Storytelling in Leadership ...


Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman, Business Storytelling, PR, communications

Do you remember the controversy when the book “Emotional Intelligence” by Daniel Goleman came out?”

The idea that variables other than pure intellectual horsepower could have the same or even more impact on one’s success triggered quite a dialogue.

So when Goleman recently penned a post on the relationship of storytelling to leadership, I paid attention. It reminded me of the McKinsey article “Revealing Your Moment of Truth” that highlighted:

“The purpose of leadership isn’t to increase shareholder value or the productivity of work teams, though effective leadership does these things … The process of leadership is to turn your values into a compelling cause.”

Which makes communications and specifically the power of storytelling so vital.

Goleman’s post starts by making this very point.

“Good storytelling is a hallmark of effective leadership.”

His thinking breaks down into two parts, direct leadership and indirect leadership.

Direct leadership is what happens one-on-one when you’re trying to convince someone to see things your way. It’s not just about the words. The body language, your strength of conviction, etc., all come into play as does the frame of the leader’s behavior before and moving forward from the interaction:

“Direct leadership can’t survive the hypocrisy test, because if you push something very strongly in your narrative but every day you’re undoing it in your behavior, then you have Newt Gingrich …”

Turning to the indirect side, Goleman talks about how a product, an invention or even an event offers a symbol that then becomes a tool to move others.

Entrepreneurs often fit this category:

“…  it’s a promise of possibility that they’re selling to people and they’re mobilizing people around them.”

He goes on to say that in a sense, effective storytellers have an unfair advantage in raising money from venture capitalists.

Is this really a problem?

Given the standard challenges and quicksand surprises in front of any startup, you need someone leading the charge who has a healthy disregard for logic and can rally the troops.

Whether it’s for a startup or a large company, storytelling delivers a path for leaders for open up so others can know them. You’re not going to run through a wall for someone you don’t know.

Taking this a step further, the McKinsey article explains how leaders who are willing to show vulnerability can cultivate relationships with an emotional bond.

It’s always fascinating to see how big thinkers – and Goleman certainly qualifies as one – apply their beliefs to their own lives and personal brands. While no one sets out to become a “Newt Gingrich,” it happens (maybe I should trademark the phrase, “Newt Happens.”).

But Goleman walks the talk.

I loved his website, especially the section “About Daniel Goleman” which you can see below:

Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence, Storytelling, leadership, communications, PR

I’ve read a lot of websites, and I don’t remember one paying tribute to parents. These are powerful narratives, where you really get a sense of the man.

In discussing his mom, Goleman takes us back to a time shortly after his mom passed away when he and his sisters were sifting through piles of papers. The experience conjures up memories:

“As we remembered moments from our childhood, I felt a deep gratitude to both my parents for having raised us in a stew of love, social conscious, a spirit of service, and endless intellectual curiosity.”

It makes you want to say, “Thank you,” for sharing who you are.


  • Limor

    Lovely. By the way, it’s quite surprising many don’t realize storytellers are often powerful leaders. Exactly the kind people will run through a wall WITH.

  • hoffman

    I agree. I get ample use out of the McKinsey article that connects the dots.


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