Leadership & the 5 Superpowers of Storytelling

Illustrated supergirl to the right of title text "Leadership & The 5 Super Powers of Storytelling"

What a year! There have been so many different changes across our working world it can be hard to keep up. Virtual onboarding and hybrid workplaces have become commonplace, and on top of that all there’s been the Big Quit. Every day it can feel like there’s a new crisis, making it hard to answer all the emerging needs and problems.

All of this stems from the fact that people aren’t satisfied with the way things used to be or the way they are—and this period of uncertainty is an opportunity to redesign workspaces to be more engaging and help employees feel they are contributing to something grand. With all this change, we now have the opportunity to move beyond factory productivity and make work into something that fits human beings—not as cogs, but as people.

At Narativ, our work is rooted in story, which is one of the oldest facets of humanity. While there is no roadmap to navigate through this 21st-century workplace shakeup, we believe that the superpowers of storytelling make everything better (or at least a little easier). Let’s put on our capes and learn about these 5 superpowers that you can use to lead like a champ.  

1. Listening

An interesting thing occurs when we take the time to listen. Drab facts and knowledge turn into wonderful stories. Lots of them. From those stories, we can harness what is most important to our audiences and connect with them like never before.

In a recent Narativ Podcast, our CEO, Jerome Deroy, discussed how he worked with a company in the wake of George Floyd’s death. The nature of their business did not allow their employees to park their concerns at the door, and the company wanted to show they were listening. As they listened, they heard stories; and from those stories, they learned. They then took this knowledge they’d gathered and used it to create a new story about their company. It highlighted what the company’s goals were, the type of work environment they envisioned, and addressed the concerns of their employees. 

The result was a workspace that was more approachable. Employees felt free to share their concerns without worry of it negatively reflecting back on them. This allowed for better communication and helped employees feel appreciated and cared for.

Listening like this helps to shape our stories. When we listen and respond, the stories are shaped on both sides of the conversation. We can modify and adjust our stories to fit more intrinsically with our audience, but we will only know how to adjust if we listen.

It all starts with listening—the building block for all the other superpowers of storytelling.

2. Empathy

Most people don’t know this, but multiple studies—including one covered by Discover Magazine—have shown that reading fiction increases empathy. Researchers believe the opportunity to learn about other perspectives helps people understand one another and lessens hostility. But other than the value of a team book group, what does this insight offer your company? The truth revealed here is that it’s all about the stories. When you use stories in your daily work, and teach your people how to do the same, you’ll encourage and enable more empathy in everyone.

A study by the Center for Creative Leadership found that “empathy in the workplace is positively related to job performance.” It can improve communication, motivation, and help your leadership understand the needs of their employees more intrinsically, like burnout and workplace dissatisfaction, to help you get ahead of the curve.

Through storytelling we have the chance to see the world through another’s eyes even if only for a short time. Stories can help employees understand one another—and help your leadership better understand their employees. 

By empathizing through storytelling, something amazing naturally occurs: connection. 

3. Connection

When people understand one another they connect. And there isn’t a quicker or better way to connect in the workplace than through storytelling. The connection felt between individuals who share a story is huge. 

Think about meeting up with old friends to reminisce about the good ol’ days. That connection we feel is what makes it so sweet. The same applies to the workplace. Whether it’s a story they’ve heard or one they experienced personally, stories build camaraderie. A report by NPR quoted Uri Hasson, a professor of psychology at Princeton, who said, “As you hear a story unfold, your brain waves actually start to synchronize with those of the storyteller.” The connection is real and effective, and storytelling naturally builds it.

As our leadership engages in storytelling with employees, they will build that connection as well because it breaks down the superficial barriers we all have and cuts right to the core of our humanity. 

Along those lines, we often make assumptions about people, based on how they dress, talk, or act. But when we engage in storytelling with them, those assumptions melt away and we can actively build connections with them. Suddenly, the hard edges melt away and new understandings are reached.

Storytelling builds and strengthens bonds and one of those bonds is trust. 

Illustrated superhero boy with a pyramid detailing the 5 super powers of storytelling, each in a different color block of the pyramid

4. Trust

After we build these connections, the next natural occurrence is trust. Going back a moment, listening is the catalyst to all of this, leading us to a place of trust. We can build trust by simply listening to the stories of those we have built a connection with. As we respond to others with care and understanding, trust begins to blossom. With that trust, they in turn will follow our stories even closer and be willing to connect when before they may not have.

Forbes shared that employees and audiences can tell when something doesn’t line up; however, they will trust companies that are transparent about themselves. And trust is a two-way street. As your leadership engages in storytelling not only will their employees grow to trust them, but your leadership will grow to trust their employees too.

Over time, trust that is proven and strengthened grows into something even greater: Loyalty

5. Loyalty

Naturally, loyalty evolves from all of these elements. When we are listened to, receive empathy, build a connection, then have our trust proven, we feel appreciated; we feel as though we are being shown loyalty and it’s only natural to return that feeling. The superpowers we’ve covered leading to this point are all the building blocks of loyalty: Loyalty to ourselves, loyalty to our companies, and loyalty to our brands.

Another article by Forbes shares various ways to build loyalty in storytelling. One thing they noted was the importance of taking your time. A story shouldn’t be rushed. It should have time to resonate and sink in with your audience. The goal is to build loyalty through the story by taking the time needed to help your audience truly understand the narrative you are revealing and sharing. 

As the ultimate superpower, storytelling naturally culminates in greater loyalty as leadership and employees share intrinsic parts of themselves through the medium of storytelling.

Donning Our Capes

By harnessing these aspects of storytelling you can spread these superpowers of listening, empathy, connection, trust, and loyalty throughout your leadership. Your leaders will then be better equipped to foster these traits within the rest of your company.

The thing we find the most interesting here is that though each of these superpowers is valuable by itself, they are collectively so much more and when we pursue them through storytelling they flow intrinsically from one to another. This interconnectivity makes it easy to build leaders who successfully employ all 5 of them—and are capable of saving your company and the employees within it.

If you are interested in training your leadership to become superheroes who use these powers check out our Business Storytelling Training page.

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