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The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling: Mastering the Art and Discipline of Business Narrative

Awfully long title, but a fantastic book on how to use storytelling inside the business.

Stories are something I use a lot and in this book Steve explains why some of the stories I tell work and some fall flat on their proverbial faces.


appropriately told story had the power to do what rigorous analysis couldn’t

the idea that storytelling might be a powerful tool for management and leadership was so counterintuitive

storytelling is a phenomenon that is fundamental to all nations, societies, and cultures,

Leadership on the other hand deals with ends more than means.

Storytelling doesn’t replace analytical thinking. It supplements it

Story in its external aspect is something to be observed, analyzed, and dissected into its component parts.

Story in its internal aspect is something that is experienced, lived as a participant.

Storytelling is fundamental to the human search for meaning.

stories help galvanize an organization around a defined business goal.

Beware the well-told story!

Analysis might excite the mind, but it hardly offers a route to the heart.

A minimalist narrative was effective precisely because it lacked detail and texture.

found purely positive stories to be problematic.

the purpose of telling a story might determine its form.

a story designed to prepare people for change needs to evoke the future and conjure up a direction for getting there-without being too precise.

you could attach a positive story to a negative one and defuse it

satire can ridicule an untrue rumor out of existence.

Measurement has value when it is provoked by a genuine attempt to understand the consequences of action and is backed by willingness to act on the basis of the findings.

for managers-and indeed most people in the knowledge economy-talk is work.

the listener is not a passive receiver of information but is triggered into a state of active thinking.

it seems probable that storytelling will operate like an amplifier

Storytelling is a performance art

you will get better at storytelling through telling stories.

It’s as if something has just occurred to him, and so he says it.

he presents his story as if it has the freshness of a discovery.

He treats everyone in the audience as equals

As storyteller he doesn’t argue.

The performance of storytelling requires the storyteller to accept the conventions of storytelling at least for the duration of the performance.

Presenting the truth as you see it is a capability that is available to everyone.

make sure you are ready to speak-that you are fully there for the audience.

speak in an improvised, impromptu manner, not using memorized lines.

don’t read from a text.

women do better with words

men do better with the visual

in all countries, and all cultures, stories have a universal appeal.

ignore these differences and talk to your listeners as one human being to another.

An idea that merely imitates what others have achieved won’t inspire anyone.

If it’s not relevant, it must be deleted, no matter how entertaining it may be.

there must be a case where it has been implemented at least in part, somewhere in the world-preferably in your organization

minimalist style leaves plenty of space for the audience to imagine a new story in their own context.

it’s the listener’s story that springs the listener into a new future.

tell a story in a way that elicits a second story from the little voice in the head.

Transformation must be both personal to all participants and centrally directed in order to be coherent.

Ramming home the point is obviously counterproductive.

A frequent mistake is to try to spark action with a negative story.

the trick is to get all the bad news up front

respect and trust and reliability as key elements.

Having felt empathy and rapport with you in your story, the audience is predisposed to trust you.

The stories reside in your employees, in your customers, in your vendors-they

it’s the stories they tell that will in the end drive the value for the company.

Archetypes express elemental concerns that are both timeless and universal.

Employees live the brand and the company then becomes the brand.

Unlike value, talk of values ignores money; it opines on timeless appraisals instead of transient ones.

values, we assume and regularly assert, are what make us human.

Managers in particular need to give careful thought as to how to handle any dissonance between personal and corporate values.

Espoused values are ones that we think we should have.

Operational values are the ones really working in our lives.

Giving people instructions to be ethical or putting up posters with lists of values just doesn’t register.

Work can be dictated, but behavior only influenced.

starting with “Let me tell you a story about courage” is a disaster.

When people tell stories about the people they care about, they are revealing what they really care about themselves.

When structure and values compete, structure always wins.

Many work groups

high-performance teams resemble communities.

stories can illustrate what you mean without imposing excessive detail

contagious storytelling occurs naturally in social settings.

periodic face-to-face meetings with members of the group are necessary for the group to become

goes-the team that did well benefited from a leader who was willing to admit the possibility of doing better and who encouraged the team to learn.

Weak signals are the fertile area for knowledge-sharing stories.

can avoid making the same mistake again. If we don’t pay attention to these weak signals we may encounter a real disaster

Rational analysis is more commonly applied by novices who lack experience or by groups that want to develop a shared understanding of the approach to be followed.23

knowledge is only useful to those willing and able to learn

desire to learn, improved access to knowledge can be a liability,

we only know what we know when we need to know

concrete experience leads to reflection on what worked, and the construction of a story leading to further active experimentation.

the torrent of gossip and criticism that pours from the rumor mill is the normal organizational response to any effort to launch basic change.

they can’t control how much attention the members of the organization will actually pay

covert negative stories will eventually flow out of the organization and have a corrosive effect on interactions

Psychologists have found that people often wait for years to get even with others who had themselves probably forgotten the offense

the vision has used simple but evocative language to conjure up an image

If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.

The need to innovate is now perceived as the key to organizational survival.

Profitable innovation, in other words, can’t be bought.

success does not breed success when it comes from unexpected sources in the organizational hierarchy.

implicit in systems thinking is an engineering mind-set that is ill-adapted to problems involving human beings, their objectives, and their feelings.

For conventional management theory, a rejection of the Internet as a business opportunity for IBM was obvious-a conclusion so self-evident

Disruptive innovation is thus not the act of purely rational men and women

Innovation swims in the richness and complexity of living.

Innovation will sidle up to you when you least expect it.

any business model should pass two tests: Do the numbers add up? And does the underlying story make narrative sense?

use of narrative opens up leadership capabilities that are not available to someone operating solely in the traditional Napoleonic mode

Tolstoyan and Napoleonic modes of leadership, which are both in principle grounded in integrity

interactive, Tolstoyan leader works with the world, rather than against it.

Interactive, Tolstoyan leadership builds on personal integrity and authenticity.

Tolstoyan leadership doesn’t depend on the possession of hierarchical authority.

Narrative depends on emotional intelligence

Tolstoyan leadership entails active participation in the world, rather than detached observation.

talk to your listeners as one human being to another.

A story is neither right nor wrong. It simply is.

coping with inconsistency was never one of the strengths (or even objects) of the conventional management

True leaders do not lead because they are expecting something in return.