There's a skill that's never on the list of qualities that make a great leader.

But without this skill, leaders can't light a fire in their team's hearts, inspire them into action, and win their wholehearted commitment.

That skill is storytelling.

Stories are important, because they frame our experience.

A good leader uses stories to manage their own internal narrative, market to prospects, communicate with customers, and motivate their team.

A good leader guides their team members' narrative-making, so that everyone marches to a single drum.

A poor leader leaves each person to create their own stories--which may or may not be appropriate or supportive of the company's goals.

As you lead your organization through your journey, ask, "What's the story here? What's the narrative? What's the arc I'm looking to create?"

2 Storytelling Frameworks for Leaders

Define Your "Story Brand"

One framework that's usually used for marketing but can easily be adapted for leadership is Donald Miller's story brand.

Miller breaks down a story into seven elements:

  1. Character - The protagonist of your story is each team member.
  2. Problem - This is the challenge or obstacle the team member experiences.
  3. Guide - This could be you, the leader, or another person in the organization, or even outside the organization--anybody who has the solution to the main character's problem.
  4. Plan - The guide proposes a solution to the problem.
  5. Action - The character executes the plan.
  6. Comedy - If the character carries out the plan and succeeds, then the story has a happy ending.
  7. Tragedy - If the character fails, then the story has an unhappy ending.

By identifying these elements, you could easily map out the narrative for your team members (and the narrative could be different for different people in the organization).

When I interviewed Miller, he said, "Story is how you hijack a human brain." And that's how you get your team to join your company's journey.

Map Your Transformation

In Illuminate, Duarte and Sanchez describe the five stages of organizational transformation and the appropriate stories, speeches, ceremonies, and symbols a leader must use for each one.

Duarte says, leaders "need to know what stage you're in and whether your travelers [team members] need to be warned or whether they need to be motivated...."

By using the right stories for their stage in the transformation, "torchbearer leaders are the ones that get their travelers there in the right place in the future."

The five stages of transformation are:

  1. Dream - A new vision is put forth.
  2. Leap - Everyone gives up the comfortable status quo and adopts the dream.
  3. Fight - The team fights hurdles and problems.
  4. Climb - The actual transformation happens.
  5. Arrive - The goal is achieved.

The journey isn't a straight path from dream to arrival. It's usually a case of taking two steps forward, one step back.

But when leaders provide the appropriate stories for each stage, the journey becomes much smoother.

Duarte says, "Sometimes, instead of a vision speech, they need a revolution speech. They need to rage against something instead of having this new vision that draws them into the future. It just shows you the different kinds of speeches, different kinds of stories, and helps you diagnose what your people need to hear from you based on where they're at on this track, on this big, epic tale."

Duarte also emphasizes the importance of marking milestones, of clearly identifying beginnings and endings.

"As a culture, we don't celebrate endings and beginnings," Duarte says, " What happens is if they feel like they're in the drudge of being sick of fighting and climbing, it's because they're in a season that needs to end, and they need a new beginning. Those moments of demarcation happen around ceremony."

Your First Step: Listen

If you want to improve your storytelling skills and become a great leader, your first step is to listen. You must first understand where your team members are coming from, know how they feel, and empathize with them before you can engage them in your story.

Published on: Jun 28, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.