10 mistakes leaders make when sharing their story

The modern leader doesn’t just run a company. The modern leader is a figurehead, a public persona, a personality. They have a story to tell and a message to share, both within their company and within their industry. This story generates trust, buy-in and affinity and can be the difference between resounding success and abject failure. The problem? Many leaders make painful mistakes in telling their stories, undermining their quest for inspiration and empowerment.

David Pearl is the author of Story For Leaders, a book that describes how to create a compelling story and deliver it with impact. He is founder of the non-profit social enterprise Street Wisdom, which transforms ordinary city streets around the world into inspiring learning zones through the power of storytelling. A creative confidant to leading CEOs and their teams around the world, Pearl’s most recent book, Wanderful, explores our innate internal guidance system to help people find inspiration and new direction in a complex world.

As outlined in Story for Leaders, Pearl explained the ten mistakes a leader should avoid when sharing his story.

Don’t confuse plans with stories

“Plans are not stories and stories are not plans,” Pearl said. “So don’t confuse the two.” If you ask many leaders about the upcoming month, quarter, or year, they will give you their plan. “They envision the future with charts, numbers and timelines. That is informative, but not too exciting.” As Pearl noted, Dr. Martin Luther King started the civil rights movement with the “I have a dream” speech, not the “I have a plan” version. Dreams are inspiring and plans are not. Share your dream and your story, not the nuts and bolts. “Use a plan to describe where you want to go, but use a future story to inspire your people to ride along.”

Tell the truth

Turning a message into a compelling story doesn’t mean exaggerating or telling lies. “Fiction, no tampering,” Pearl warned. And the warning is real. “We live in a world of fake news and alternative facts. If you use storytelling techniques to bring a plan to life, people will wonder if it’s real or if you’re lying.” Being successful as an effective storyteller does not mean ‘creating more fiction’. Instead, it’s about telling the truth, the truth you wholeheartedly believe in. Pearl advised you to “use the techniques of fiction to ensure your message is heard and remembered, not to alter the facts.

Keep stories short

Pearl explained that “leaders often see a story as a formal element of a presentation. As something they will record in their next town hall, but not on a busy work day.” This doesn’t have to be the case. Stories don’t have to be long, flowing stories told in real time. Pearl said: “The most powerful story is the micro-story, a story that you tell in a few sentences or words.” He advised to see every interaction in your company as an opportunity to intentionally tell micro-stories, and tailor your response to it.Maybe explain that you’re doing well because some key Q3 metrics are brilliant, or you just have some specific feedback from a customer Stories don’t have to be long, even a quick response can paint a perfect picture.

Collect material consistently

Leaders who love to tell stories have developed systems for noticing and remembering when there is one they can use. You can copy this strategy by “keeping your eyes and ears open for stories wherever you are and whoever you’re talking to.” He said you need to “build up your mental story bank so you can weave stories into your conversation and bring your ideas to life for the audience.” Remember what people tell you, write down the surprising things that happen every day, and be ready to share new stories at the next opportunity.

Stay lingo free

Pearl said that “slang is generally bad for storytelling.” While business jargon is helpful for brevity, “it tends to be very conceptual and very difficult to connect emotionally with acronyms and initials.” However, stories are full of recognizable details. Far from the cold reality of EBITDA, SEO and Q4 numbers, “a reality-based story will be much more memorable and appealing to the people in your boardroom.” Machines like codes, but listeners like stories.

Don’t be the hero

The untrained leader can fall down here. It’s a common mistake. “While it’s great to use stories from your own work experience and personal life, be careful not to use them to illustrate just how great of a person you are.” Nobody wants to hear that. If your stories are about you, “focus on moments when you messed up and then learned something useful. Our authentically attuned world values ​​honesty.” However, a better strategy is to tell stories where the listener will be the hero.

Do not create a vacuum

Without the stories you create and share, there is room for others to take their place. “Nature abhors a vacuum,” Pearl said. “If you leave fertile space for other stories to grow, they’re probably useless.” By not intentionally gardening the messages your company and team members repeat, the standard could be “rumor, gossip, myth and misinformation grow like weeds.” The control over the messages starts at the top.

Give meaning

A lack of information is not the problem, but perhaps a lack of meaning is. “Your people need to know what all this means, and that’s your job.” Pearl sees stories as essential tools through which “humankind has understood the world since we first sat together around a fire.” Rows of data mean nothing without the interpretation you give. Trials and tribulations are just random occurrences without what it all means for the next steps. The role of a leader is to give meaning to resources so that their people remain firmly on board.

Read the crowd

Despite stories being his passion, Pearl knows that ‘a story isn’t always the answer’. Instead, he advised you to read the room. The key to engaging your audience is paying attention to what they need, moment by moment. “Sometimes they crave the inspiration a story can bring, other times just a detailed Gantt chart or numerical analysis is enough.” Keeping your focus on your audience should give you the insight you need to craft your next line.

Don’t solve the problems!

Instead of solving problems, which are most of a leader’s life, “the story requires you to do the opposite”. Pearl said you have to “amp up dramas, run for obvious trick situations, and look for discomfort.” Without this turbulence, there is no relief to make it safely to the end of the story. “The audience won’t tell you this, but they thrive on the awkwardness that comes when a story gets spicy.” Put aside the “risk mitigation you learned in business school” and enjoy the drama. It makes for a better and more memorable delivery.

Avoid these ten mistakes when incorporating stories into your business to be engaging, memorable, and effective. Keep your eyes and ears open for opportunities to collect, construct, and retell stories in both formal presentations and superficial interactions. Storytelling will soon become second nature to you as a leader, meaning you’ll have a more engaged team and more reasons for customers to get involved.

Shreya Christina
Shreya has been with for 3 years, writing copy for client websites, blog posts, EDMs and other mediums to engage readers and encourage action. By collaborating with clients, our SEO manager and the wider team, Shreya seeks to understand an audience before creating memorable, persuasive copy.

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