Great Leaders are Master Storytellers

May 17, 2016

The best leaders are master storytellers.

The one who gets the job: master storyteller.

The one who gets the funding: master storyteller.

The one who gets invited to dinner: master storyteller.

The one who changes the world: master storyteller.

How can you tell your story?

Don’t tell me. Take me.  

  • Spend 80% of your time taking me into your story using vivid word pictures and sensory detail.
  • Spend the next 10% of your time making your point.
  • Spend the final 10% of your time linking your point to your audience*

This is my morning. Not all of it, don’t worry.

I’ll start with the applause, lots of applause. Not for me, but for the speaker who ends by applauding the audience right back. Then she bends her head forward, hands together in a humble prayer position, mouths thank you and walks off stage.

The women start gathering their things, bags, coats, scarfs to leave for work or line up for the book signing.I move between the hotel’s now empty circular tables like a bee going from flower to flower. Over my arm is the mandatory women’s pink conference bag filled with sponsor goodies.I scoop up a few muffins and some bags of donated cereal and fill up my bag. I leave the hotel and walk down the steep city hill past Louis Vuitton on my left, and Prada and Gucci on my right. The street ends at the homeless protest encampment. Three police officers are standing with their yellow flouro vests hovering close but not too close.

I plonk my overflowing pink bag down on a concrete ramp. One guy with the kind of teeth my dentist would love to fix joins me. We start going through the bag. I don’t even know what’s in it. I pull out a Hazelnut latte mix. “Oh that’s great. I’d like that. We have a kettle here,” he says. I pull out a lemon power bar I’d actually like, but oh well. Then there’s a fancy smancy body lotion and a lip balm.  “That’s great” he says. For a second I think gosh.. maybe I would have liked those but I push the thought away. Next out is a tooth brush.  “Perfect,” he says.  Next are organic tampons.  “We can always use those around here” the guy says.

He says thanks. I say you are welcome and that’s it. I walk back up the hill past the $6000 clutches and wander back into the hotel. I had a hunch Gloria Steinem’s book signing line would be close to done. It is. Five people left. Ms. G is 82. She’s been speaking up for sixty years. I hand over a thank you card I scrawled that morning. I told her that her speech 30 years ago, where she asked people to announce what they were organizing, was a life changing moment for me. I’d never before or since, seen a speaker share their platform so others could ignite change.

Gloria responds, “My being here is an excuse for us all to get together. I’ve been doing these organizing announcements for so long that I go back to the places I’ve spoken to years later and find out what’s happened.” I say “Thank you, for all you’ve done for all of us.” I reach over and touch the hand that’s written boldly for decades. Her skin is soft.

I leave, again. Turning the corner, I see a homeless woman who looks the same age as Gloria. She’s sitting cross-legged on the concrete, a cardboard sign at her feet and a box for change.  To her right, on the ground are two pink bags filled with conference goodies.  I wasn’t the only one willing to see her.

What do you see today that others missed?

If you want to be a good storyteller, collect your stories. Keep a story file by writing or recording what’s happened to you. Life will give you plenty of  material.

That’s my point. Remember I said 80% tell a story and 10% make a point.

The last 10% is link that point to your audience.  The quality of your noticing is what will engage you to your audience. The quality of your point is what brings your message home. That’s your link – the last 10%.


*I am grateful to Glenn Capelli for the 80/10/10 model



Are you or your business reaching the fullest potential?

If it is not your genius it is not your job.
Louise B. Karch