Why Storytelling Works as a Leadership Tool

Two Brains Become OneEarlier in the year I was invited to join one of my clients, as a guest speaker along side their CEO, Sean Kavanagh. The venue was a webinar for TrainingIndustry.com. Over 1,000 people registered to learn about Storytelling as a business tool. Our host started the conversation by asking: Why is storytelling so impactful?

It’s a provocative question. I’ve given it a lot of thought in part, because I’ve earned my living as a storyteller and teacher of storytelling for over 2 decades.

The Actor/Audience Connection

You see, I started my career in storytelling as an actress

One of my first professional gigs was in an Agatha Christie murder mystery called: The Mouse Trap. Every performance, the precise moment when the audience figured out whodunit, something magical happened in the theatre. 300 people gasped; simultaneously. That gasp happened every single night. I never tired of hearing it. It was as if the audience and the actors had become one entity.

Neural Coupling: Motor and Mirror Neurons

What I’ve since come to learn is, that gasp has a basis in science. It’s called Neural Coupling. Neural Coupling is the result of motor and mirror neurons in the brain turning on and off in a special way.

Motor neurons are a type of brain cell that fire when a person performs an action, say picking up a glass of water or opening a door. Closely linked are mirror neurons. Mirror neurons are a type of cell that fire when someone watches another person performing an action.

When you see a coworker pick up a glass of water or open the office door for you, a neuron in your brain will fire as if you were also picking up that glass or opening that door—even if your own hand is not moving at all.

This phenomenon of neural coupling also occurs when a person simply listens to another person describing an action.

If your coworker tells you a story about the time she picked up a glass of water and spilled it on her brand new outfit, the mirror neurons in your brain will fire as if you also spilled water on your outfit.

Neural coupling creates coherence between the speaker’s brain and the listener’s brain. It is as if they are functioning as one.

That’s the reason 300 people gasp simultaneously when they discover who the killer is in a murder mystery. It’s the same reason storytelling can be used purposefully as an influencing tool in business.

Neural Coupling as an Influencing Tool

An important part of a Leader’s job is to get people to understand the logic behind their decisions. What better way to get people to understand your decision-making than to get them thinking like you; to use neural coupling?

That’s one answer to our host’s question: Why is storytelling so impactful?

During my conversation with Sean we touched on three other reasons stories are a killer tool in business, as well as five different types of stories Leaders can tell to motive, inspire and influence their teams. You can listen to our entire conversation—Leadership Storytelling: Five Narratives That Move Organizations here.

Have a listen and let me know what you think.

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