• Adam Tarnow

A Leader's Secret Weapon

Updated: Jan 9, 2021

Excellent leaders communicate with excellence. Communication is one of the most common weapons a leader uses in their battle against chaos. There is no end to improving your ability to use this weapon.

Excellent leaders are also excellent storytellers. Stories have the ability to break through hard hearts. They make concepts come alive. They do things that reason cannot. Stories are a leader's secret weapon.

There are three keys to a well-told story. Add these elements and your ability to inspire will improve almost immediately.

1. Drama - Good stories are dramatic. By dramatic I mean you keep people wondering where your story is headed.

For example, if you have a story about calling the fire department to get a cat down from a tree, don't give away the punchline too early.

You could say:

We got home the other day, realized the cat was in the tree and called the fire department.

Or you could say:

We got home the other day and couldn't find the cat. I looked everywhere…the garage, the neighbor's yard, and all over the house. Everywhere I looked, no cat. Then I went outside, stood there a moment and heard a faint cry. I thought to myself, "where is that coming from?" and then looked up and realized the cat was in the tree. Now I had a real problem, how do I get it down?...

Work hard to keep a gap between what you are telling people and what might happen next 1. The gap keeps people engaged. Don't close the gap too soon, otherwise, your story won't pack any punch and those listening will lose interest.

2. Details - Think about your story like a mental movie. You want to make sure those listening have enough information to feel like they are in the story with you.

You could say:

I went inside to tell Jackie we need to call the fire department.

Or you could say:

There I was, overcome with worry and fear because I knew it was about to get dark outside and the temperature was going to drop into the 30s that night. I couldn't stand the thought of the cat alone and scared in the tree all night. So, I decided I was going to confidently march inside, look my wife in the eye and tell her we needed to save our cat and therefore call the fire department.

With just a few details, you transport the listeners into the scene which keeps them more engaged.

3. Dialogue - Dialogue keeps a story moving and makes it believable. While you are telling your story, be sure to include dialogue from the people in your story as well as your internal dialogue.

You could say:

My wife and I talked and we decided to call the fire department to get the cat down from the tree.

Or you could say:

I told Jackie, "We need to call the fire department."

She said, "What? Are you serious? Adam, have you ever seen a dead cat in a tree?"

I said, "No, why?"

She said, "That's because they always find a way to get down! We're not calling the fire department."

She had a point, but I thought to myself, "surely she's not serious, I bet a cat has died in a tree before, I'm calling the fire department."

Dialogue, helps the listeners feel like they are in the story with you. Usually, the dialogue or internal dialogue is the part of the story listeners find the most interesting and helpful.

Storytelling is a skill, not a gift. It's something you can improve with a little diligence and practice. So, next time you tell a story, practice being dramatic, give appropriate details and include some dialogue.


[1] This idea comes from this blog entry by novelist Max Barry.

[2] Photo credit Unsplash: @mavrick

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