Leadership storytelling: a crash course

What is leadership storytelling? Why is it important to understand this concept?

Let me give you my opinion on this…because that’s what ‘thought leadership’ is….giving your opinion, offering your original thought around a articular subject.

Leadership storytelling is the intentional assertion of your point of view.

The key word in this sentence is intentional.   Deliberate. Purposeful. Planned. You intentionally take a stand on a particular topic and then illustrate that stance via a story. The story gives the stance context. It offers the listener/reader a memorable framework in which to concrete the lesson.

Used well, this under-utilised leadership skill will create cut-through, will inspire your tribe, and will elevate your standing in your niche/community/industry.

But how do we sharpen these business storytelling skills quickly?

Let me share my top tips to getting started with leadership storytelling, inspired by 5 great quotes.

  1. “Given the choice between trivial material brilliantly told versus profound materials badly told an audience will always choose the trivial told brilliantly.” (Robert McKee, author of Story)

You don’t have to have invented a cure for cancer, or created the next Facebook to have the right to tell your stories. Your life, your experiences are more than enough fodder to illustrate your value. You do need to have the right tools however, and you do need to practice intentionally and you do need to solicit feedback that will help you improve.

  1. “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” (Maya Angelou, poet and civil rights activist)

Your audience is the most important factor when it comes to business storytelling. This is where most so-called leaders fall down. Don’t get wound up in your own importance and brilliance. When delivering your story, it must resonate with your audience. Tell it from their point of view. Always be thinking: ‘how do I want to leave my audience feeling at the end of my story?’

  1. “When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotion.” (Dale Carnegie, writer, self-improvement trainer)

There is SO much evidence to show that emotion is the driver of a human’s actions. For this reason, you must infuse your stories with an emotional quality that hits your audience in the heart, not the head. Your story and lesson will be far more likely to ‘land’ and be memorable if you do so.

  1. “To be a great storyteller, you must first become a great story collector.” (source unknown)

All great writers are great readers. It’s just how it works. It follows then that all great storytellers are great story collectors. By being open to hearing and collecting stories you understand how to translate meaning via characters, plot and setting. You know what constitutes a good and a bad story. You understand how to how to craft a ‘moment’ on stage. And you become more in tune with your audience’s point of view. In the process, you build your own story library upon which you can draw whenever you are required to speak on stage, or when you want to share your message in written form.

  1. “Storytellers are more than just entertainers; we’re shepherds of ideology, the street pavers of progress, and the scientists of the soul.” (Conner Bailey, The Land of Stories: Worlds Collide, Chris Colfer)

Telling a story as a leader should not be done simply for entertainment factor. Nor should it be simply about increasing the popularity of the leader. Business storytelling has a specific purpose, unlike storytelling at the pub. Telling stories as a leader should be about opening the eyes of the audience to new possibilities, new lines of questioning, new thoughts. It needs to take them on a journey of discovery and encourage them to consider potential that as yet has been untapped. It is the duty of the leader to use storytelling wisely and carefully to inspire and motivate an audience to action.


In my ramblings through the interwebs I uncovered these quotes and they have stimulated this discussion on leadership storytelling. These five considerations should help nurture a storytelling culture in your own business and community, whereby you engage your audience’s emotions, use your own life as fodder for great lessons, and stay tuned in to your audience’s point of view.

Happy storytelling!

(This article was inspired by Esther Choy’s article, “5 Quotes That Teach you Everything You Need To Know About Storytelling,” Forbes.com)

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