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The Role of Storytelling in Effective Leadership

Leadership and Storytelling

Engaging and inspiring are two of the most prominent and challenging leaders’ responsibilities. Although leadership is far from being a new concept, it gained considerable interest among researchers relatively late. As a result, tools, and strategies that help leaders perform the functions came into focus. Storytelling is a universal tool that generally facilitates leadership with the same qualities that make it indispensable for social existence. This communal and cultural activity constitutes a cornerstone of communication – from the beginning of human civilization, myths and legends served to make sense of ourselves, others, and the universe around (Snyder et al., 2017). In the same way, leaders need to make sense of their ideas and persuade team members to believe in them, which requires both logical and emotional narrative.

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Storytelling and Team Building

Given the ubiquity of storytelling in everyday existence and its ability to influence, the method’s incorporation into the art of motivating seems instrumental. The advantage of stories is their memorability with which emotional response is strongly linked – they address people’s both sentimental and rational sides (Snyder et al., 2017). Furthermore, being an element of organizational communication, stories unite around one objective and entail sensemaking, allowing team members to perceive meaning in their activities, which motivates and, potentially, increases performance (Snyder et al., 2017). Telling a story requires vulnerability, which can help team members perceive their leader from a new perspective, a more humanistic one, increasing their trust (Hastings et al., 2018). Nonetheless, besides storytelling, team building activities that are directly aimed at collaboration and increasing confidence also exist. Not limited to trust falls, team building includes an array of individual tools promoting an acceptable level of personal familiarity, partnership, and mutual reliability (Hastings et al., 2018). Team building activities encourage individuals to communicate openly and rely on their colleagues to achieve a common goal.

Elements of Storytelling

A multitude of highly inspirational stories to encourage team members exists, varying from personal to ones based on the success of others. These stories can be about an organization’s origin, benefits of teamwork, individual lessons, or turning points in one’s career (Snyder et al., 2017). Nevertheless, they need to contain crucial elements: exposition, inciting incident, complication, climax, and resolution. An example of such a story would be Arianna Huffington’s career, the co-founder of HuffPost, – being an immigrant from Greece and not knowing English, she eventually established one of the country’s principal media outlets (Freedman, 2017). Lack of motivation and low morale frequently prevent team members from improving their performance. In such instances, when a problem may seem insurmountable, it is up to a leader to avoid further demotivation and create an inspiring ambiance. Therefore, a story about an entrepreneur raised in an orphanage who later established a famous clothing brand seems appropriate.

The Story

The story that is about to be told proves the necessity of perseverance. Although luck is instrumental for success, persistence in difficulties plays no lesser role. At a very young age, Gabrielle, born in a low-income rural household, was left without parents, resulting in life in an orphanage. In the institution, sewing lessons were obligatory and taught by strict Roman Catholic nuns. Nonetheless, they provided Gabrielle with a sense of relief and helped to distract her from painful thoughts and nostalgia; latter, the occupation became her source of living. After leaving the orphanage, the young woman, with the help of one of her friends, opened a tiny sewing workshop, where she repaired cloth and created her own models. Gabrielle did her job so well that wealthier clients noticed her and bought her work. Years afterward, the woman possessed her own apparel brand.

The Story and the Problem

The story reminds the importance of putting problems in perspective and using even limited resources to their fullest capacity. Even though Gabrielle could not predict her future success, at every stage of her life, from living in an orphanage to opening a small sewing workshop, the woman used and relied on what was available to her to improve it and secure growth. This attitude demonstrates resilience and willingness to persevere in attaining one’s goal.


Freedman, J. (2017). Arianna Huffington: Media mogul and Internet news pioneer. Cavendish Square Publishing.

Hastings, E. M., Jahanbakhsh, F., Karahalios, K., Marinov, D., & Bailey, B. P. (2018). Structure or nurture? The effects of team-building activities and team composition on team outcomes. Proceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction, 2(CSCW), 1–21. Web.

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Snyder, K., Hedlund, C., Ingelsson, P., & Bäckström, I. (2017). Storytelling: A co-creative process to support value-based leadership. International Journal of Quality and Service Sciences, 9(3/4), 484–497. Web.

Wittbrodt, S. (2016). The power of storytelling as a marketing tool. Kinesis. Web.

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