Only compelling storytellers can be truly great leaders

By: Gavin Esler | Date: 01-06-2014

Tagged as: ArticleLeadership

Gavin Esler

The most successful companies are those with dynamic, compelling leaders. And as award-winning television and radio broadcaster, journalist and author Gavin Esler argues, behind every great leader is a great leadership story.

Over the years I have been fortunate enough to interview perhaps the best and the brightest stars of business, politics and the arts. What has become clear to me is that regardless of the many skills a person may possess, only those who are compelling storytellers can be truly great leaders.

A leader must of course have followers. That’s true of business leaders and their teams, political leaders and their parties – even pop stars and their fans. And those who forge a real and enduring connection to those followers do so by communicating stories. It’s a technique as old as The Bible.

We all do it at some level. Every CV or presentation demands that you tell your story well and capture your audience.

Communicating a good story

So what makes a good story? In my experience, the most successful leadership stories have three essential components:

  • Who am I?
  • Who are we?
  • Where is my leadership going to take us?

Every business leader should clearly and consistently communicate these storylines to their team. It’s all about defining yourself, your corporate identity, your working culture, your vision and your goals.

The most prominent business leaders do this exceptionally well. Richard Branson is a great example – the adventurer at the head of dynamic, ground-breaking businesses. Not everybody can tell a story on that scale – but we all have a tale to tell.

We can all play to our natural strengths to engage listeners. What the most effective leaders share is improving their skills and communicating their message clearly and memorably.

The ability to deliver a powerful and credible story effectively isn’t just desirable for leadership – it can be essential when times are tough. You need to articulate that you are in control, and if necessary defend your reputation by responding swiftly and assertively to any negative stories.

Continuous learning

At the same time, if you do make a mistake don’t ignore it or attempt to deflect blame. Convey that you have learned from it. Your honesty can inspire greater trust.

All business leaders need to convincingly sell themselves, their company and their product – in that order – and be vocal about their successes, because if they won’t no one else will.

But they can’t be empty words. Deliver on your promise.

Gavin Esler is the author of Lessons from the Top: How Successful Leaders Tell Stories to Get Ahead – And Stay There.

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