Real Leaders Tell Stories

Real Leaders Tell Stories

As a leader, there are many ways to improve and intensify influence on others. Storytelling is one of the best. When the right story is told at the right time, in the right way, it helps to create clarity and resolve. When storytelling is used properly it is a powerful tool to explain ideas, share knowledge, build a shared vision and settle conflicts peacefully. Storytelling addresses the emotions of people, not their logical mind. Storytelling can overcome the barriers people build in order to protect themselves against the outside world, change and new ideas. 

When telling a story, you increase the chance that people will remember what you say. Typically, most people forget more than 40% of the information you tell them by the next day. Wait a week and they will likely have forgotten 90% of what you said. Stories provide an advantage with information retention up to 20 times higher when delivered in a story.

As a leader, storytelling should be an essential skill to drive change within your organisation. One of the most powerful things you can do is use storytelling to talk openly about a personal experience of a mental health condition. This may be your own personal experience or a close relationship of yours. Sharing this story, you might be surprised by how many of your colleagues have also experienced a mental health concern at some point in their life, or supported a loved one with a similar experience. Courage is contagious, and talking about mental health conditions helps to change negative attitudes and stereotypes.

Almost half (45%) Australians will experience mental illness in their lifetime. Although mental illness is treatable,  54% of people do not access any treatment. A large component of this is due to stigma. Stigma exists mainly because some people don’t understand mental illness, and also because some people have negative attitudes or beliefs towards it. If you have a story, sharing it may help to:

  • show that people can you can continue to work and manage a mental health condition,
  • encourage others to speak openly about their experience with a mental health condition, 
  • help others experiencing a mental health condition to take action, or
  • encourage your organisation to make workplace mental health a priority.

How to talk about it:

There’s no right or wrong time to tell others at work. Planning what you’re going to say with a trusted person can help you structure your ideas and the points you want to cover. You can also practice how the story might flow. Think about who at work you will tell, how much detail you provide, where and when, choosing a time you will feel most relaxed and a place you’re comfortable in. 

Timing and setting:

If you’re thinking about talking to your colleagues, the timing and setting can play a big part in how comfortable you feel. Some things to consider might include:

  • Formal or relaxed – some people prefer to set a time and location, while others feel more relaxed in an informal setting.
  • Short chat or longer discussion – what level of detail are you comfortable talking about? How much time will you need for the conversation?
  • Who will you share your story with? Is it something you will share with your close colleagues, team, department or whole organisation. The choice is always yours. 

What to say:

The level of detail you share and whether you talk about your specific diagnosis or experience is up to you. Your discussion only has to cover the information you are comfortable speaking about. You might find it useful to think about:

  • What are your reasons for talking about your condition or experience?
  • Are/were there problems at work that are/were contributing to your mental health condition, like stress, bullying or harassment?
  • Did your experience affect your ability to do your job?
  • Are there any particular things that would have supported you, such as flexible working conditions or an adjusted workload?
  • Where in your organisation can/did you get more information/support on mental health?
  • What positives came from your experience? 

Recently, The Mentally Healthy Change Group has released a new story book in partnership with Heart On My Sleeve Movement to reduce stigma around mental health in the media, marketing and creative industry. The story book features open and honest stories from 22 industry leaders and senior executives on the impact that COVID-19 and the lockdowns have had on their mental health. Check it out here. 

Supporting Resources: 

https://www.headsup.org.au/your-mental-health/telling-your-story