Storytelling workshop & training with master business storyteller Jordan Bower. Storytelling consultant

A Beginner’s Guide to Leadership Storytelling

What is Leadership Storytelling?

Over the last decade, leadership storytelling has become one of those business buzzwords: easy to throw around and completely vague. The problem is that leadership storytelling can refer to so many different business objectives:

  • Marketing content like ads, videos and posts on social media
  • Sales content like presentation decks and demos
  • Thought leadership content like essays, articles and keynote speeches/TED talks
  • Strategic narratives like product positioning and transformation agendas
  • Personal narratives that create connection and authenticity with stakeholders
  • Leadership responses to global events and internal change

The list can go on. All of these fall under the umbrella of leadership storytelling.

But wait. There’s more. Leadership storytelling can also take many different forms. It can mean literally telling a vulnerable story like Brené Brown. It can mean thinking about your sales narrative as if it’s a story, like in this article written by my colleague Andy Raskin. There’s PR, there’s lobbying, there’s formal presentations and informal stories told over the virtual watercooler…

Leadership storytelling is everywhere because it’s so pervasive. Or maybe it’s so pervasive because it’s everywhere. Either way, in a world of YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, Netflix, always-on news channels and always-unpredictable ongoing change, leadership storytelling isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Many people will come to this page having Googled a very straightforward question like “what is leadership storytelling” or “how do I tell a good leadership story”. They may be disappointed to realize that this question is much more complex than it sounds. The most straightfoward answer is: it depends.

It depends on…

  • Who your audience is, how they think and what they value
  • The essence of the point that you’re trying to get across
  • What you yourself think (and feel) about your message
  • What type of story you want to tell (i.e. speech, article, video, strategic narrative)
  • How creative you allow yourself to be

As difficult as it is to define, I’m going to argue that leadership storytelling is the most important skill that anyone who communicates with other humans can learn.

Let me go one step further: leadership storytelling is essential to the success of every organization in the world today.

Confused yet? Ready to dive deeper? Great. I’m glad you’re here 😀

Leadership Storytelling is about making meaning for others—and ourselves.

The history of narrative begins with the history of mankind; there does not exist, and never has existed, a people without narratives.” (Roland Barthes)

At its core, storytelling is about meaning making. It’s about taking a fact or a data point or a momentary experience and transforming it by literally changing its form into a narrative that other people can experience, remember and share.

Before we get into how this works, I think it’s fundamental that we stop and marvel that this works at all. When you start to dig beneath the surface, you quickly realize that other people are literally made of stories. We all “story” our lives in incredibly dynamic and complex ways. Our identities are stories; our histories are stories; our futures are stories too. We tell stories about our relationships to other people; we tell stories about how we relate to groups.

Other types of stories include:

  • Accounts
  • Tales
  • News
  • Chronicles
  • Reports
  • Anecdotes
  • Rumors
  • Gossip
  • Myths
  • Legends
  • Dramas
  • Tragedies
  • Comedies
  • Satire
  • Fairy Tales
  • Fictions

No one will ever find a story in our brains, because stories don’t exist as material constructions. But all of our brains are full of stories.

Leadership storytelling is about deeply considering how our professional stories about marketing, sales and strategy—and about the past, the future and change—connect to the existing stories inside the heads of the people we want to listen to us.

We are all storytellers, as thousands of TED talks continue to tell us. Once we marvel at the scope of story, we can start to figure out how we use it.

My Vision for this Leadership Storytelling Guide

A Beginner's Guide to  Leadership Storytelling
Me in my COVID jail cell… I mean my leadership storytelling head office

My name is Jordan Bower, and I’m a professional leadership storyteller. Over the last 10+ years, I’ve made myself an expert on everything business storytelling. I lead storytelling workshops, I coach individual leadership storytellers one-on-one and I advise corporate leaders on large-scale, complex questions that relate to narrative, strategy and transformation. I’ve worked with plenty of clients from very big to very small, so I know my stuff pretty well.

I LOVE this subject matter.

Naturally, I didn’t go to school for leadership storytelling—because, right now, no such thing exists. Instead, I’m self-taught—which actually means that I’ve learned a ton from some exceptionally talented storytelling mentors. They’ve helped me learn to bridge the creative and the practical.

Speaking of bridges… my journey towards becoming who I am today started in 2010, when I spent about a year walking by myself down the West Coast of the US, from Canada to Mexico. That solo and intensely intimate walking trip was my coming-of-age as a storyteller. Along the way, I learned that great storytelling is more than theory; it needs to be supported by a meaningful emotional journey that raises the theory to a level of authenticity and meaning.

Ever since then, this revelation about the interplay between the practical theory and the emotional journey has been the foundation of my work. It’s the essence of what I teach to my clients. And it’s also what I want to teach you.

My vision for this Leadership Storytelling Guide is not just that it will “teach” you how to be a good storyteller. I hope that it will change how you think about communicating from a leadership position, helping you become more creative, impactful and empowered—and substantially improving the results you’re able to create.

A Beginner's Guide to  Leadership Storytelling
Me crossing the Golden Gate Bridge midway through my long walking journey.

Digging Deeper into Leadership Storytelling

I’m putting together a series of articles on leadership storytelling. They’ll take you a little time to read and digest, because they intend to take you one step deeper into the world of storytelling.

You can read them in order:

  1. The Difference Between Storytelling and Telling a Story
  2. The Three Levels of Leadership Storytelling
  3. Understanding Plot
  4. Understanding the Character Web
  5. Understanding the Theme
  6. The Leadership Storytelling Hologram
  7. Understanding Creative Transformation in Leadership Storytelling
  8. The Story Design Process
  9. Putting Together All The Pieces
  10. Supplmentary Leadership Storytelling Resources

I’ll be adding to this page consistently over the coming few weeks, so keep checking back.

Until next time—happy storytelling!