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Storytelling for Leaders

by Evelyn Clark  |  
June 22, 2004

Storytelling is a powerful communication tool that marketing and advertising professionals use very skillfully to promote their companies' products or services. But did you know that stories are also effective as a leadership tool?

Many of the most admired US companies have for years used stories to convey values, vision and behaviors that lead to success.

For example, Nike employees have heard for years that their company owes its existence to a track coach and a waffle iron. Workers at Armstrong International know a round of golf once cost their CEO $248,000. And employees at Medtronic are brought to tears when they hear about a man with Parkinson's disease whose life was transformed by their company's technology.

Great leaders know that workers need more than lofty mission statements and industry buzz words. To understand and appreciate what their organization stands for, workers need to hear about its people, its values and its history.

So smart leaders tell stories. They periodically gather the “tribe” around the corporate campfire (the boardroom, annual meeting, holiday events, etc.) to recall their legends and share new tales. By touching the hearts as well as the minds of their employees, customers, and stakeholders, they leave a legacy of experiences that inspire generations.

Stories Hit Home

“All you can do is relate the successful experiences you've had within the company,” says Jim Sinegal, cofounder, president and CEO of Costco Wholesale. “What else have we got besides stories? That's what really hits home with people; it's what brings meaning to the work we do. And when you have real examples, like our success in selling Calvin Klein jeans, that's what resonates.”

“A picture is worth a thousand words, and a story told appropriately is priceless,” Sinegal adds. “Telling one of our own stories speaks volumes about our philosophy and our values.”

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Evelyn Clark is a professional speaker, retreat facilitator and communication consultant. She is also the author of Around the Corporate Campfire. Reach her at

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