I have been spending a lot of time recently reflecting on leadership qualities which I value, both as a leader and in my colleagues. This week, I have been reflecting on storytelling as a key skill: it is how leaders influence, how they reach people in ways that help them to understand, enable them to remember, and inspire them to act and change behaviours.
When a good story is being told, listeners are not only engaged, they are also involved—both in head and heart. To make this kind of impact on an audience, leaders don’t necessarily need to become expert storytellers. They do need to be willing to share with honesty and a genuine care for the needs of their audience.
It is my privilege to work with many leaders in the College who have this skill. It is a compelling form of communication in the world of work, and in education. Storytelling is so effective because stories create connections between people, and between people and ideas. And they appeal to all types of learners, who will respond to the story in their own ways, bringing their individual perspectives. Stories are easy to recall and retell. And when leaders talk openly and candidly about their own challenges, they become more relatable—allowing learners to enjoy the tale and potentially learn from the experiences of others.
Honest storytelling helps us to get to know and understand each other better. This fosters an environment of sharing, mutuality, and trust.
I had the pleasure to be part of the College’s storytelling culture this week, when I was invited by a group of Grade 9s to Writers Fortnight on East Campus. I spent several hours responding to questions about my work; whether I had had any failures in life and what I had learned from them; the impact of globalisation and whether it would continue to shape the world post-COVID. I told stories about North Korea, Saudi Arabia, China, the role of the media as a force for globalisation when I was growing up (and I had to admit the internet was not invented until I was well into my 30s).
When I signed up to be part of the College’s Human Library initiative, I hadn’t realised how much I would get out of the experience of sharing stories and memories in this way, and from hearing the stories of others.
When I was asked about media, it also made me reflect on the importance that podcasts and, increasingly, live radio have started to play in my daily life, after many years ‘off the air’. It has been so welcome to have voices in my home during times of isolation, and to hear stories from around the world again, as I did when I was younger.
I highly recommend this site if you, too, fancy listening to radio stations from around the world, and enjoying the art of storytelling in many languages!