Storytelling: A Leadership Tool Recap

It is fascinating how stories always bring people together. From our earliest memories as children, we would always find ourselves gathered at the feet of our grandparents just to listen to the wonders of their captivating tales. Stories have their way of stirring our souls, whether they evoke happiness, sadness, excitement, or warmth. What’s so great about stories is that they possess the power to pull us from our corners to lay so helplessly and defenselessly at one’s feet to the enchanting narratives that flow so gracefully from the mouths of the wise, the entertainers, and even the fool.

AWiB’s October monthly event centered around the theme of “Storytelling: A Leadership Tool,” Folktales have been told and movies have been made throughout history but ‘Leadership’ and ‘Story’ are not terms one would often hear together. Then how do leaders communicate their visions? How can stories drive change? And how can storytelling be used to promote products and services for entrepreneurs and businesses?

Hinjat Shamil AWiB’s president-elect, introduced the sponsors and provided a brief background on AWiB’s birth, growth and current activities. Subsequently, the event sponsors, namely Yetem Trading, R&D Group, Admas Tour & Travel, and Lifelike Works Media Company were introduced and given the opportunity to promote their respective products and services. Additionally, four AWiB members, representing Maki Rasen Jewelry (Saron Tadesse), DMC Real Estate (Tsigereda Zewdie), Heni Creative Arts (Hiwot Tilahun), and Endazi Crafts (Azeb Tilahun) were given a platform to showcase their products and introduce their services.

Kemer Temam, AWiB’s 2021 President and a dedicated woman known for her passion for positive change and leaving a better world for all, served as our moderator. Our notable guests included Aida Ashenafi, an accomplished filmmaker, producer, & director and Steadman Harrison, a visionary leader & founder of Lead Beyond Inc.

Steadman, renowned for his ability to captivate audiences, had a unique way of starting each story with the phrase, “Can I tell a story?” He connected the main characters in his tales with strong leadership qualities, emphasizing that everyone has the potential to be a catalyst for change. His stories, such as “Taking the Lead” and “Letting Go to Change the World,” left a lasting impact, inspiring listeners to share similar stories and pass on the lessons of leadership. He mentioned that every story needs the four P’s: Person Place Problem Point. When you tell a story make sure you have a person in a certain place with a certain problem that solves it to make a point.

Aida engaged the audience moving around the stage with her arms floating around as she made sure all the attention of the audience was on the palm of her hand and the embrace of her arms. She told us story after story which was a compilation of lessons after lessons. With her expertise in filmmaking, she emphasized the power of storytelling and the elements of a great story as she told us that storytelling is a skill that can be honed through dedication and learning as long as one puts their heart and mind to it. Aida highlighted that those who possess the ability to tell stories hold the potential to shape the world.

Aida and Steadman portrayed the power of storytelling through their stories as they made this subtle connection of their stories with the qualities of a leader.

During the Q&A session, an audience member puzzled about the success of the movie industry and its ability to generate significant profits asked what was so great about storytelling. The speakers explained that storytelling taps into our emotional nature. Some stories have used our nature either against or for us throughout history. As stories are told, the brain waves of the storyteller align with that of the listeners and heartbeats synchronize as the same feeling inside the speaker is created in the listener. This nature has been used to either build or destroy: a person, a country, or a whole generation. We have Hitler giving a speech and telling a story to ten thousand 10,000 people as ten thousand hearts beat at the same time, for the worse. It is our responsibility to dictate what happens in the future, what story is being told and what message is being projected for the future. And that is why we need to take caution in what story we tell. What story do we really want to pass on to our children?

Though we are not standing behind podiums, in the little stages we have and the ears that lean towards us, we usually incline more towards telling negative stories. Steadman emphasized that it was our responsibility to tell the positive ones. And if we made the effort to tell positive stories so much more, then it would override the negative ones until their dark colors slowly start to fade to the point of being not realized, at least in our circle.

Another audience filled with awe of their expertise couldn’t help but tell our guest speaker to keep doing what they are already doing as they had a huge role in shaping our worlds. Aida and Steadman responded saying that it wasn’t only their role, but everyone’s. The story with power is in each of our hands. Our stories don’t need to be influencing everyone and they surely don’t need to be broadcasted. If you have ears that listen, then your little brother’s attention, your neighbor’s heart and your little circle’s minds are all that you need to make up greatness.

Our moderator, Kemer, raised a question on how we could make our stories great and how we could make our stories transcend and make them our listener’s stories. A great storyteller might have already taken 10,000 hours to learn how to tell great stories, ‘But…” Aida said, “use just 500 hours and inspire and love those around you.” Steadman showed his special tool, “Empathy”. He told us how he leans into empathy the most to build trust and a relationship when he tells stories. He relies on stories that prompt empathy more and at the same time, think of what stories his listeners would go home and tell again. What fits the particular audience? He is always the same person but thinks of what persona he should take when telling a story as it is unique for each listener.

In the end, the evening proved to be a memorable experience, with the guest speakers sharing their own personal journeys of becoming skilled storytellers. As a token of appreciation, a book titled “Abyssinian Nomad” by Meskerem Haile, which chronicles an African woman’s journey of love, loss, and adventure, was presented to the speakers.

The event concluded with a call to action – Aida and Steadman encouraged everyone to tell positive stories, to override the negative narratives that often dominate our discourse. They reminded us that each of us holds the power to shape the future through the stories we tell, even within our small circles. By dedicating time and effort to storytelling, we can inspire and move those around us, leaving a positive impact on our communities.

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