The four key stories every leader should tell

One of the biggest mistakes leaders make when they embark on storytelling in business is to rely on one story or one type of story, according to Gabrielle Dolan, international speaker and author of Stories for Work: The Essential Guide to Business Storytelling.

For example, this could involve only telling the same story over and over again or only sharing stories about your children.

Dolan argues that there are four types of stories you need at work: these are tales of
 triumph, tragedy, tension and transition.

All four types should include a mix of work and non-work-related stories, said Dolan.

“Critically, business storytelling is not just about telling stories involving work situations, the personal stories you share in business are normally the most engaging and memorable,” she said.

Dolan outlines the benefits of these four types of stories below:

Triumph stories
These are stories of achievement — the moments in your career and personal life that you are especially proud of. Triumph comes in all shapes and sizes and isn’t just about could just be about having the courage to try regardless of the outcome.

Triumph stories also should not just be about you, they should also include how you have helped other people succeed. To make sure you don’t look like you are bragging, triumph stories should include a good dose of vulnerability and humility. This could involve sharing your fears at the time and identifying any challenges you overcame along the way.

Tragedy stories
Like triumph stories, these stories vary according to your perspective of what you consider a tragedy. Some examples may truly be about tragic circumstances, while others may be stories of regret.

Stories of regret may be when you didn’t have the courage to do something. This could be going for a promotion or taking that overseas assignment. The regret could be about not asking the love of your life out on a date or feeling like you didn’t spend enough time with your parents when they were older.

Tragedy stories can also be a combination of when you have caused it or when it has happened to you. Try to not only focus on the tragedy but more importantly what you learnt from it.

Tension stories
These are stories of conflict that are driven by your values, loyalties or obligations.

Tension stories that compromised your values might create conflict because you were forced to choose between two different beliefs. Or a time when you did not stay true to your values. Ironically, sharing stories of when you did not uphold one of your values, and the regrets you have about that, demonstrates greater credibility than you may think.

Regardless of what you are torn about, don’t just focus on the decision you made. Make sure these stories focus on your inner struggles and the internal or external tension the event caused.

Transition stories
These stories are about key transitions in your life. If work-related, they might include events such as changing jobs, companies, industries or careers. Non-work-related stories, on the other hand, may include moving countries, getting divorced, going back to study or having children.

The most powerful transition stories take the audience through what you were thinking and feeling at the time. Spending time highlighting the anxiety you felt when you made the decision is crucial, as is outlining your fears or level of excitement. A story that just goes through the logistics is not a story — well, not a very engaging one anyway.

The key to being a good storyteller in business is to have a variety of these four types of stories prepared and ready to share in a variety of business situations.