OPINION: Why leaders should tell stories

Robert Labayen

Posted at Feb 07 2017 01:55 PM

ABS-CBN Chief Content Officer Charo Santos-Concio talking with culinary school scholars. Photo by Johnny Delos Santos

Every year, the members of Couples for Christ gather in a big conference. We listen to the enlightening talks of our elders. But what we really remember and talk about weeks, months and years later are the stories told by the speakers and the “sharers.”

The human brain is wired to remember stories. Maybe that’s because as early as childhood, we are taught values through the story of the turtle and the rabbit, David and Goliath, Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer, etc.

Lisa Cron is a writer, literary consultant and an instructor in UCLA. In the book "Wired for Story," she said that stories are appealing because they release the brain chemical dopamine which causes our concentration and interest to heighten.

Loretta Graziano Breuning, founder of the Inner Mammal Institute, wrote in the book "Meet Your Happy Chemicals" that dopamine flow happens whenever we are expecting a reward.

Such expectation increases as the story goes through its arc of beginning-middle-end or problem-struggle-triumph. 

Paul Smith, a corporate trainer, wrote the book "Lead with Story." In that bestseller, he cited psychologist Jerome Bruner, who asserted that if facts are presented in story form, we are 20 times more likely to remember them. 

Smith also suggested the use of stories in communicating within the organization. For example, if you want to promote the value of putting customers first, true accounts of how employees did it will be more indelible and more influential than mottos or hollow promises.

Where I work, we learn more about our company’s values through the stories about our former chairman Eugenio Lopez, Jr., who passed away in the mid 1990s. The “legends” say he used to fall in line in the workmen’s cafeteria and one time, he didn’t introduce himself as the company owner when the security guard refused him entry to the compound.

In the bestseller "Made to Stick," brothers Chip and Dan Heath* also advised that powerful stories are more potent than any slogan. With the good lessons they impart, stories are great at inspiring people into action.

Jesus Christ is known for his parables. Abraham Lincoln also pitched his principles to the people around him by way of true stories and anecdotes.

Stories may be sad or glad, reassuring or terrifying. In any case, stories always evoke emotions. Many clinical studies have revealed that man has difficulty making rational decisions without the help of emotions.

If you want to be an effective leader, be a good storyteller.

(Chip Heath is a professor of organizational behavior at Stanford University and Dan Heath is founder of publishing company Thinkwell.)

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About the Author:

Robert Labayen spent 22 years in advertising prior to joining ABS-CBN in 2004. He was VP-Creative Director at Saatchi & Saatchi and Executive Creative Director at J. Walter Thompson, two of the country's leading ad agencies. He is currently the Head of Creative Communications Management at ABS-CBN. His job involves inspiring people to be their best. He is a writer, painter and songwriter.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.