Story telling – a social power for good

It’s National Story Telling week here in the UK (30th January to 6th February) and with home schooling in full swing we felt it was only right to use this week’s blog to celebrate the magic of storytelling in all its forms. From captivating the imagination of children to the skilled art of engaging the masses, the stories we share and tell hold a social power like nothing else. They offer us ways to experience how others see the world, they teach us lessons, safely and without judgment, they bridge gaps and help build relationships and, perhaps most importantly of all, they give voice to our emotions  – and that in turn can motivate us to act, to take a stand, to make things happen. So with all this latent energy just waiting to be released why aren’t we telling more stories as leaders?

Some people are born story tellers

True. But that doesn’t exclude the rest of us from becoming story tellers. We may have to work harder at crafting our tales and/or the delivery of them but it’s a skill that can be learned as well as inherited. And storytelling is, at its best, a team sport. The more people we can get invested and involved in our stories the better – because then our stories become their stories too. It’s often just a case of playing to different strengths.

When it just all comes together

A while back we were working with an Exec team and a group of their senior leaders  – a significant number of people all in one room, so pre 2020! The objective was to help them to articulate and share the story of their organisation’s journey, so we began with an exercise designed to reawaken their ‘inner story tellers’. Working in huddles each person spoke for 90 seconds on a given topic. At the end of the rotation everyone was asked to place their hand on the shoulder of the person they felt had spoken with most fluency and passion, the person who had engaged them and drawn them in. These people were our ‘super-tellers’.

Next, having reviewed and critiqued stories from other brands (a bit of background context to help set the scene for what was to come next) a group was assigned to begin scoping out a narrative while others considered how to channel the story, who needed to hear it first, where and how it could be distributed, internal and external opportunities etc.

We closed the event with the story being told by one of the senior managers – not the CEO, who in an inspired move led the way by sitting crossed legged on the floor in rapt anticipation. To this day we can’t remember anything quite so moving or so powerful – not just in hearing the story itself, as amazing as that was, but experiencing the emotions it evoked in the room. The impact was palpable, awe inspiring.

Great story tellers are also great story collectors

At Maier we’re lucky – we get to hear stories from others all the time, it’s part of the job and we love it. And while they never become our stories they can be vehicles that help us cross barriers, add a different perspective to matters, even open minds on occasion. Stories travel. When you’ve heard a great story very often the first thing you want to do is tell it to someone else. For all the technological platforms available, shared cloud space, elaborately planned ‘town halls’ etc. the quickest way to ensure your message gets around is to make into a story that people can and want to share.

Stories that can change the world

February is Black History Month in the US and what better way to remind ourselves of just how far-reaching and powerful stories can be than in the context of changing social paradigms. Black Lives Matter is a story we all have a responsibility to share. To become part of a growing movement of story tellers willing to pass on what we’ve learned – about ourselves as much as others. Whether our story telling voice is quiet or loud, whether it reaches many or just a single person – the difference we can make is huge.

At times it’s felt as if we’ve had little or no say in the narrative of 2020. For the most part, events have out-paced us and dictated how we’ve lived our lives, who we’ve been able to connect with, our emotional state – so perhaps 2021 is the year of reclaiming our story and telling it our way.