Storytelling as a Leadership Skill

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What stories are you telling these days? What stories are your campus leaders telling?

When I entered the phrase “storytelling as leadership” into the Google search bar, it told me there were more than 71 million pages to review. In other words, the idea that leaders need to be able to tell a compelling story is not a unique idea. I’ve included links to a couple of those pages below. That’s not really what today’s article is about.

Today I want to think with you about the contradictory uses of the term ‘to tell a story.’ Young children often struggle with this idea, don’t they? Make belief and pretending are okay, but telling a fib is not. When a child says ‘tell me a story’ they are looking for something interesting, wondrous even. What they don’t realize about tales from every tradition is that those tales often carry deeper truths. But of course, stories can hide truths as well, can’t they?

I’ve spent some time in the car the last couple of days so I’ve been catching up on podcasts. Today I listened to the second season of Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast “Revisionist History”. Described as a “journey through the overlooked and mis-understood” the two episodes I listened to today explore an outcome of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka that I had never learned about or considered. Not surprisingly, the story of this historic case has both antecedents and effects that are rarely included in our discussion about this case. (Title: “Miss Buchanan’s Period of Adjustment”)  He also told the story of a watershed incident in the civil rights fight of the 1960s. The incident was memorialized in a photograph and later a statue in Birmingham. But as radio broadcaster Paul Harvey used to remind us, it’s important to know “the rest of the story.” (Title: The Foot Soldier of Birmingham)

Listening to these podcasts today made me think of all the different stories being told across our organizations right now as we try to make sense of what we are experiencing and as we are trying to help people understand our options and our decision-making. What are we doing to help people throughout our organizations understand the issues, options, and limitations facing decision-makers? How complete are the stories we are telling? Yes, I know that we can’t tell everyone everything, but are we being too restrictive? We need to be sharing the rest of the story – context, history, bigger picture, and options or limitations. Stories can help us understand complexity or make sense of our reality.

Back to our beginning questions – what stories are your campus leaders telling and what stories can you tell to help your colleagues have a better understanding of your current situations? I encourage you to think about telling stories that explain, inspire, give people heart in difficult times.

Take care,


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