Six story must-haves for leaders (inspired by children’s fiction)

Agatha Fox, communications and story-telling expert.
By Agatha Fox, communications and story-telling expert. | 29 July 2019
Emily Baxter

Provided by Commtract on behalf of communications and story-telling expert, Agatha Fox.

We only have to think about stories like Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Pinocchio or Cinderella to know that the stories that last the test of time and span generations, continents and languages are children’s stories.

So what can we learn from this genre of stories to help leaders tell stories that stick?

Must-have 1. A relatable character at the heart of the story
Think Charlie from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or Mowgli from The Jungle Book. These characters work because they have a compelling character and personality that makes us want to follow their journey. And importantly, they are an ordinary person doing extraordinary things.

In the workplace, leaders can do the same by using a customer or employee as the memorable character. The key is talk to their values, their dreams and their desires so that we can connect and relate to them.

Must-have 2. Conflict, choice and challenge
Generally stories start happily with the characters going about their day-to-day business. Then the main character is faced with a big decision or a challenge. The story then follows their highs and lows as they take risks, face their demons, suffer some setbacks and ultimately survive as the story comes to a close.

At work, leaders can talk to conflict and choices they have had to make in the past to show their human side or project forwards to talk about the current struggles and rally the troops to share how they will face these challenges together.

Must-have 3. Reveal the ‘why’ of the story
What’s the message or lesson at the heart of the story? What’s that nugget of wisdom you want to share? The ‘why’ of the story should bring the story to a conclusion but also share a clear call to action.

Leaders need to inspire action through stories. As we know it’s all very well talking to the heart and head but unless we include the ‘hands’ into the equation we won’t see a change in behavior.

Must-have 4. It is relatable
A good story makes you think ‘That could have been me?’ or ‘What would I have done in that situation’? Which little girl didn’t wonder whether they too would have had the courage to sail off alone into the seas like Moana did?

Leaders should talk to real people in real situations and allow us to feel ourselves in the story so we can draw on our own experiences. It helps us see how each and every one of us can make a real difference to achieving the company mission and become heroes in their organization.

Must-have 5. Create an emotional pull
As Maya Angelou says ‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said… but people will never forget how you made them feel’. We remember how stories make us feel – whether it’s sadness, fear or joy. It’s these feelings that make us remember and learn and adjust our actions going forward accordingly.

For leaders, that means stories need to create that emotional connection. Eyes need to light up. Hairs need to stand up on the back of your neck. Pulses need to start racing.

Must-have 6. Keep it easy to remember
Children’s stories use short sentences, easy to understand words, digestible paragraphs. In short, they keep it simple – and simplicity is key to making something stick in your mind.

In contrast, we know in organisations our language is full of jargon, acronyms and clichés. Stories can cut through the business noise to connect on a conversational level – as if we were sitting by a flickering fire in the woods, not in a town hall session plenary style.

So, what’s stopping you? Next time you read your daughter, son, niece or nephew a story think about what you could take from the structure and language for your own stories at work.

Interested in communications, content creation or story-telling experts? Find & hire professionals to work with your team, either freelance or onsite today at Commtract – or contact us at if we can assist.

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