Common Ground Between Storytelling ...


I can’t pinpoint exactly when I met Raf Stevens.

He’s part of what I refer to as the “storytelling posse” on Twitter, those evangelizing business storytelling 140 characters at a time.

Not one to limit his narratives, Raf recently published his second book “Leadership, Storytelling and the Power of Connection” which explores the role of storytelling for those leading the charge.

That’s the backdrop to sharing that Raf will contribute a monthly post to Ishmael’s Corner starting today. He’ll bring a different and fresh point of view further accentuated by his European location (Belgium).

This broad topic of storytelling in leadership is an interesting one. My post “McKinsey Correlates Storytelling to Leaders Who Inspire” continues to find an audience even though it was published nearly five years ago.

I look forward to Raf’s takes and hope you enjoy them as well.


Common Ground Between Storytelling and

Leaders Who Inspire

By Raf Stevens

We live in a time of rapid quotes. Politicians who are unable to put their story in a short quote have no chance during the elections. But managers and business leaders, too, are expected to be masters at elevator pitches. There is nothing wrong with that, since it’s important to get to the point quickly.

The flip side is that brevity sometimes seems to be the norm, and too little time is left for reflection. Issues pass and new ones arrive day in and day out, which is why some counterweight is appreciated by more and more people.

Summer guests, summer stories

Next month, for example, we can enjoy the Dutch talk show “Summer Guests” (translated from the original Dutch title, “Zomergasten”) on Sunday nights, in which the guests’ stories are brought to the surface based on fragments.

The channel France 2 features several seasons of the infinitely beautiful “La parenthèseinattendue,” which is — mainly due to the fact that the only language spoken is French — totally unknown outside of France. These are all programs that take the time to listen to stories of their guests. And that often leads to entertaining television with testimonies like that of the Rwandan-French-Canadian singer Corneille about the murder of his family in Rwanda.Corneille A 07-15Corneille grew up in Germany where his parents both worked as engineers. However, they returned to their native Rwanda where the entire family was murdered during the bloody conflict between the Hutus and Tutsis. Corneille — hidden behind a couch — had to watch how his father, his mother, and his brothers and sisters were massacred. He was now all alone in the world. After 60 days of walking and asking for help, he reached an airport and was able to fly to Germany and stay with friends of his parents. There, he could recharge before flying to Canada and beginning his journey to becoming a famous singer.Anne Chapelle 07-15Anne Chapelle — the most powerful woman in the Belgian fashion industry — often has to make hard decisions in her work, but nurturing remains a common thread in her career. When she was 13 years old, she lost her mother. Her father was unable to take care of the family, so Anne took over those tasks. Soon, however, Social Inspection took her away from her father, and she ended up in an orphanage.

After a lot of misery, at 18 she found peace in a monastery. It was there that she drummed up the courage to dream of a future again. She chose to study nursing.

She developed an interest in tropical diseases and decided to specialize in them. She began her career in the neonatal ward of a hospital in Amsterdam. Later, she married a man from Antwerp, moved back to Belgium, and they had two children. When her kids told her that they missed their mother — the career woman — she decided to become a housewife. At school, she met fashion icon Ann Demeulemeester, who was in financial trouble. Anne helped her develop the fashion business into a company that now has a turnover of €30 million.

Don’t be so dramatic

Granted, both examples are fairly extreme. But they show that people — including CEOs and acclaimed leaders — have many more stories than are generally known. They may follow a course in media training and usually tell a story that is purely related to their business. However, I’m sure they have plenty of different stories to tell that reveal a lot about their personalities and their visions. And these don’t always have to be so dramatic.

Several years ago, for example, the HR business, The Future Alliance, collected “ObjetPréféré” testimonies about the favorite subject of many CEOs and HR managers. This resulted in wonderful stories that had previously never seen the light of day. It shows, for example, that prominent HR Manager Flor Boeckx prefers to sit on an ordinary bench near a river because it gives him the chance to unwind.

By sharing their many stories, leaders can help create emotional ties with their teams, employees, customers, suppliers and other stakeholders.

15 interviews with real leaders: 15 real stories

After the publication of my book “On Storytelling, Leadership and the Power of Connection,” I am now, more than ever, convinced that the world needs more of these leadership stories. My book contains dozens of examples, but it’s my mission to record and share even more powerful leadership stories in the coming months. Therefore, I intend to motivate 15 to 20 CEOs and leaders from many different organizations to share their stories. As of now, seven have already agreed to this.

Obviously, the business part of their story is important, but I also want to dig deeper. How? By asking different questions. Questions, for example, that can be found in the famous literary lecture series the “Proust Questionnaire” — very different answers than those usually given in interviews. These are questions like “Where would you love to live?” “Which woman or man, from the present or past, do you admire the most?” “Who was your father, and who was your mother?” “When was the last time you cried?” “Have you ever said, ‘I love you’ while you didn’t mean it?” and “Who was the teacher who taught you the most?”

I am sure that in this way I, too, can provide a little bit of counterweight in an overly hasty society. More than ever, people feel like they’re at a crossroads. Is the Eurozone falling apart? Will robots take away all our jobs? Does anyone consider the consequences for the economy of the breakthrough of the self-propelled vehicle? These are just some questions that express the uncertainty of today and show how great the need is for visionary leaders. By sharing the inspirational stories of those visionary leaders and by taking the time to reflect on where the world is heading, I want to help create the solidarity everyone needs in these rushed times. With the stories of leaders, I want to help everyone pay attention to their own stories and discover what these can mean for others.

About the Author

Raf Stevens 07-15Raf Stevens has over 20 years’ experience in communications. Ten years ago he decided to follow his passion: storytelling. Since then Raf has helped dozens of organizations and their leaders in the search for stories to create a stronger connection. He is a partner of Anecdote and a licensed Storytelling for Leaders® trainer.



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