Strategic Story and The Storytelling Leader


Because of my 10-years of involvement with Storytelling, I have had great opportunities to learn more about the engaging concepts of story, how to construct them, and how to deliver them.

I have also shared this passion with my wife who is the Program Administrator at the International Storytelling Center. We all tell stories. We tell stories in our personal lives and we tell them in our professional lives.

In thinking of this, a big question began to stick in my mind.

It was this:

“What if we crafted and told stories more consciously, and skillfully?”

Conscious Application

This question burned in me for an answer. In 2004, I had the opportunity to work with the International Storytelling Center on a project with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, CA.

We were helping  scientists, engineers, and PR people further the message of JPL with the power of story. I had the privilege to learn directly from the two Storytellers on the project, Syd Lieberman and Doug Lipman.

Since that time, I have more consciously used story and storytelling in various ways in my leadership coaching programs. As what I was learning and more consciously applying began to evolve in my work, I wanted to take it all to another level for the organization.

I began to experiment with story in my work with groups.

What evolved was an approach to strategic planning that I call “Strategic Story.”

Strategic Story

Discover, Design, Deliver

Typically, it seems that strategic planning consists of a gathering where we get down to the business of planning our actions. I believe this to be the wrong way of going about things. I think that this approach is an out-of-balance focus on the “how.”

Strategic Story less about the how and is more about creating balance and order as we flow through the sequence of why, what, and how.

When trusted and followed, the methodology of this flow helps make all strategic effort more effective.

Trusting the Flow

In trusting the flow, we ensure yet another order; that of Clarity to Engagement to Connection.

  • We must first come together in the story we are trying to tell; this is the clarity of the why.

Once discovered we move to the what.

  • We now engage in design as we determine what I call the Strategic Balance; identifying what we must give our attention to in order to know we are telling our story.

Only then should we launch into the how.

  • How we will act strategically−how we will all connect with the unfolding story− is now guided by a clear storyline as we deliver.

The Storytelling Leader

A good story makes a connection, setting the stage for trust and believability. As a storytelling leader, people want to know something about who you are and why they should believe you.

Stephen Denning, renowned in his work on using storytelling in leadership, says organizations benefit especially by using stories to inspire people to action, to share information, knowledge and values, to counteract bad news, to assist them in working together, and to lead them into the future.

Knowing the Why

It is not enough for people to understand what you want them to do; they need to be shown why. A good story can make that point real for them. People need to be led to the ‘belief space.’

This is where they connect with actions that answer this question:

“What does it look like for me to do something today to move closer to the goals?”

Storytelling is not a difficult topic to understand because we all tell stories. As a leader, I want you to be more conscious of why you should tell and when to tell. To do that, I offer three basic guides for using story as a leader:

3 Steps for Using Story as a Leader

The Story is told for another.

  •  It is not told for you. It is told for the hearer. When we make things about us—“Look at me, I’m great”—we miss the point. The spirit of a story first makes itself known to us by its small, quiet way of speaking and saying, “Tell me.” Simply trust this spirit and tell.

The Story is told in search of a truth.

  • There is something in the story for the hearer to glean. At this point, it is not necessary that you, as the teller, know what needs to be gleaned. For some reason, you know the particular story has been impressed upon you and may have some meaning for your hearer.

The Story is told because you care for the hearer.

  • Don’t fail to realize that your trust to tell the story is wrapped in the fact that you care. The spirit of story will not let you be. Storyteller Gayle Ross said to me, “Once you are telling your stories, other stories you didn’t intend to tell begin to surface. And you know you have to tell them too.”

Painting the Perfect Picture

Your stories tell people who you really are, what you really care about, and why you care. The why is felt in their own, unique interpretation of the story.

You tell it not to paint from your palette, but from theirs.

In telling your story, the story impacts you. Engaging us in a collective story, you allow us to find purpose in the work we do. This is a level of connection desired by each one of us.

Go and tell.


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Jeff Brunson
Jeff Brunson is Owner of BasicApproach (Building Confident Leaders)
He passion is Building Confident Leaders
Email | LinkedIn | Twitter | Facebook | Web | Blog | Book | Skype: jeff.brunson3 

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7 responses to “Strategic Story and The Storytelling Leader

  1. I like the concept of Strategic Story! and have just blogged about my definition of Leadership before stumbling on your post. Great to see I might be heading in the right direction. Thanks


    • Becky was pleased to hear from you Karen! And … thank you so much for reading my article and for adding it to your site. It has been a blessing to live here in Jonesborough and benefit from the learning of story and storytelling from such masterful people. Thanks again, Jeff


  2. Jeff, thanks for your refreshing perspective on story in service of others. While the current popularity of “stories for business” is exciting in general, the tone of the “stories to win” and “story as weapon” movement is giving story a manipulative feel in some quarters.

    I’m all for profit and growth – are there any particular businesses which you feel are using story effectively and responsibly, in your opinion? Thanks.

    Andrew Nemiccolo
    Seven Story Learning


    • Andrew, I totally agree with you on the manipulative feel … this applies to much more than story and storytelling. Too many wonderful concepts are discovered and then organizations try to systemize something that is relational one individual at a time … as story and storytelling. As far as clients that are doing great things with story; the Johnson City Power Board is the 31st largest utility in the country and in the top 5 or so that is sought out for innovative thnking. In last quarter 2011 we had a Strategic Story Retreat. They latced on to the flow of clarity to engagement to connection. What they did in the following months was simply marvelous as each officer committed to letting the Story impact them individually – all before rolling out to each person in the organization. The core of their Story – simply the next stage of a wonderful evolution started years before – has changed how they relate to both customer and community. They were doing a fine job on both counts – and by utility standards; but now they ‘think’ much more holistically, and as a business … the spark that began the whole evolution when CEO Homer G’Fellers first took over.
      Thanks for reading and your comment,


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