Storytelling: a Powerful Tool for Leading Change – Advocate Update March 2017

Like everyone, I’ve always been fascinated by stories. I grew up with my nose permanently buried in book after book, and am currently – in truth, permanently – in the midst of reading 10 at once.

Stories fascinate us because when well-told, they connect us to the people at the heart of the narrative. We can see a piece of ourselves reflected back to us in the words, actions and thoughts of the characters.

I longed for the simplicity of Heidi’s life in the mountains; the fresh air, companionship of goats and a diet that consisted almost exclusively of bread, cheese and milk was my girlhood idea of heaven. To be fair, it’s still my idea of heaven. I warmed to Mary Lennox and her sour, scowling coldness as she discovered the nurturing power of friendship and nature in the Secret Garden. I empathised with Anne’s social fumblings as she tried to be a dutiful daughter in Anne of Green Gables. I admired Hermione’s courage and selfless sacrifice pursuing good over evil.

In all of these stories and more, I learned about friendship, love, courage, simplicity and humility – my ideas about which have shaped the way I live my life and interact with others.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the power of stories. Howard Gardner described stories as ‘the single most powerful weapon in a leader’s arsenal’. Why are stories so important to leadership? I will borrow the words of Marshall Ganz here, who said:

Through telling and hearing stories, we learn how to take action in the face of uncertainty. It is how we learn to access the moral resources – the courage – to make the choices that shape our identities – as individuals, as communities. Public narrative brings people together, reminds us of our shared values, helps us feel the emotion associated with those values and translates values into action. Everyone has a compelling story to tell. Because stories enable us express our values as lived experience – and not just facts or abstract concepts – they have the power to move other people to act.

This month’s action will be to develop our own stories, following a specific structure called the Story of Self, Us and Now. You can read more about this structure here and here.

Reading through our volunteers’ White Paper submissions, it was clear that we hold certain values close to our hearts as a community – fairness, justice, equality, sustainability, bravery, generosity and boldness.

By telling our stories, we can shine a light on those values as ones shared by our wider communities, and invite people into our movement to put those values into action.

I’m really looking forward to exploring our stories together on our next Action Call, Sunday March 26 at 3:30pm AEDT, with social change and advocacy expert Anita Tang as our special guest speaker.

By Gina

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