Most folks find themselves in a situation at work at some point where they have to lead other people. More often than not these leadership opportunities don’t come with the authority to simply tell people what to do. Instead, you have to influence your colleagues, team, clients or stakeholders to take direction from you. The most compelling way I’ve found to do that is with a good story.
A quick google search reveals over 25 million storytelling templates. Nearly all of them reflect some version of the hero’s journey. If you try to synthesize all that work you may find yourself spending more time coming up with a framework than actually figuring out how to get your point across in a way that will motivate your colleagues to join you on your own hero’s journey. Here’s how I’ve distilled these frameworks into a 3 step process for writing a story that will drive action with your audience.
As you begin to build your story arc, start with the current situation. Why are we even gathering in the first place? What’s happening right now? Be specific. Use data with numbers. Paint a picture of the landscape your audience finds themselves in at this moment. Has something changed in the market? How are our users behaving? What’s the competition doing? Is this just our situation or a broader market observation? Are there forces impacting the current situation that may be a concern for us in the future? Paint a vivid picture for your audience by answering these questions.
Once you’ve established context, now it’s time to share the problem. What’s happening that is of genuine concern to us? Why is it important? What impact is it having now on our business? What potential impact could it have on us in the future? If we don’t deal with this, what negative impacts might we expect?
By sharing both the situation in which the team is operating and the big issue it’s facing you start to create a shared sense of purpose. The audience now understands why we’ve gathered as a team and what we need to accomplish together. Don’t forget to be as specific as you can in this section as well. You don’t have to drown your audience in statistics. Choose the ones that mean the most to them and then move on to your next point.
This is where you close your story. Based on the situation and impending complication you believe a specific solution will help the team overcome it. This is your chance to lead through influence. You’ve done your homework. You understand the market and the root causes for the complication. You’ve put together a compelling hypothesis that you believe will solve the problem. This is where you ask the team to come with you on this journey. You’ve laid the foundation for the mission and have proposed a solution. In addition, you’ve added a bit of humility to the story by telling the team exactly how we will know we’ve overcome the complication.
Giving the team purpose and a clear definition of success is an excellent way to align and motivate them. You’ve made them the heroes and have laid out the basic first few steps of their journey. This simple framework can help bring a team together, align them with a purpose and influence them without necessarily having the authority to force them to do it. Besides, teams are far more passionate about their work when they’ve decided to do it on their own rather than being told to do so.
If you’d like to see this storytelling framework in action, you should watch my TEDx talk here.