision, motivate them to embrace change and transformation and put in the discretionary effort needed to activate strategy.

What you’ll experience

This masterclass will introduce you to the storytelling methodology and techniques we have successfully used to support over 200 leadership teams around the world. Focusing on the development of leadership storytelling skills, we’ll also provide guidance on utilising a story-driven approach to accelerate strategy and transformation.

The art and science of storytelling: Understand the psychology and neuroscience behind storytelling and the benefits it brings to business and leadership.

Key components of a business storytelling framework: Discover how to put storytelling to practical use to help you navigate through challenging times and inspire your team during change and transformation.

Crafting your leadership narrative and storytelling techniques: Learn how to create a compelling narrative that reflects your values, vision, and mission, develop storytelling techniques to captivate your audience and convey complex ideas and strategies with clarity and impact.

Who should attend?

Senior leaders from large complex organisations who are looking to unlock the power of storytelling and become a more influential and impactful leader. Join us for an interactive storytelling session with a select cohort of your peers, delivered by experts with years of experience working with C-suites of Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 organisations.

This event has closed for registration. Please sign-up to our newsletter at the bottom of the page or follow us on LinkedIn for news of future events.

Inspirational leadership storytelling techniques Steve Jobs built Apple’s success on

Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple Inc., was not just a visionary in the world of technology; he was also a masterful storyteller. His ability to weave compelling narratives played a pivotal role in inspiring and motivating the people at Apple. Through a combination of captivating speeches, product launches, and a deep understanding of human psychology, Jobs harnessed the power of storytelling to create a company culture that drove innovation and excellence.

A compelling origin story

Apple’s story began in a garage, where Jobs and Steve Wozniak built their first computer. Jobs knew that every great business needed a compelling origin story, and he often shared this humble beginning with employees. He used this narrative to instil a sense of purpose and determination in his workforce, reminding them that Apple was not just a technology company but a symbol of innovation and rebellion against the status quo.

Creating a vision for the future

Jobs had an uncanny ability to paint a vivid picture of the future. He used storytelling to create a compelling vision for Apple, one where technology seamlessly integrated into our lives, transforming the way we work and play. His famous “1984” commercial for the Macintosh is a prime example of his visionary storytelling. By showing an Orwellian dystopia shattered by the introduction of the Macintosh, he not only introduced a product but also a vision of empowerment and freedom.

Making it relatable

Steve Jobs understood that technology could be intimidating. To bridge the gap between complex technology and everyday users, he employed storytelling. During product launches, he would often share anecdotes and real-life scenarios where Apple’s products could improve people’s lives. He made technology relatable by telling stories about how his own experiences shaped his vision for Apple’s products. And this technique continues in Apple’s product launches, with very emotive human stories being used at the start of the latest product event.

Building emotional connections

Jobs realised that people don’t just buy products; they buy into stories and emotions. He was a master at building emotional connections with both employees and customers. When he returned to Apple in 1997, he delivered a speech where he said, “The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.” This narrative of challenging the status quo and making a difference resonated deeply with employees, motivating them to push boundaries and achieve greatness.

Resilience through narrative

Apple faced its share of setbacks and failures over the years, but Jobs used these moments to reinforce the narrative of resilience and determination. When he returned to Apple, he often referred to the company’s near-collapse as a valuable learning experience, emphasising the importance of staying true to Apple’s core values.

Inspiring innovation

One of Jobs’ greatest storytelling talents was his ability to inspire innovation. He encouraged employees to think differently and embrace a mindset of innovation. He once said, “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” This narrative encouraged Apple’s workforce to constantly seek new ideas and approaches, driving the company’s continued success.

Steve Jobs was not just a tech visionary; he was a master storyteller who used narratives to inspire, motivate, and shape the culture at Apple. He understood that stories have the power to connect people to a shared vision, to make technology relatable, and to foster a culture of innovation. Jobs’ legacy at Apple continues to live on through the company’s dedication to storytelling, a testament to the enduring power of narrative in inspiring employees and a devoted customer base and driving success.

What can Bill Gates and the Rolling Stones teach us about defining leadership moments? 

Leadership is often defined by pivotal moments – those critical junctures where a leader’s decisions and actions can have a profound impact on their team, organisation, or even society. Be it an event, a meeting, a talk or just a memo. These moments can define a leader’s legacy and reveal their true character. While leadership theories and strategies provide valuable guidance, it’s the art of storytelling that can truly illuminate these defining leadership moments.

Thinking back to some great leadership moments that changed the world, I immediately hit some 90’s nostalgia with the Windows 95 launch on 24 August 1995. Bill Gates is in peak-marketing storyteller mode, Steve Ballmer at top volume, with some suspect dancing on stage. Whilst we can look back with some humour now, it is still a great example of a defining leadership moment for Microsoft, but also for the world. At the time, the New York Times called it “the splashiest, most frenzied, most expensive introduction of a computer product in the industry’s history.” In 1995, computers were still mostly for the office and productivity. But Windows 95 brought with it a word that consumers understood: “Start.” Start what? Start anything. Envisioning a brand-new era in home computing for everyone – a story that millions believed and could imagine for themselves, with the Rolling Stones ‘Start Me Up’ as the soundtrack. 

