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Tracey Bray

Aegon UK

Head of Training And Development

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Book Review: Lead with a story


Storytelling is regaining its rightful place as a key leadership skill, especially in relation to employee engagement. 

The idea is that a PowerPoint slide presentation, complete with salient bullet points, is much less likely to win over hearts and minds than a good story. 
So I was really excited to receive a copy of Paul Smith’s new book on the subject entitled ‘Lead with a story – A guide to crafting business narratives that captivate, convince and inspire’.
After a brief introduction as to why storytelling is so effective, the author goes on to provide stories that can be used in almost any situation in which leaders may find themselves, from coaching to developing a company vision.
He also explains how to structure your own story and helpfully provides a couple of mnemonics to help do it – CAR = STORY MAKERS.
Smith proposes that every good story has a:
Action and
It should also have a:
Subject who is trying to achieve something or find the
Treasure, but who is blocked by an
Object. The
Result will be obtained through having learned the right lesson, which is when, as the storyteller, you link back to
(Wh)Y you chose to tell the story in the first place.
The ‘S‘ in MAKERS, meanwhile, comprises stylistic considerations:
Metaphors and analogies
Appealing to emotion
Keeping it real, tangible and concrete
Including the Element of surprise
And Recasting your audience by creating a scene or event in which they can participate.
The author also provides a template to help you get started as well as a useful reference guide for all of the stories in the book, each of which is paired with a salient leadership situation.
Reviewer’s rating
I really wanted to like this book but, by the end, I was almost longing for some slides with bullet points. There were some really useful nuggets in it such as the ‘values in action’ tales and the advice about asking your customers for stories, but you do have to go panning for them. 
The most valuable chapter was the final one in which Smith makes some suggestions on where you can find stories in order to start a personal collection.
The book also felt targeted very much to a US audience. The stories were virtually all set in US companies and in one of the few UK examples, the author even decided to ‘americanise’ the job titles, converting them all to vice presidents. 
Smith likewise provided no guidance as to what different cultures might look for in a story. In my experience, most British audiences are keen on a bit of humour asthey like to laugh and learn. 
But none of the stories in his book contained any humour at all. So, although the author helpfully provides lots of tales, I am not sure how well they would work for a more international audience. 
Moreover, because Smith is director of consumer & communications research at Proctor & Gamble, the book frequently reads like a paean to his employer.
As a result, if you are keen to learn how to capture people’s hearts with a good story, I think there are better books to help you do so.
  • This book was reviewed for us by Tracey Bray, head of training and development at life insurance and pension provider, Aegon UK.
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Tracey Bray

Head of Training And Development

Read more from Tracey Bray