Behind the Pages of The 10 Stories Great Leaders Tell

Behind the Pages of The 10 Stories Great Leaders Tell

I got a surprising email in April of last year. It was from a woman named Meg Gibbons at a publishing company called Sourcebooks.

She basically said she liked my work, and that she’d be interested in publishing one of my next books. But she said,

“Here’s the deal. I only work on books designed to be read in one hour.”

Basically, books for the busy executive who gets on a plane and wants to learn something important before the plane lands. I guess I hadn’t been paying attention, but there’s a whole genre of these mini-books that have popped up recently.

Anyway, she asked me if I had any ideas that could fit that format.

I said, “Well, I never thought about that before. I didn’t know that was a thing until just now. Give me a while to think about it.”

But, it didn’t take me long. Across all three of my books, I‘ve described 70 different kinds of stories people need to tell, from leadership stories, to sales and marketing stories, to stories parents tell their kids. And those books include over 250 individual stories as examples!

So, I’d obviously been erring on the side of thoroughness in my writing so far. What I hadn’t done, was focus. Not all those stories are equally important. And since you can’t cram 100 stories into a book if you want people to be able to read it in an hour, this project would force me to prioritize.

In fact, I figured I’d have enough space to tell about ten stories. So, that lead pretty directly to the idea and the title of the book I decided to write, which is The 10 Stories Great Leaders Tell. And it’s exactly what it sounds like. The ten most important stories I think any leader needs to be able to tell at a moment’s notice.

But let me start with how I picked them. I ended up settling on these four criteria:

  • First, I looked for stories that my executive clients most frequently ask me for help with. That way, I’d know these would be practical choices for leaders.
  • Second, I wanted stories that covered the territory of ideas that I know are critical to the success of a company. And I think anyone who’s spent thirty years in the business world like me will look at this list and think, “Yeah, those are ten stories that’ll make a difference.”
  • Third, I wanted stories that would be useful to leaders in just about any functional discipline. Not just general management, but HR, Finance, Marketing, Sales, Engineering, IT, etc. No matter who or what you lead, these stories will be useful to you.
  • And last, I wanted stories that wouldn’t need to change very often. That way you can feel comfortable investing the time to get them right, because you’re going to be able to tell them for years, if not decades.

Ok, using those criteria, here’s what I came up with, and the first four go together because they’re about setting direction for the organization:

1) Where we came from (our founding story)

2) Why we can’t stay here (a case-for-change story)

3) Where we’re going (a vision story)

4) How we’re going to get there (a strategy story)

If you can tell those four stories, your organization is much more likely to get wherever it is you want them to go.

Alright, the next four go together, too. But they’re more about who we are as an organization:

5) What we believe (a corporate-values story)

6) Who we serve (a customer story)

7) What we do for our customers (a sales story)

8) How we’re different from our competitors (a marketing story)

So, those stories define who you are, what you do, how you do it, and who you do it for.

Okay, the last two are a little more personal:

9) Why I lead the way I do (a leadership-philosophy story)

10) Why you should want to work here (a recruiting story)

Those stories help make sure talented people want to work with you and that they’ll embrace and follow your leadership.

So, those are the top ten. And the book just came out last week. So, if you want to see an example of each story and learn how to find and craft your own top ten stories, check out The 10 Stories Great Leaders Tell wherever you like to buy books. It’s a lot of fun and a quick read. As I said, you can probably get through it in an hour or so.

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Source: The 10 Stories Great Leaders Tell, by Paul Smith

Paul Smith is one of the world’s leading experts on business storytelling. He’s a keynote speaker, storytelling coach, and bestselling author.

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2 Responses

  1. Paul, you continue to amaze me in the following ways:
    your depth of methodical approach to sharing stories so they really impact and serve
    your generosity of sharing your work
    your persistence!

    Thanks for the continued inspiration, your integrity and connecting people to story who might not otherwise connect!

    1. Thanks, Kristin. I’m always happy to see that you take time to share your thoughts. 🙂

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