How do you think of storytelling? As a bit of fun to entertain the kids? As an amusing way of passing a social evening round a barbecue or camp fire? As the heart of books and movies – something to enjoy in our leisure time?
Do you ever regard storytelling as a core leadership skill? A crucial part of business life? Do you see it as an essential tool for encouraging people to work together? As a way of cementing – or changing – behaviour pattterns?
At Podium Coaching we are steadfast believers that story skills are an essential part of the toolkit for any leader. If you want to persuade people to believe you, follow you, work with you or buy your product – you need stories… stories that validate your claims, make your abstract arguments concrete, and make your facts memorable.
Of course we need facts, and charts, and graphs. But data alone is not as effective as data marching in lock-step with stories. Facts are forgettable. Stories are sticky. Stories are the duct tape that allow your facts to stick a little longer in the minds of your audiences.
These thoughts came to mind because of an article in The Atlantic magazine about the role and status of storytellers in certain societies. The article looks at research by Andrea Migliano, an anthropologist at University College London. Dr Migliano studied the Agta, a group of nomadic hunter-gatherers from the Philippines.
At first, she wasn’t actually interested in storytelling. She wanted to know what qualities the Agta most valued in their peers. She asked them to name the five people they’d most want to live with. The survey also asked the Agta to nominate the strongest people they knew; the best hunters, fishers, and foragers, the ones who were opinion leaders, and the ones with most medical knowledge. Almost as an afterthought, they asked the volunteers to name the best storytellers.
When they looked at the data, they found that for the Agta, storytelling acumen mattered far more all the other skills. Twice as much, in fact, as being a good hunter.
Leaders who focus only on the facts and numbers will ultimately be half-complete leaders
Doesn’t it seem odd that nomadic hunters would value storytellers over hunters? Well, think about it. How do the hunters learn to be hunters? How do they collaborate with others to be more effective hunters?
Storytelling comes to the fore whenever you need to educate, collaborate or persuade.
“The key to the modern importance of storytelling is in that word ‘cooperation,” says Dr Nick Morgan. Dr Morgan is one of America’s top communication theorists and coaches. “A good deal of the important work of being a leader — creating strong bonds with followers and colleagues, evaluating the mental states of people around us, persuading others to share a vision that we can see but others cannot — begins with the stories that leaders tell.
“Leaders who focus only on the facts and numbers will ultimately be half-complete leaders — and not the most important half at that.”