In life and business, we’d all agree some notions are better in theory than in practice. But one area this rings especially true is during times of change. Change is hard for everyone.
Change means stepping further and further outside one’s comfort zone. Inside the box, nestled conveniently between a sure thing and a safe bet, people have very little motivation to change anything at all, until:
- Labor costs soar out of control
- Processes are no longer as efficient as they once were
- We lose market share
- Our turnover rate skyrockets
- The culture inside our organization becomes less inviting and compelling, bordering on toxic
However, we know for sure that change will always be needed, but people will rarely be willing to make the changes necessary. That’s where leadership comes into play.
In theory, it’s simple. All we need to do is run a few reports, dazzle key stakeholders with our spreadsheets, and simply present our business case. It makes perfect sense on paper, in our minds, and even when we say it out loud.
While it seems simple enough, leaders and organizations are constantly reminded that it’s just not easy to convince people to change course, accepting the challenge of a new approach.
In real life, the best way to connect with and inspire change is to be real! Connecting with and inspiring the hearts and minds of those we lead will spark the change you’re looking for.
Whether we need to inspire our employees, our peers, or even our own leaders, few tactics engage, connect with, and inspire action better than a compelling story.
This is the difference between telling and selling: Managers tell people what to do. Dynamic leaders, on the other hand, sell. This isn’t to say great leaders manipulate people. They inspire people.
Consider the following: If sales is the ability to inspire people to buy a product or buy into an idea, and if leadership is the ability to connect with and inspire the hearts and minds of other people so that they want to become their very best and do what the organization needs them to do, then there is an element of sales in every great leadership endeavor. And that includes the change you’re setting out to inspire.
Here are three reasons your story makes a better impact than your business case:
Your Story Is Relatable
Storytelling makes leaders more relatable than numbers on a spreadsheet.
The more human a leader becomes in the eyes of their followers, the quicker people lean in and open up to their direction, coaching, and recommendations. While everyone has varying degrees of comfort with change, one thing we all have in common is that we’re all human beings. A human approach to leadership leads to connections, relationships, and followership over time.
The best leaders tell stories, not only pointing out what needs to change but also why a change in course will help everyone in the future. In sales, we call this “picture painting.” Just as the best salespeople are proficient at casting a vivid and compelling vision of the buyer’s future with their product, leaders must become just as proficient in casting a vision for their key stakeholders and teams.
Stories ignite emotional connections, and emotional connections create stories worth telling and leaders worth following.
Your Story Makes You More Credible
If a picture is worth a thousand words, a compelling success story is worth a million.
When leaders point to or cite examples of similar situations from the past, and how a simple change in course ushered in new realms of success, it asserts credibility for them and their recommendations. Data is often necessary and a useful tool, but it rarely works on its own.
The best leaders gain credibility, as they share and articulate stories of one human experience at a time. These stories include experiences of both success and failure. The important part is the leader’s ability to share with their teams what worked and what didn’t work, passing along the lessons they’ve learned along the way.
A compelling story gives the leader credibility, showing others what may be possible on the other side of a painful change, outside of their comfort zones.
Your Story Makes Your Desired Changes Actionable
Statistics get people thinking. And thinking. And thinking. And thinking. But, it’s an issue when you only use stats, data, and spreadsheets to present your business case. While the data absolutely, positively make perfect sense, all the stats usually do is compel people to think, study, ponder, and overthink some more about the situation.
Stories, on the other hand, get people moving.
As leaders, our job is to move people to move toward progress. Sometimes, that means we have to motivate new ways of working, venturing away from the norm, or disrupting the status quo. Once people relate to a story or, better yet, the characters in the story, they begin to feel. They begin to see themselves in the story, whether it be a story of the past or a compelling story of what’s possible in the future.
Remember, we’re all human, and humans are hardwired to feel before they think. Feelings and emotions ultimately drive the decision to act, change course, or move in a certain direction, not logic.
Stories, when delivered with passion and a heart for helping those involved, spark levels of action, while spreadsheets and business cases are left in the dust, merely getting people to think and think and think and think.
Leadership is about not only inspiring thought but, most importantly, action!
Bringing it all together:
Here’s how we recommend crafting your story for what needs to change and why: Keep it clear and concise—five sentences or shorter. You can use the following outline to craft your change story:
- Sentence 1: Share what needs to change: The key fact, score, or metric
- Sentence 2: Define what this means for the business and people
- Sentence 3: Be clear about what this could lead to in the future
- Sentence 4: Provide an example of a similar situation and outcome
- Sentence 5: Appeal to your employees’ emotions by painting a picture of a brighter future with the change or course of action you’re recommending
Your story is unique, personal, and, most importantly, authentic. It’s real, and it will make a real impact—much better than your business case.
Someone on your team, in your organization, or your community needs to hear your story. It may be what gets them moving, and you’re just the person to tell it.