The release was a tremendous success, with Microsoft selling 7 million copies in the first five weeks, and Windows 95 was soon the most popular operating system on the market. The event put not only Windows 95 on the map, but also turned Microsoft into a brand name like General Mills and Ford and shone a bright, international spotlight on the company’s somewhat nerdy and socially awkward CEO. Windows 95 is very likely the first major operating system most people of a certain age remember. 

All because of a brilliant narrative that Bill Gates managed to embed into a real defining moment. A moment that mattered! So how can storytelling capture the essence of these moments and reveal the power of leadership in action? 

Capturing the essence 

Defining leadership moments are often complex, multifaceted events that involve tough choices, ethical dilemmas, and high stakes. Storytelling has the unique ability to distil these moments into a narrative that captures their emotional and moral essence. By weaving a story around a particular event, leaders can communicate not just what happened but why it matters and what it reveals about their values and principles. 

Creating defining moments for your other leaders 

By creating stories that matter in your defining moment or event, you can create an environment that drives inspiration for other leaders inside your organisation. Providing alignment and enablement for those leaders to create their own moments that matter. 

Providing context 

A defining leadership moment rarely occurs in isolation. It is often the culmination of a leader’s experiences, values, and beliefs. Through storytelling, leaders can provide the context necessary for others to understand the significance of the moment. They can share their journey, the challenges they’ve faced, and the lessons they’ve learned along the way, painting a vivid picture of the path that led to the critical decision or action. 

Inspiring others 

Defining leadership moments are not just about the leader; they are about the impact on others. Storytelling allows leaders to highlight the individuals and teams involved, showcasing their resilience, dedication, and contributions. By sharing these stories, leaders can inspire others to rise to the occasion when faced with their own defining moments, fostering a culture of leadership throughout the organisation. 

Transmitting values and principles 

Leadership moments are often defined by the alignment of actions with core values and principles. Storytelling becomes a powerful tool for conveying these values. When leaders narrate how they made a tough decision guided by their principles, it reinforces the organisation’s values and helps team members understand the importance of adhering to them in their own work. 

Building trust 

Trust is a cornerstone of effective leadership. When leaders use storytelling to recount their defining moments with honesty and vulnerability, it fosters trust within the team. Sharing not only successes but also moments of doubt or mistakes demonstrates authenticity and relatability. This transparency can deepen the connection between leaders and their followers. 

Creating a legacy 

Defining leadership moments are often the building blocks of a leader’s legacy. By crafting narratives around these moments, leaders can ensure that their actions and the lessons learned endure beyond their tenure. These stories become part of the organisational folklore, serving as a source of inspiration and guidance for future leaders. 

Encouraging reflection 

Storytelling allows leaders to reflect on their defining moments, gaining deeper insights into their own leadership journey. It prompts leaders to analyse their choices, strengths, weaknesses, and values. This self-awareness can be a catalyst for personal growth and continuous improvement. 

Defining leadership moments are the crucibles in which leaders are forged and their impact is felt. Storytelling is the key to unlocking the transformative potential of these moments, enabling leaders to communicate their values, inspire others, and leave a lasting legacy. Through storytelling, leaders can connect with their teams on a profound level, fostering trust and building a culture of leadership that endures. In essence, storytelling brings these moments to life, allowing us to see the true power and potential of leadership in action. 

Reimagining leadership – imagine what your defining moment will be… 

The power of storytelling in leadership  

Leadership is an art as much as it is a science. While leadership theories, strategies, and skills are important, the ability to connect with and inspire others often separates good leaders from great ones. One potent tool that exceptional leaders have wielded throughout history is storytelling.

Nelson Mandela is a powerful example of how stories are not just for entertainment; they are a powerful means of communication that can inspire, influence, and impact people on a deep emotional level. He skillfully employed storytelling to unite a divided nation and inspire hope during South Africa’s tumultuous transition from apartheid to democracy. As a leader who challenged the status quo, he drew on personal anecdotes of resilience and forgiveness, often drawing from his 27 years of imprisonment, to connect with people on a deeply emotional level.

Mandela’s storytelling transcended mere words; it was a powerful tool for reconciliation, healing, and fostering a shared sense of purpose among South Africans of all backgrounds, even when as a leader in power, accepting those deep divisions could have been the accepted thing to do. As a South African, I personally witnessed and felt this connectedness, particularly during the Rugby World Cup which Mandela placed into the heart of his narrative as a common goal to unite all South Africans.  Through his narratives, he not only conveyed the importance of forgiveness and reconciliation but also instilled in others the belief that change and progress were possible, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges. So how is storytelling such a powerful tool for leaders in business?

