Leaders Tell Good Stories

Leaders Tell Good Stories
Joe Burroughs

Joe Burroughs

Many people are frustrated by uncertainty and complexity in their jobs. I use Agile principles to provide clear and simple strategies so that you can win at work!

Great leaders tell great stories

Leaders learn early that in order to get support for their ideas and points of view they need to become great story tellers. Having a good story is often the difference between an initiative getting the green light or stopped in its tracks. If you can craft the story you are trying to share in a way that decision makers can understand you will have crossed the first bridge to getting you message heard and internalized.

Align your story with organizational goals

Often the end of the story is written first: the dragon is defeated and the kingdom rejoices. Take this approach and align the positive outcome of your ask with leadership goals. For example, if the work you are hoping to get funded will improve customer satisfaction and that aligns with a leadership goal of “delighting customers with improved products” then your story will wrap up with that happy ending. In other words you want to position your “dragon” to be among the dragons leaders are already hoping to slay this year or this quarter.

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Position decision makers as the heroes

Every good story has a hero or two and for your story to really catch on with decision makers it helps if they can see themselves as one of those heroes. Unfortunately, story tellers often position themselves as the hero which is significantly less effective. Consider your story from the perspective of your intended audience. If you are trying to convince senior leadership to fund an effort, then you will want to describe how that effort will help them on their quest to achieving their goals. In that way they become the hero and your idea helps them achieve their desired outcome. Allowing them to assume the role of hero is key to obtaining their buy-in. It is easy for decision makers to visualize the importance of advice, tools, or work that helps them accomplish what they are already focused on (slaying their dragons) anything else is seen as a distraction.

Assume the role of a guide in the story

If the decision makers are the heroes then you should assume the role of the guide or helper who gives the hero the advice or tools to accomplish their goals. This allows the decision makers to visualize themselves as accomplishing their goals but also places you in a role that is critical to their success. They can’t achieve the goal without the help of their guide!

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Repetition is key to transmitting your story

Senior leaders and decision makers are bombarded with emails, messages, phone calls, and conferences from sun up until sun down. Your story is going to need to stand out among all these other competing ideas and messages. The key to standing out has two parts:

Making sure your story stands out:

  • Your story needs a tagline. A short catchy phrase or line that explains the central idea. It absolutely must be clear and easy to remember. Think about an advertising slogan, “Good to the last drop,” “Just do it,” “A diamond is forever,” “Melts in your mouth, not in your hands.” These are short, clear, and memorable taglines that help  your message stand out and be easily recalled and remembered.
  • Your story needs to be repeated. The average person has to interact with a message 5-8 times before they even become aware of it! The bar is even higher when you are competing for the attention of senior leaders so you will need to get a quick sound bite regarding your story in front of your audience 8-10 times before they are warmed up enough for you to “pitch it” to them. You can add a bullet point or two to status updates, weekly reports, other presentations, and end calls teasing it as “coming soon!”

I can't wait to hear your story

I would love it if you would take just a moment and write the first sentence of the story you are looking to share with senior leaders or decision makers in your organization. Just put it in the comments below and let’s see how we can make your story come to life!


Joe Burroughs

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