“There are some stories that if you spend some time to develop them, they’ll be useful to you over and over and over again.”
Paul Smith is one of the world’s leading experts in business storytelling. He’s one of Inc. Magazine’s Top 100 Leadership Speakers of 2018, a storytelling coach, and bestselling author of the books The 10 Stories Great Leaders Tell, Sell with a Story, Lead with a Story, and Parenting with a Story. He holds an MBA from the Wharton School, is a former consultant at Accenture, and former executive and 20-year veteran of The Procter & Gamble Company.
Criteria for choosing stories.
Paul: “I wanted to pick stories that I knew my clients, my executive clients who hire me to help them craft stories wanted help with. The second criteria was, I wanted stories that I knew would be useful to people in all functional disciplines. So not just IT leaders or marketing leaders or sales or the CEO. I wanted them to be helpful for everybody. Third, I wanted to pick stories that I knew would touch on areas that I knew from my 30 some odd years of kicking around the business world, leaders need to exert some influence in these areas.”
Paul: “Third, I wanted to pick stories that I knew would touch on areas that I knew from my 30 some odd years of kicking around the business world, leaders need to exert some influence in these areas. Some areas you know are just not high priority for a leader to really get involved in and some areas are, so I wanted to be in those areas that are.”
Paul: “The last criteria was, I wanted stories that I knew would last a long time. In other words, there are some stories you tell that you’ll accomplish your objective and you’ll never need to tell the story again, or facts will change that story is just out of date and no longer useful. But some stories like your founding story, well that should never change. The company’s never going to get re-founded. If you spend some time to develop them, they’ll be useful to you over and over and over again.
10 stories great leaders tell.
Paul: “I will give you the list of the whole 10. Now in the book, there’s an example of course of each one of the 10, and there’s some tips on how you can find and craft your own.”
Paul: “So of the 10 stories, the first four go together because they’re about setting direction for the organization. So here they are: “Where we came from”. So that’s our founding story that I just mentioned. “Why we can’t stay there”. So that’s a case for change. “Where we’re going”, which is a vision story. “How we’re going to get there”, which is a strategy story. You can imagine as a leader, if you can tell those four stories well, you’ve got a much better chance of getting the organization to go where you want them to go.”
Paul: “The next four go together as well. They’re more about who we are as an organization. So that’s: “What we believe”, a corporate values story. “Who we serve”. I call that a customer story, a story about your customer so that everybody you work with can really have a visceral human understanding of who you’re working for. “What we do for our customers”, a sales story. That’s basically like a customer success story. Eight is: “How we’re different from our competitors”. I call that a marketing story because I think the job of marketing is generally differentiating yourself from your competitors.”
Paul: “The last two are more personal to you as the leader. So it’s, “Why I lead the way I do”. My personal leadership philosophy story. Number 10 is: “Why you should want to work here”. It’s every leader’s job to get talented people to come work in the organization and stay. That’s not just the job of the HR department or the recruiting department. Every leader needs to do that some of the time.”
Story crafting tips.
Paul: “Stories ought to follow a good structure. I recommend that there are eight questions your story needs to answer and in a particular order to have the most effective story. Why should I listen to this story? Where and when did it take place? Who’s the main character and what did they want? What was the problem or opportunity they ran into? What did they do about it and how did it turn out in the end? What did you learn from the story? What do you think I should go do now?”
Paul: “If you answer those questions in that order, a story will naturally emerge in the structure that a story should emerge in. I think that’s an important tool because most of these stories are just two, three, or four minutes long. These are not 10 or 15 minute stories. They’re not one hour long stories. These are short powerful stories. If you don’t have a structure to follow, you’ll just meander and ramble on.”