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Thought Leadership

3 Effective Habits to Develop Your Leadership Storytelling Skills

Businesswoman standing beside a whiteboard while giving a presentation to a group of seated businesspeople.

Stories possess tremendous power. A great storyteller can not only engage and entertain but also cut through informational noise, inspire change, and foster creative and innovative thinking. For these reasons, storytelling is a powerful tool in the modern leader’s communication toolkit. 

Neuroscience researchers are beginning to understand what humans have known since ancient times: stories increase human connection. Results from fMRI scanning suggest that “speaker” and “listener” brain patterns synchronize more closely during a story being told and listened to. This, in turn, can have a cohesive cultural effect by creating common narratives and language bonds for diverse groups who relate to the same story. 

Great storytellers are not born. Rather, leaders who wish to harness the power of the story must practice, practice, practice. 

Heidi Schultz, Ph.D., Professor of Management and Corporate Communication at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School and a field-leading expert in written and spoken communication, recommends three quick and practical habits for leaders who wish to develop their storytelling skills.

Close up of hands writing in a notebook.

1. Search for Stories
Carry a story notebook and at the end of the day, write down anything that happened that could be a story idea.

Businesswoman sitting at a desk in front of a laptop and writing in a notebook.

2. Shape Your Stories
Trim your story to the essentials to keep it specific, focused, and efficient.

A businesswoman standing and looking into a mirror while practicing a speech.

3. Share Your Stories
As you never know when you might have to tell your story, practice often and with as much distraction as possible. If you can successfully deliver your story with loud music playing and while holding one leg behind your back, you will be ready for any audience. 

Storytelling is an ancient art. Yet storytelling and other communication skills remain among the most sought-after in leaders and employers today. By practicing the three habits of a great storyteller, you can unlock a major upgrade to your communication toolkit that will in turn enhance your ability to motivate your team, persuade stakeholders, and otherwise engage audiences more effectively and authentically. 

If you would like to continue learning about how you can improve your leadership skills, download our full white paper, Mastering the Art of Leadership Storytelling. This resource will expand on the themes outlined in this article and include Heidi’s five-step framework to develop your storytelling capabilities. 

Mastering the Art of Leadership Storytelling

Heidi Schultz is Clinical Professor of Management and Corporate Communication at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Pérez, A., Carreiras, M. & Duñabeitia, J.A. Brain-to-brain entrainment: EEG interbrain synchronization while speaking and listening. Sci Rep 7, 4190 (2017).