Maximize Your Influence with Storytelling

There’s a way to lead more effectively from anywhere in the corporate hierarchy without the benefit of the positional authority that comes in the form of titles and reporting relationships.

Don’t wait to get into the c-suite to change minds, impact the business and leave a lasting impression. Be influential immediately.

Telling stories, listening to stories and getting others to tell stories about you in the workplace will increase your influence and effectiveness. If you want to be more influential, but lack the authority, try using these techniques:

Manage Up

The ability to make your superiors look good, deliver bad news, anticipate their needs and weigh in with your expertise without overstepping are all components of managing up.

Stories are a gentler way to express yourself. Rather than directing those above you, telling a short story that allows them to draw their own conclusion allows to you exert a measure of influence while also demonstrating your wisdom. Don’t just tell stories; listen for them. Understanding what exactly your boss desires could be revealed in the stories she tells.

Manage Down

Lacking positional authority doesn’t mean you can’t amass loyal followers. Establish your expertise, make personal connections and change minds with the stories you tell. When stating your position, start by stating your fact-based point, and then follow with a story that illustrates your view. The story will open listeners’ minds to possibilities. Then you can conclude with your argument. It’s a winning combination for influencing people.

Trigger Stories

“Did you hear how the pitch was doomed until Shelly came up with an on-the-spot idea that the client loved?”

Get people talking about you – in a good way. Intentionally do something remarkable, then step back and watch people talk. Your reputation will grow before your eyes.

When I worked in the U.S. Senate, our office was particularly generous about giving interns and junior staff exposure to high-level discussions and access to the senator. Most of the young employees quietly observed the debates where important policy decisions were being made. One time a young staffer spoke up, much to the surprise of the senior policy experts in the room.

Kevin was prepared for the briefing, and he made a compelling case. Not only did his input impact the decision-making process, the senator and his leadership team always retold this story whenever Kevin’s name came up. Unsurprisingly, his position was quickly elevated, and he had the respect of his coworkers and bosses alike.

Elicit Stories

Learn from your elders by asking the right questions. Get them talking about their biggest mistakes or greatest discoveries. Ask open questions that take them to a specific time and place, for instance, “When you were first getting started, did you ever experience a colleague who made your job more difficult?” Continue following up with questions until the story is revealed. You will be rewarded with valuable and memorable advice.

Just out of college, my first job had casual Fridays. I asked my boss in the press office why he never dressed down on those days. He told me about the time he was in jeans on a Friday and serious news hit; next thing he knew a camera was thrown in his face and he was being interviewed on live television. I had never thought about that possibility, but once he told me of his dreadful experience, I’ve never forgotten. The idea of being caught by a camera, a drop-in visit from a dignitary or an unexpected invitation has kept me dressed up at work every day since hearing his story.

Stories are a fun and effective way to improve your leadership skills and make your mark without first obtaining management approval or changing the organizational chart. If you start using these techniques, your reputation will grow and in time your title will, too.

Listen to the free 30-minute audio download, “Making the Case for Business Storytelling to learn about more business storytelling techniques for change management and employee engagement.