The Hidden Power of Stories in Leadership

Historically, stories have always been igniters for action. The power of a challenge told by masterful story tellers are experienced everyday at movie theaters across the country. I can remember watching some great movies growing up – wow – we all have our favorite movie lines by stars that were both powerful and motivating. What’s your favorite movie line?

Your stories can spark emotion or even engage people into new action. The ability to use stories in leadership can be a powerful way to teach important personal or business principles. We have to move beyond dry PowerPoint slides if we want to motivate, win over or engage people to a higher level. “Anybody who’s ever read a novel or watch a great movie knows that a story that fails deliver a surprise is dead on arrival. ” According to a great book – Tell to Win by Peter Guber.

The story isn’t the icing on the cake, it is the cake. Here’s how you build a successful story according to Guber. Great leaders have learned the hidden power of stories…

1. First – Get your listeners’ attention with an unexpected challenge or question.

2. Next…give your listeners an emotional experience by narrating the struggle to overcome that challenge or to find the answer to the open question.

3. Finally…galvanize your listeners’ response with an eye opening resolution that calls them to action.

Here’s an example of a story from this book: “Tell To Win” by Peter Guber.

One of the most the heroic characters I’ve ever encountered was a young boy with a crippling degenerative disease, who lived near me when I was growing up in Boston. His speech was garbled. He couldn’t walk, and he wasn’t able to go to school with the rest of us in the neighborhood. But I could see him at the window everyday watching us bicycle up and down the block.

Always get back up

One day his father appeared on the sidewalk hauling a bicycle with training wheels on the front and back.This six-wheeled looked as if an elephant could ride it without falling. As I watched from my window, the boy’s father carried him out and put him on the contraption. Then the father went back inside.

The kid started to pedal and in a minute the bike tipped over. I could see the father in his window watching. So could the boy. His dad watched him lying there and did nothing. Finally the boy pulled himself up. Then he went about three feet and fell to the other side. Again the father just stood there watching. For weeks, that kid kept trying and falling, and the father didn’t lift a finger. I complained to my mother, but she told me to mind my own business. I couldn’t. The drama was too seductive.

One Saturday morning, the boy crashed off the curb. I had to go down, But when I reached the sidewalk, the kid waved me off. Then his father tapped on the window glass and shook his finger at me to go away. Convinced he must be some kind of monster, I left the boy trying to pull himself up and ran back home.

Then, a couple days later, the kid was out there again. Over he went; up he went, again.

But then, suddenly, he was rolling! He made it sixty feet…then turned around. And he rode all the way back without falling! I looked up and there was the father grinning down at his son. I looked back at the boy and he was beaming back to the father, then they both started laughing and waving like crazy. And I started to cry.

Finally I got it! They both knew the boy needed to face the challenge and struggle through on his own. He needed to be his own agent of change, to be active in his own rescue. If the father did it for him, the boy wouldn’t feel like a hero. And only if he was the hero would this seminal victory empower him to face the other inevitable and monumental challenges that lay in this boy’s future. The joy I felt at that kid’s little sixty-foot bike ride was overwhelming.

My experience of his unique challenge, struggle, and triumph became an archetypal tale of persistence that I told myself every time my grades fell in school, or bullies beat me up, or I failed at some enterprise. The story of the boy on the bike taught me that failure really is just a speed bump on the road to success. Heroes don”t quit, so the only true failures is the failure to get up. This story’s call to action was to keep getting up.

So what’s your story….are you using it to motivate others around you? Want to learn more about story telling to influence others – I recommend reading this book – “Tell to Win” by Peter Guber. Was this helpful?

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2 thoughts on “The Hidden Power of Stories in Leadership

  1. Loved this story! I’m currently in the CPA exam process and it can be discouraging at times. My boss, encourager and accounting mentor is constantly reminding me that failures are those who stop trying. It’s true that success is relative to action and mental attitude. Persistence and perseverance are key in achieving that which one feels as though, and perhaps is believed by others to be, ‘the impossible’.

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