The Power of a Good Yarn

Netflix's latest acquisition recalls how storytelling can be a game changer.

Dan Gugler is Korn Ferry’s vice president, global communications.

There’s nothing like a good story.

?Just ask Netflix. It is making its first acquisition ever: comic-book producer Millarworld, which has already spun stories that have become blockbuster movies, such as “The Avengers” in 2012 and “Logan,” released earlier this year. Now, Netflix will be mining Millarworld and its stable of characters and ideas for new content—and ways to connect to its audience.

?That’s not so different from what corporate leaders must do every day in their role as “chief storytelling officers.” Those who are best at this skill are able to use personal experiences, historical examples, and even literary references to captivate and inspire their audiences. Indeed, there's nothing like a good story for selling an idea—whether that’s a new product or a different strategy. And leaders who can share a story, particularly one from their own experience, become instantly relatable.

?Being a good storyteller isn’t just communications 101 for senior leaders. It’s a strategic skill that’s more important than ever in today’s diverse and multigenerational workforce, which has a vast array of communication channels competing for its attention. A leader who can deftly weave a tale with emotional power—who can convey universal hungers and desires—is able to connect with people, no matter where they come from. ?We have found that the best leaders do this intuitively. They have an eye for detail and an ear for the kinds of words and images that resonate with people.

?At my own company, I recall listening to an executive tell a compelling story about being aboard a plane that had a mid-air near-collision with another aircraft. As he told the story—recalling such details as the pilot’s calm demeanor before the flight took off as well as the panic in the cabin as the aircraft dove in an evasive move—I could only have a strong emotional reaction. ?It wasn't just being able to “see” people’s faces and reactions as he related the event. It was the message of that story—that leaders, just like that pilot, must always be prepared to take strong and decisive action when confronted with a crisis, or even when navigating toward an opportunity.

?Not every leader is skillful or comfortable with the personal anecdote. Shyness or a desire to protect personal privacy may keep them from sharing details, and some may even think such stories make a presentation “too much about me.” But in today’s battle for the attention span of employees, consumers, and other stakeholders, facts and figures aren’t enough. 

?As Netflix knows, just as TV and movie viewers want characters they can relate to and root for through the challenges, so do people in the workplace.