Most leaders tend to focus on data and factual information. And accurate data is important for making good management decisions. But throughout history, communicating through facts has not been the most utilized method for sharing and developing leadership qualities.
Rather, stories have been used more than any other form of verbal expression. For evidence, look to Greek philosophers, wisdom literature from Asia, and the wide range of stories from multiple cultures across the centuries designed to teach guiding principles for life. Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, Confucius and Jesus all used stories grounded in daily life rather than plainly stating principles (or making lists of them, as most business books and articles do today).
Remember the Aesop’s fable about the tortoise and the hare? Briefly, in your mind, outline the gist of the story. What is the main principle this story communicates?
Here are some of the reasons that stories have incredible staying power in our lives.
Why stories are so powerful
- Stories involve different parts of our brain, which makes learning (and remembering) more effective. Stories obviously involve words, but stories also create visual images and pictures in our minds. Also, the most effective stories typically involve emotionally-charged situations: challenges, risks and adventure.
- Stories are non-threatening, which keeps people from putting up their defenses. Stories are usually framed in the context of someone else (either the storyteller himself or herself, or the fictional characters of the story). Since the story is not about “me” and is usually communicated in an informal style, most listeners start out with an open mindset.
- We often identify with one or more of the characters, and we can easily relate to their experiences and reactions. We “see” ourselves in the story and vicariously experience the same challenges and emotions the characters are feeling.
- We see characters that represent people in our lives (giving us insight into them and why we react to them the way we do). Some stories have characters with whom we don’t personally relate, but they remind us of others in our lives. The characters’ reactions then provide us insights into why they do what they do, and show us the strengths associated with character qualities we may find irritating.
- We are able to learn from others’ experiences and can observe different options for handling challenging situations and people.One of the core benefits of stories is that they allow us to learn from others vicariously, rather than having to experience difficult situations ourselves. We are also given examples of different ways to handle situations (both positively and poorly).
- Stories are easier to remember and communicate to others than facts and principles. Because of their imagery, stories help us remember their salient points more easily than we remember pure factual information. Additionally, we can quickly communicate the main points of a story and the lesson it teaches.
Listen to and watch effective story-tellers. Practice communicating key principles through stories. Think about life experiences that have impacted you, and start to tell stories to teach important lessons to those you are leading. And, while you are learning, share story-based books with others and discuss them together to glean the lessons they hold.