The Art of Storytelling For Remarkable Leaders

I don’t like to cry in movies, it feels weird and stupid to get that emotional over a make believe story.

So I’m pleased to say only one movie studio has made me achieve this embarrassing milestone.

Dang you Pixar!

I was with my wife watching UP.

Sitting there watching a man and wife getting married, moving in together, building their house, going on picnics, selling balloons, reading books, holding hands, watching clouds in the sky, building a nursery, saving for a vacation, fixing flat tires, repairing fences, and then slowly the couple is old and they are dancing, smiling, doing chores, and looking at old pictures together.

Then Pixar pulled the trigger. The old man and woman go on a picnic and the wife struggles. The next thing I see, she’s in a hospital bed. The old man attaches a “get well soon” card to a balloon and floats it to her in the bed, she reads it and smiles. Then time passes and you see him alone in a church at a funeral holding the picture of his wife, then a moment later, returning to his home alone.

The whole theater is bawling and all of this happened in less than 5 minutes.

The reason I bring this all up is to demonstrate the power of storytelling.

How many people do you meet, and in five minutes, have you crying like a baby because you feel so connected?

Not often…right?

Andrew Stanton, the writer behind the Toy Story movies and more recently John Carter, shared the art behind story telling.

But it’s not just good advice for stories. It’s good advice for leaders who want to engage and motivate people.

Presidents, CEO’s, and even religious leaders understand the power of storytelling. They use it in their speeches, communication, and sermons.

It’s something that appeals to our human nature.

So what makes a good story?

1.  Make a Promise

Every good story makes a promise. It appears early on and holds you till the end.

The Lord of The Rings promised to give you a ring of power that would be destroyed by the smallest of folk in the land.

E.T. promised a little boy would help a stranded alien return home.

Twilight promised us nothing and that’s why it was a horrible story.

 But in all seriousness, how many of us work for a company that promises you something?

Companies that promise nothing but a paycheck are leaving a door wide open for their employees to work elsewhere.

2.  Unifying Theory of 2 + 2

The Unifying Theory of 2 + 2 is that people want to work out problems for themselves. They don’t want you to give them 4, they want you to give them 2 + 2.

No one wants you to tell them how The 6th Sense ends. They want to come to the conclusion on their own.

When I was a kid I loved playing Super Mario. Back then, I could play the same game for well over a year.

But it didn’t mean I could master it. That took lots of time and practice.

So whenever I would get stuck I’d ask my brother or friends to see if they could help me get past a boss or some “impossible” moment of the game.

And without fail they would always take the controller away and try to do it themselves.  That bothered me.

I didn’t want them to vanquish Bowser to the fiery depths for me.  What kind of accomplishment was that? 

I just wanted their advice. Was I missing the pattern? Did I need a fire flower? What was I doing wrong?

It’s the same way with being managed. We don’t want our managers to do our jobs for us.  We want guidance.  We want 2 + 2.

You beat Bowser for me and I’ll be pissed.

3.  Drama is Anticipation Mingled With Uncertainty

The drama I’m talking about here isn’t the drama teenage girls surround themselves with in high school. This is drama in the sense of a captivating story that makes you miss it when it’s over.

How do you motivate workers to stay with you in the same sense that a good book or movie keeps your interest?

Anticipation + Uncertainty

People leave jobs when they’re certain it won’t take them anywhere.

People quit when they realize there is nothing to anticipate and look forward to at work.

4. Like Your Main Character

Andrew Stanton talked about his early work on Woody from Toy Story. The goal they had in mind was to make Woody likeable by the end of the movie.

Their first draft for the character’s script was awful. Woody had the composure of Simon Cowell judging a kindergarten karaoke contest.

Disney hated it and made them redo the whole thing.

The point is, stories suffer when there isn’t anyone for the viewer to admire or relate to.

And the same goes for work.

If your boss and coworkers could be substituted with Disney villains, that “story” is going to need a re-write.

Have you ever worked for an evil mad man?

See it happens in real life too.

That’s not to say people never change. Some of the most likeable characters in stories started off as complete jerks; Beast, Snape, and even Iron Man are perfect examples.

I’m not saying that every boss, manager, or CEO has to be your best friend. But you do risk losing your “audience” or employees, if no one likes you.

Writing Your Leadership Script

So if you could write your own script, what would it have?

What promise would you make? What problems would they solve? What would they think of the main character?



About the Author: Bryce Christiansen is the Marketing Coordinator for The Balanced WorkLife Company. He is a driving force in helping build the company’s presence online through the website, social media, and Web 2.0. Bryce has a dedicated background in Marketing and graduated Magna Cum Laude from the W.P. Carey School of Business at ASU. In his free time he likes to read, watch movies, play guitar, help others, and spend time with friends and family. Connect with Bryce on Twitter!



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