#Blogtober: Once upon a time... storytelling in OD

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14 / 10 / 2014 12.01am

By Nathaniel Johnston

#Blogtober Day: Tuesday 14 October

Once upon a time…

What are the stories that have stayed with you since childhood?

I have always enjoyed stories. My Mum says I am a very good storyteller, but that’s certainly more to do with my ability to get away with things as the youngest child than any literary ability.

Given my religious upbringing it would be hard not to mention the Bible as the first story I heard. Then it would be the story of the Hungry Caterpillar with all those bright colours and delicious foods followed by hand-me-down Famous Five books. How could I not mention Harry Potter, which landed in my last year of primary school? As I entered my teenage years and picked the easy option of watching the Hollywood blockbusters over reading the remaining Potter books, stories became a myriad school set texts like 1984, Of Mice and Men and A View from the Bridge.

Having moved through secondary school onto university and then onto my career, I have encountered a number of academic settings, development programmes and conferences. Regardless of the setting or the presenter, I quickly made the link between those who I remembered and those I didn’t. Those who shared their experiences, anecdotes and stories about their past always stayed in my mind. I absorbed their history to help it inform and shape my learning and future.

Storytelling in leadership and OD…

So what’s this all got to do with OD? If you haven’t guessed yet, this is a blog about storytelling in the workplace. Now, this isn’t a new idea, but only recently have I really considered it with any significant thought.

I read the other day that storytelling is the number one leadership competency of the 21st Century. Over and above anything else, good leaders should be able to tell stories. Quite a stark claim, and one I hadn’t heard before. I then read that Chief Storyteller is the next role that large organisations will be employing. According to Forbes, Proctor & Gamble have employed movie producers to help their leaders tell stories and 3M is helping managers write “strategic narratives”. Canon asks for business plans to be submitted with a story and Ritz Carlton asks staff to share a customer story in every team meeting.

Why tell a story?

Sharing your experiences when delivering a message will bring it to life. Facts and details are what you might call ‘neutral’ until you are able to apply a story to give them meaning, The meaning that is created is what will bring staff along with you and help create the ‘line of sight’ between what we are doing and why we are doing it. This isn’t more important than when people are going through change. As a leader, sharing something of yourself creates trust, demonstrates your authenticity and builds deeper relationships with your colleagues and stakeholders.

If you want to know more Google ‘storytelling OD’- there’s over 900,000 results.

So next time you need to deliver a message, a vision or a call to action, how might a story help you to engage the heart, minds and hands of your team?

Nathaniel works in leadership development for the NHS Kent, Surrey & Sussex Leadership Collaborative. Passionate about developing people, Nathaniel supports the regional KSS OD network and internal OD for Health Education Kent, Surrey & Sussex. Nathaniel loves OD because it puts people at the centre of improved business performance and can be contacted via Twitter @N8_tweets.

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