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Leadership, storytelling, and Super Bowl commercials

At 164 million viewers, the last Super Bowl was the most watched television event ever. Nearly half of all American houses had the game on. Like a lot of other people, I also watched the game for the commercials. But this year, instead of looking for the funniest commercial or the cleverest, I watched for which brand had told the best story.

Commercials can tell TV viewers a brand story, but you might not realize that storytelling within an organization is equally important. Research shows that stories can inspire an organization, set a vision, teach important lessons, define culture and values, and explain who you are and what you believe.

Storytelling can also be a communication strategy effective for change management and making recommendations as well. Steve Denning, who wrote “The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling,” describes why storytelling is so important in today’s business world. Here are 4 of his points that I think are especially powerful:

1. Storytelling is a key leadership technique because it’s quick, powerful, free, natural, refreshing, energizing, collaborative, persuasive, holistic, entertaining, moving, memorable and authentic.
2. Storytelling is often the best way for leaders to communicate with the people they are leading.
3. Storytelling is a crucial tool for management and leadership, because often, nothing else works. Charts leave listeners bemused. Prose remains unread. Dialogue is just too laborious and slow. Time after time, when faced with the task of persuading a group of managers or front-line staff in a large organization to get enthusiastic about a major change, storytelling is the only thing that works.
4. Storytelling works better than the “Just tell ‘em” approach in most leadership situations. Management fads may come and go, but storytelling is a phenomenon that is fundamental to all nations, societies and cultures.

So, as you watch Dodge Ram’s farmer commercial or the Budweiser Clydesdale one, think about what stories these commercials tell you, the customer. Then, stop and consider what these stories might mean to you if you were an employee of these companies. You just might be able to use elements of this kind of storytelling in your own leadership style.

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