The Leader's Guide to Storytelling: Mastering theArt and Discipline of Business Narrative, Revisedand Updated
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More About This Title The Leader's Guide to Storytelling: Mastering theArt and Discipline of Business Narrative, Revisedand Updated


How leaders can use the right story at the right time to inspire change and action

This revised and updated edition of the best-selling book A Leader's Guide to Storytelling shows how storytelling is one of the few ways to handle the most important and difficult challenges of leadership: sparking action, getting people to work together, and leading people into the future. Using myriad illustrative examples and filled with how-to techniques, this book clearly explains how you can learn to tell the right story at the right time.

  • Stephen Denning has won awards from Financial Times, The Innovation Book Club, and 800-CEO-READ
  • The book on leadership storytelling shows how successful leaders use stories to get their ideas across and spark enduring enthusiasm for change
  • Stephen Denning offers a hands-on guide to unleash the power of the business narrative.


STEPHEN DENNING is a leading writer and consultant who consults to organizations in the United States, Europe, Asia, and Australia in the areas of leadership, innovation, business narrative, and management. He is the author of the acclaimed books Squirrel Inc., The Secret Language of Leadership, and The Leader's Guide to Radical Management.


Preface ix

Introduction 1

The purpose of the book and the process by which it came to be written.

Part 1: The Role of Story in Organizations 15

1 Telling the Right Story: Choosing the Right Story for the Leadership Challenge at Hand 17

Based on the author’s personal journey of discovery, the chapter offers a catalogue of narrative patterns and a cost-benefit analysis of organizational storytelling.

2 Telling the Story Right: Four Key Elements of Storytelling Performance 40

In an organizational context, telling the story right usually begins by choosing a plain style in which you tell the story as though you are talking to a single individual. You tell the truth as you see it, and prepare carefully for the performance. In the actual performance, you make yourself fully available for the audience and endeavor to connect with them as individuals.

Part 2: Eight Narrative Patterns 57

3 Motivate Others to Action: Using Narrative to Ignite Action and Implement New Ideas 59

The challenge of igniting action and implementing new ideas is pervasive in organizations today. The main elements of the kind of story that can accomplish this — a springboard story — are the story’s foundation in a sound change idea, its truth, its minimalist style, and its positive tone.

4 Build Trust: Using Narrative to Communicate Who You Are 89

Communicating who you are and so building trust in you as an authentic person is vital for today’s leader. The type of story that can accomplish this typically focuses on a turning point in your life. It has a positive tone and is told with context. Sometimes it is appropriate to tell your story, but sometimes it isn’t.

5 Use Narrative to Build Your Brand: The World of Social Media 109

Just as a story can communicate who you are, a story can communicate who your company is. Stories that the company tells about its brand are becoming less important than stories that customers tell. The products and services that are being offered are often the most effective vehicle to communicate the brand narrative to external stakeholders.

6 Transmit Your Values: Using Narrative to Instill Organizational Values 126

Values differ: there are robber baron, hardball, instrumental, and ethical values; there are personal and corporate values, and espoused and operational values. Values are established by actions and can be transmitted by narratives like parables that are not necessarily true and are typically told in a minimalist fashion.

7 Get Others Working Together: Using Narrative to Get Things Done Collaboratively 151

Different patterns of working together include work groups, teams, communities, and networks. Whereas conventional management techniques have difficulty in generating high-performing teams and communities, narrative techniques are well suited to the challenge.

8 Share Knowledge: Using Narrative to Transmit Knowledge and Understanding 181

Knowledge-sharing stories tend to be about problems and have a different pattern from the traditional well-told story. They are told with context, and have something traditional stories lack: an explanation. Establishing the appropriate setting for telling the story is often a central aspect of eliciting knowledge-sharing stories.

9 Tame the Grapevine: Using Narrative to Neutralize Gossip and Rumor 205

Stories form the basis of corporate culture, which is a type of know-how. Although conventional management techniques are generally impotent to deal with the rumor mill, narrative techniques can neutralize untrue rumors by satirizing them out of existence.

10 Create and Share Your Vision: Using Narrative to Lead People into the Future 228

Future stories are important to organizations, although they can be difficult to tell ina compelling fashion since the future is inherently uncertain. The leader can tell a future story in an evocative fashion or use a springboard story as a shortcut to the future. The differences among simulations, informal stories, plans, business models, strategies, scenarios, and visions are reviewed.

Part 3: Putting It All Together 251

11 Solve the Paradox of Innovation: Using Narrative to Transform Your Organization 253

None of the traditional approaches to transformational innovation actually works. Solving the paradox of innovation requires rethinking the whole concept of management. Storytelling has a major role to play.

12 A Different Kind of Leader: Using Narrative to Become an Interactive Leader 269

Effective use of the full array of narrative techniques entails becoming an interactive leader, that is, a kind of leader quite different from a conventional command- and-control manager. The interactive leader is someone who participates, connects, and communicates with people on a plane of equality and is relatively free of ego.

Notes 295

Bibliography 315

Acknowledgments 327

About the Author 329

Index 331