It’s a business skill, an art form, and a leadership quality. If you are struggling to shift the energy, change the focus, or impact your employees or your customers, maybe you should take a good look at your storytelling skills: They may be the hidden key to unlock your organization's success.
This week’s guest has won multiple Emmy awards for his unique storytelling, or, as he would want it said: His team has multiple Emmy awards for their storytelling. Michael Cardwell joined us on this episode of the Lead to Grow podcast to share about leadership and storytelling.
Michael is the Founder & Creative Director of Digital Brew, a visual storytelling agency that creates animated and live-action video content for their clients. Since 2011, they’ve won 16 Emmy awards, eight Tellys, and two Daveys.
Set the Stage With the Right Characters
First lesson in leadership and storytelling? Set the stage with the right characters. Michael advises: always hire people who are better than you.
Then don’t stop there: Show them how valuable they are to you.
“I want to make sure that they feel valued. I really do care about every person who works here.” That’s how you start your story– with the right people.
A Tale of Two Leaders on the Rocks
There are two very distinct types of leaders, and to make the point clear, Michael used some of his incredible storytelling.
He described a picture he saw once that described the two distinct leadership styles perfectly: In the first scene, a leader is on top of a rock, and he's shouting “Let's go!” to his comrades — and they are pulling the rock and the leader on top of the rock, with ropes.
The other scene shows a leader who’s also shouting, “Let's go!” But instead, he’s standing on the ground, off the rocks, pulling one of the ropes. This is the kind of leader Michael wants to be.
Michael’s illustration depicts a truth I’ve believed for a long time, and I even employed in my own business several years ago: When you come to work every day to serve, not to be served, it changes the whole culture of the organization.
How Storytelling Unlocks Success, ‘Nside & Outside Your Organization
1: Storytelling Helps You Connect to the Customer
Your overall goal is to help tell a story that impacts your company-wide strategy. To do that, start by identifying a few problems in the marketplace. Then, identify how your company is the solution to those problems. You want to give your audience — potential customers — a way to connect to the problem. You want to show the problem, or talk about the problem, in such a way customers instantly connect by thinking, “I have that problem!”
Obviously, Michael does this quite literally with video and animation. But of course, you can do this with written content, a podcast, a commercial, video blogs, etc. When the customer connects directly with the issue, you don’t have to go overboard with the emotion — their connection to the problem itself actually initiates those feelings.
Then, when you attack that issue by communicating, “But don’t worry! We're going to handle that problem!” it’s game time.
2: Storytelling Connects You to Your Employees
Storytelling is powerful: People remember stories, even if they don’t remember the entirety of the content. That’s exactly why it’s important to use storytelling to communicate with your employees.
They may not remember every meeting, but they will remember the stories that moved them.
If you are seeing eyes glaze over during important meetings, or employees seem unchanged when you bring up significant topics, try telling a story to illustrate your point.
Storytelling Is Nothing Without Integrity
A quick note about integrity: Your storytelling ability (or really, any business acumen) is nothing without the foundation of integrity.
Michael hit another one of my core values when he touched on this topic. He described integrity as one of the core values and top priorities he hopes someone knows and believes about him.
If Someone Had Lunch With You, What’s the Key Thing You’d Want Them to Walk Away With?
(This is my favorite curveball question to ask our podcast guests! Here’s what Michael said.)
“I'm passionate about what we do at digital brew and more importantly, I'm passionate about the customer’s success.” Specifically, to ensure integrity and customer success, Digital Brew does two things:
- They make every job their best work.
- They keep their promises (e.g., deadlines). “Hell or high water, we’ll get it done by the date we said.”