Building connection 

At the heart of effective leadership lies the ability to build strong connections with team members, colleagues, and followers. Storytelling helps leaders connect on a personal level by creating empathy, trust, and relatability. When a leader shares a personal story or one that resonates with the audience’s experiences, it humanises them. It shows vulnerability, making leaders more approachable and relatable. This connection fosters a sense of belonging, essential for a motivated and engaged team. 

Conveying vision 

Leadership is about more than just managing day-to-day operations; it’s about charting a course for the future. Storytelling is a dynamic tool for communicating a vision. When a leader tells a compelling story about the future, it provides a tangible, emotionally resonant picture of what could be. This vision motivates people to work toward a common goal and aligns their efforts with a shared purpose. 

Transmitting values 

Values are the bedrock of an organisation’s culture. Leaders who use storytelling to convey values make them come alive. Stories about past challenges, ethical dilemmas, or acts of courage can illustrate the values that guide the organisation. Such stories serve as moral compasses for the team, helping them navigate complex decisions in alignment with the organisation’s core principles. 

Overcoming resistance 

In any leadership role, there will be resistance and obstacles to overcome. Storytelling can be a potent tool for addressing these challenges. When leaders share stories of how they or others faced adversity and triumphed, it provides hope, resilience, and inspiration. These stories remind team members that setbacks are part of the journey and can be opportunities for growth. 

Making complex concepts digestible 

Leaders often need to communicate complex ideas, strategies, or data. Storytelling simplifies the complex by putting it into a relatable context. Analogies, metaphors, and narratives can transform intricate concepts into something accessible and memorable. A well-told story can make a dry presentation engaging and a complex strategy comprehensible. 

Fostering innovation 

Innovation often thrives in environments that encourage risk-taking and experimentation. When leaders share stories of both successes and failures, it creates a culture where taking calculated risks is not just acceptable but encouraged. These stories illustrate that innovation and growth come from pushing boundaries, learning from mistakes, and embracing change. 

Inspiring action 

Ultimately, leadership is about inspiring action. Storytelling has the power to move people to action like no other form of communication. When leaders tell stories that tap into emotions, they ignite passion, enthusiasm, and a sense of purpose. People are more likely to commit to a cause or project when they are emotionally invested in it. 

In the world of leadership, storytelling is a superpower. It forges connections, conveys visions, transmits values, overcomes resistance, simplifies complexity, fosters innovation, and inspires action. Leaders who harness the power of storytelling become not just managers but inspirers, motivators, and visionaries. They create a culture where people are not just employees but collaborators on a shared journey. As you strive to become a more effective leader, remember the transformative potential of storytelling and make it an integral part of your leadership toolkit. Story by story, you can inspire, influence, and impact the world around you. 

Reimagining leadership – imagine what could be achieved if your leaders were storytellers… 


Storytelling Bootcamp – Reimagining Sales

Virtual introductory workshop – Friday 6th October

2pm-4pm BST

(9am-11am ET, 8am-10am CT)

Storytelling is recognised as a non-negotiable skill leaders and sales teams must develop to move from a traditional transactional sales mindset to a strategic narrative outcome-focused mindset. With customers becoming increasingly risk averse and in a state of FOMU (fear of messing up), the ability to shape the story and solution of your product to address their challenges and business outcomes becomes a critical competitive advantage.

Why storytelling?

Imagine captivating your audience – clients, prospects and your sales team – with compelling narratives that resonate deeply. Picture how this will activate the trust, belief and motivation to act, inspiring your team and creating the motivation and capability to adopt new ways of thinking and acting, giving your leads the confidence to invest and your clients the belief to commit to a strong long-term partnership.

What you’ll experience

This introductory session will focus on the development of storytelling skills. We’ll also provide guidance on utilising a story-driven approach to accelerate sales and digital transformation, activating your team to embrace change and apply the discretionary effort necessary to implement it.

Emotional intelligence in sales: Understand the psychology behind storytelling and how it taps into the emotional core of decision-making. Explore techniques to empathise, connect, and influence through the power of your own story.

Leading and motivating your team: Empower your sales team with effective leadership through storytelling. Learn to communicate your vision, values, and strategies in a way that inspires enthusiasm, camaraderie, and extraordinary performance.

Delivering story-driven outcomes in complex organisations: How are other high-performance organisations utilising the nine key drivers of activation to accelerate performance? Get insights based on research and evidence from over 200 global organisations, Fortune 500 and FTSE 100 companies.

Who should attend?

Sales leaders from complex organisations who are ready to transform their approach from transactional to transformational. Join us for an exclusive and immersive storytelling experience with a select cohort of your peers. Mark your calendar for 6th October, and prepare to embark on a journey that will elevate your sales strategy.

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