Show me a great leader and I’ll show you a talented storyteller. Leadership and storytelling go hand-in-hand. In fact, leaders who lack the ability to leverage the power and influence of storytelling are missing the very essence of what accounts for compelling leadership- the story. Give me a few minutes and allow me to share this message with you – it may just change your life.

If you’ve ever been captivated by a skilled orator whose articulation and eloquence have influenced your thinking, you understand the power of the art of the story. I refer to this as an art form because it simply is just that.

Storytelling requires talent and practice, but as with any worthy discipline, the investment yields great benefits. A story is the root level driver behind successfully communicating any message. A subtle side benefit of well-crafted stories can be found in their versatility – they can be delivered in person or by proxy, and in visual, textual, or verbal form.

Before the existence of the written word, learning largely took place by passing down stories through the generations. The passing of history has diluted many things, but not the value of the story. Today’s technology-driven world has only made it easier to amplify a story – the potential for a story to “go viral” has never been greater. Here’s the thing – you’ll never know how good your story is if you choose not to share it. Storytelling is the hook that drives engagement, evokes the passion, and provides the energy that fuels innovation. Storytelling is an attraction magnet – it’s one thing you definitely want to add to your leadership toolkit.

While an authentic story is much like DNA in that no two stories are exactly the same, it takes more than being unique to be memorable. Stories are the instruments that tug at your emotions, speak to your logic, support your beliefs, and reinforce your positions. Great stories challenge, engage, inform, persuade, entertain, mobilize, convict, and inspire. Smart leaders understand stories that highlight learning opportunities and create memorable experiences. Are you consciously and consistently using the story to be a more effective leader? Perhaps more importantly, are you scaling storytelling by teaching others how to use stories to their advantage? I’m reminded of a Navy recruiting video which posed the question; If someone wrote a story about your life, would anybody read it? This is a powerful question for any of us to ponder, but especially leaders.

There is no denying everybody loves a good story, and there are numerous reasons why. Think about the novels you’ve read, movies you’ve watched, speeches you’ve listened to, ads that have hooked your interest, or virtually any other message delivered by any other medium, and it’s the story that will either seal the deal or leaves you feeling cheated. The best part about learning to be a great storyteller is it will afford you the best shot at becoming a story maker. When reflecting on the greatest leaders of our time you’ll quickly see it’s their ability to not just tell the story, but their ability to create engagement, inspiration, and influence through their storytelling which sets them apart from the masses.

As a leader, it’s your ability to tell a compelling story that sets the tone from the top. The story is the fabric upon which culture is built. It helps you to successfully establish rapport, evangelize a vision, champion a brand, align expectations, build teams, attract talent, assuage concerns, relieve tension, and resolve conflict. A leader’s story needs to engender trust while implanting your brand promise in the minds of your various constituencies in a manner that is memorable, authentic, relevant, and actionable. It’s the leader’s story that allows them to share the color of their experience and the context behind their thinking.

Stories are also quite revealing. Carefully listening to a leader’s story will reveal their character or lack thereof. Disingenuous leaders misuse storytelling in an attempt to shield, buffer, distract, lull, or misdirect. They use stories to prop-up their ego, drive their agenda, and take aim on their adversaries. The storyline propagated by those playing at leadership is all about them. Their stories are laced with “I” and “my” and their primary focus is to shine the spotlight on themselves.

By contrast, the authentic and appropriate use of the story has an outward focus and is laced with “we” and “our” as the main points of emphasis. Great leaders understand a story is most powerful when it offers hope and encouragement; when it’s inspired with unification and collaboration it has a humanizing effect. Smart leaders understand storytelling is a highly effective method of creating engagement, opening or extending dialog, and finding common ground. Perhaps the most valuable use of the story is to shine the light on others. Leaders who use the power of story to publicly recognize the contributions of others are simply more successful than those who don’t.

So my question is this; why not incorporate storytelling into your leadership repertoire? While leadership is a complex subject to be sure, it all begins with the story – tell it well and succeed; tell it poorly and fail. This is a simple, yet powerful message I encourage you to take to heart.

Nobody will tell your story if you don’t first tell it yourself.