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Build Trust Through Effective Leadership Storytelling

The power of effective storytelling can strengthen stakeholder rapport.

Key points

  • Effective storytelling strengthens rapport and trust with stakeholders in a pandemic-impacted world.
  • Leaders should use social intelligence to understand and connect with key stakeholders.
  • Emotionally engaging storytelling builds rapport and influences people's perceptions.
  • Follow storytelling principles and structures to create compelling narratives that resonate with stakeholders.

As the world continues to adapt to pandemic-induced disruptions, effective storytelling can be a powerful tool for leaders who want to future-proof their organizations and reinforce their rapport and trust with key stakeholders.

Leaders need to consistently strengthen ties with the people who can make or break their business’ success. To do so, it’s important to identify key stakeholders, learn the truth about them, and make them feel understood.

The next step involves reinforcing trust and rapport. Doing so requires applying social intelligence skills for effective leadership storytelling.

Build Rapport and Trust With Your Stakeholders Using Effective Storytelling Techniques

Social intelligence refers to the strategic capacity to evaluate and influence other people’s emotions and relationships. Social intelligence-based methods will allow you to strengthen trust between your organization and your stakeholders.

Consider a new CEO brought in to turn around the culture in a mid-sized tech company. He has a problem convincing the senior executive team to shift to a flexible, hybrid and remote work schedule in the post-pandemic recovery. The C-suite of this company mostly preferred their old, office-centric schedule and processes, and wanted to go back to what they perceived as the pre-pandemic “normal.”

Unfortunately, too many leaders are forcing their employees back to the office. That’s despite in-depth surveys showing a strong preference for flexibility by employees. The CEO wanted to address this problem as part of his turn-around efforts for the company’s culture but wasn’t sure how to approach addressing the traditionalists in the C-suite.

Focusing on facts inspires criticism and arguments. In contrast, using stories speaks to emotions, inspires engagement, and is memorable. When telling stories to strengthen rapport with stakeholders, leaders should follow four key principles.

1. Show Emotions

Build emotional rapport with key stakeholders. This means showing vulnerability and sharing personal stories that emphasize how your values and goals align with theirs.

Stories should both entertain and educate, and entertainment trumps education. Your goal is to engage people and get them to open up, which happens through entertainment. For entertainment value, make the story vivid, meaning rich in sensory detail.

2. Stories Go Straight to Our Emotions

People enter a more open mental state when you tell them a story. Our minds intuitively accept stories rather than argue with them.

Think about what emotions you want to evoke with your story. Focus on appealing to universal human experiences. Use humor and imbue your voice with emotion.

3. Show Strong and Mostly Positive Emotions When Telling Stories

Tell positive stories infused with excitement, enthusiasm, and hope. Include the negative emotion of anger when needed. Utilize despair only if you are telling a story of redemption. Avoid sadness as it doesn’t motivate action, but makes people passive.

4. Avoid Telling Tall Tales

Be creative, but never be untrue. However, your stories shouldn’t be simply a report of information. Use storytelling to highlight ideas and concepts that would otherwise be overlooked by your stakeholders. You can also use attentional bias—our tendency to pay attention to the information we find most emotionally engaging—for your benefit.

Types of Stories

You can relate the following to the issue on which you’re working. Mix and match stories as needed.

  • Origin story for yourself: Builds trust and cultivates relationships with stakeholders. Tell your story as it relates to shared values and goals. Make yourself look good, and tug at your listeners’ heartstrings.
  • Origin story for your project: Communicates what your project is about and builds trust in it. The story should be well told, with strong emotions, tapping shared values, and containing vivid details.
  • Springboard story: Should convey how change was implemented effectively. It should have a protagonist with whom the stakeholders can identify and a happy ending that inspires future action.
  • Parable that transmits values: Has a protagonist with whom stakeholders can identify. It conveys the dangers of violating values and a sad ending.
  • Knowledge-sharing anecdote: Describes a challenge and how it got resolved. It should have a clear description of the problem, the setting, the solution, and the explanation.
  • Case study: Illustrates a point you are making through tangible and concrete examples.

The CEO shared a springboard story of how he led his previous organization—a mid-sized fintech company—from a near-catastrophic disruption at the pandemic’s advent to relative stability a few months after. He emphasized how initial telework difficulties seriously harmed the company’s culture, divided the C-suite, and soured relations between the CFO and himself.

The C-suite forced the CEO to consult an external mentor, who shared how other companies were navigating COVID. The guidance enabled the CEO to shift to telework effectively.

The change was a massive success. The whole C-suite—including the formerly antagonistic CFO—agreed to a flexible, hybrid remote work schedule in their post-pandemic plans.

A Tale of Success in Effective Storytelling

After sharing that springboard story and some more in-depth case study stories with the current C-suite, the CEO observed a quick rise in engagement. The senior leaders became more open to shifting to a flexible, hybrid work schedule.

Afterwards, a few senior leaders confided that, due to his past success, they believed he could lead them into the future of work. The shift strengthened his rapport with the C-suite and boosted employee morale and productivity.

Once the plan was announced internally, the company took a poll. It showed high employee satisfaction with the new flexible policy and a boost to company culture. With even more uncertainty brought about by the Great Resignation, the senior leaders found this evidence of job satisfaction an immense relief.


The best way to maintain your connection with stakeholders is to reassure them systematically that you are on the same page. You can do so by using storytelling techniques that strengthen your emotional rapport by entertaining and educating your stakeholders. You will inspire them and engage with them, reinforcing your bond and building trust.


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What Is the Function of Confirmation Bias? Uwe Peters

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