9th August 2018

Storytelling as a vehicle for leadership – a reflection

One of the most striking characteristics of the #150Leaders group is its diversity. Whilst many of us may be engaged in studying similar academic courses, share career goals and hold common views on our approaches to healthcare, each of us carries our own highly individualised and unique story.

It is these stories and unique pathways that have shaped us, define us and ultimately determine our values, shaping our own leadership journeys. Moreover, our ability to authentically share and convey these stories can be seen as an invaluable tool with which we can connect, engage, influence, persuade or act as an advocate for individuals, groups or causes that resonate with our own story. As such, effective storytelling should be seen as a valuable leadership skill.

On Tuesday 7th August, Dr Katerina Kolyva, Executive Director of the Council of Deans of Health hosted an online discussion covering the topic of ‘Storytelling as a vehicle for leadership’. Prior to the discussion, Katerina had prepared the participants by requesting that we read her own leadership story, (if you’ve not already had the chance, I’d suggest you take a look here). Spanning from Katerina’s childhood to present day, the story gave context and background to Katerina’s journey, her influences, passion for effective leadership, Pan-European outlook and on-going thirst for knowledge.

The ball was set rolling with the opening question covering our own experiences of storytelling, both professional and personal, and the impact that this has had upon us. It was broadly agreed that the opportunity to share our own stories with fellow delegates and also hear the stories of the visiting speakers at the various #150Leaders events had proved invaluable as not only an icebreaker, but as a method of reflection, a means to identify and connect with like-minded colleagues within the broader group and to advocate for our own chosen field of study. The importance of authenticity was also raised, as it was agreed that dishonesty or falsehood in storytelling could lead to manipulation.

The topic then moved on to providing examples of how we have used storytelling to influence a debate, when presenting, leading or participating in a discussion. The group was able to share a wide range of examples of their own experiences, from group reflection exercises and the scope that this raises for support and encouragement; to storytelling as a means to disseminate new ideas or promote issues such as, for example, increased male participation in nursing. Through this an interesting sub-topic around our own experiences of therapeutic storytelling in clinical practice developed, leading to a further discussion around the various forms that storytelling can take, whether verbal, narrative, using music, art, photography, or visual sketch-boarding, and the positive benefits of these that the group had witnessed on both patients and their loved ones.

Rounding off, the group examined the extent to which storytelling has featured in our own studies and, if not, the potential to include it in the future. The general feedback was that the role of storytelling does not currently feature heavily in any of our chosen courses, but that, based on our own SLP experiences, we would all like to see it do so, particularly role-modelling and story-boarding as a means of practice education. It was, however, widely agreed that we have all felt a greater ability to relate to and be inspired by the members of academic staff who, whether anecdotally or purposefully, have chosen to share their own stories as part of the student/teacher relationship.

In conclusion, it was agreed that authentic storytelling can prove to be an invaluable tool with which to build trust, create a narrative, inspire, engage a team and build support for a desired outcome; also in a clinical context, to build a therapeutic relationship, encourage engagement and to ease the stigma around often difficult subject matter. The extent to which this requires an element of vulnerability and therefore emotional intelligence will differ based on the individual story teller and the relevant circumstance…

Surely there’s a topic for a future #150Leaders conference in there somewhere!

Thanks again to Katerina and to all who made it such an engaging and informative discussion.

Samuel Richards @SamuelOftenSam