Creative Leadership Series Part 3: Leading through Storytelling, the Neuroscientist’s Perspective

Posted on February 22, 2017


Image source: Thomas Schultz, Wikimedia Commons

“A story line changes the activity of people’s brains” – Paul Zak

Storytelling is one of the most powerful techniques we have as humans to communicate with clarity and impact, and to motivate others towards a cause. Storytelling is thus key for engagement- and as such the ability to tell a story is a core leadership competency. Let’s look at the neuroscience behind storytelling to explore the power of being an effective storyteller in more detail:

Storytelling and Empathy
A story activates ‘neural coupling’ in the brain, allowing the listener to turn the story into their own ideas and experience while they strive to identify with the character and plot, this is important for exercising emotional intelligence.

Storytelling and Alignment
Due to a phenomenon called ‘mirroring’ the listeners of a story begin to experience similar brain activity to one another as well as to the speaker. This is important when aligning people with a common cause, and rallying collective action around a shared meaning such as an organisational change journey or even with the organisation’s purpose, for example.

Storytelling and Memory
Whilst listening to emotionally-charged events in a story,
the release of a chemical called dopamine is triggered in the body, this increases the attention of the listener, resulting in the information transmitted through the story being remembered by the listener with greater accuracy.

Storytelling and Creativity
Listening to a story activates more areas of the brain than when listening to facts. With more areas engaged, cross-hemisphere nerve connections are formed, increasing the potential for learning, creative thinking and moments of insights.

At Redwood & Co. we use the art of storytelling in our creatively crafted learning environments to empower leaders to become impactful communicators. What are your best tips for telling stories? Have you had similar experiences with telling stories? We’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic.

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