All Articles Leadership Communication How you share your story demonstrates your perceived leadership

How you share your story demonstrates your perceived leadership

Beware: Smart, engaged employees can still fail at storytelling.

4 min read



Lead Change is a leadership media destination with a unique editorial focus on driving change within organizations, teams, and individuals. Lead Change, a division of Weaving Influence, publishes twice monthly with SmartBrief. Today’s post is by Jim Haudan and Rich Berens.

Having a compelling strategy story does not mean you are good at sharing it.

Let’s assume you now have a great vision statement and a compelling strategy story supporting it. What can get in the way now? The answer is the ability of your leaders to convey it effectively.

The gap between leaders thinking they are effective at telling the story and what the rest of the organization thinks is pretty stunning. After leaders give a presentation, we often witness HR or communications folks high-fiving about how well the message was delivered.

When we then ask people within the organization how they felt about what was shared and what stuck, we get an entirely different story.

Addressing this gap provides tremendous opportunity for better engagement of your people and effective activation of your strategic ambition.

Your “telling a great story” goal should be to have a three- to five-minute story that is your own, that you can tell with passion and conviction, and that inspires people to connect with the larger ambitions of the organization. From there, you can build out your story based on need, audiences, or length of time you have.

Presentation affects perception

When a leader or senior executive delivers a poor presentation, 83% of listeners develop a moderate or significantly negative perception of that person’s overall leadership ability. That is impact far beyond how good a storyteller you are. That is impact on how effective you will be as a leader. Period.

Recently, we were in a session with the executive team of a large global financial firm that was going through significant change. The goal was to determine how the organization needed to evolve to maintain and expand its leadership. We had great dialogue, and the team landed on new strategies and structures that would profoundly impact the organization and people’s jobs for years to come.

For the last half day of the retreat, we took a step back, looked at the tremendous volume of work, and tried to create the story of what was happening for the entire organization. Why are we changing, what does winning look like for us as a company going forward, and how do we bring this change to life to continue to be a leader in our industry?

To start the activity, we broke the executives into two teams and gave them 60 minutes to work through the overall narrative and create a 3-minute story. The task was addressing the company’s 10,000+ employees and making the case for why this change was necessary and exciting and something everyone would want to be a part of.

Now this is a very bright set of executives running an excellent company. They have all the right degrees, global experience and a track record of success. They were also fully engaged in this challenge and working through the storyline.

Compelling, clear story

As both teams gave their pitch, the CEO sitting next to us gave us a funny look and then leaned over and whispered, “These stories suck. I would not get out of bed in the morning and be excited about this.”

This was astounding, as these people all worked through the critical strategic challenges, achieved alignment, were fully on board with the overall direction, and were excited to tell the story to the rest of the organization. And even with those requirements present, their stories did anything but inspire.

Think about your story; make sure it is compelling, clear and understandable and be sure that success is defined when you see the energy and passion that you have for the subject in the faces of your people.


Jim Haudan is co-founder and chairman, and Rich Berens is CEO and chief client fanatic, of Root Inc. Haudan and Berens’ “What Are Your Blind Spots?: Conquering the 5 Misconceptions that Hold Leaders Back” is written to help professionals scrutinize their approach to leadership and figure out personal blind spots.

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