How Successful Leaders Use Stories to Gain Buy-In

Using Stories to Gain Buy-In From Your Team

One of the most crucial skills for establishing and maintaining your team is not only defining your vision but also getting buy-in for it. Imagine, if you have a revolutionary idea (which I am sure you will), without buy-in for it, nothing will happen. 


We all know that it’s not easy to undertake a new initiative, may it be a new operational process or a new technology you are trying to integrate. Smaller initiatives also sometimes fail because, “it has always been done this way”. This attitude and thought process can and does create a pervasive resistance to change across a team or an organization. At first, this is the mindset you need to change.


When it comes to change many employers just tell their employees to act differently. However, in doing so, they ignore a fundamental facet of human behavior. As described in Roger Connors and Tom Smith’s book “Change the Culture, Change the Game”: Behavior is informed by beliefs.


Anyone can command or force someone to act a certain way and perhaps also get exactly what they are looking for. However, for sustainable change to occur, leaders must do more than demand different behavior. They have to shift mindsets.


How do you this? By storytelling.


How can storytelling help leaders be more effective? 


Storytelling is useful in far more situations than most leaders realize. 


The five most commonly used are: 

  • Inspiring the organization
  • Setting a vision
  • Teaching important lessons
  • Defining culture and values
  • Explaining who you are and what you believe.


In his book Buy-In, Arthur Kotter explains the importance of gaining others’ support in order to create organizational change. He writes, “Buy-in is critical to making any large organizational change happen. Unless you win support for your ideas, from people at all levels of your organization, big ideas never seem to take hold or have the impact you want. Research has shown that 70% of all organizational change efforts fail. One reason for this is that executives simply don’t get enough buy-in, from enough people, for their initiatives and ideas.”


As he explains, storytelling is a very effective way to influence employees and create a sense of “want” and sense of “buy-in”. From reading to watching movies and tv shows, we understand the power of a story creates an emotional impact; it teaches us a lesson and can even change our minds. As leaders, we can tap into that same power of stories to create change at work.


However, you have to be strategic. You need to choose the right story to support your idea, and then deliver it in a compelling way. In order to do this you need to:

  • Be brief. Get to your point and don’t drag your message along.
  • Use emotion or humor to engage your audience.
  • Set the scene. Allow people to imagine where you want them to be.
  • Make sure to tie your story back to your main point. It needs to have a purpose.


Make sure to have a strong pitch


We have heard it time and time again, “communication is key”. How you communicate this idea or change will make or break your employees’ reaction to the big news.

Make sure you have a persuasive “pitch” that includes a strong and compelling story. It should answer the key questions that your team will likely have, such as: 

  • Why the change is happening
  • How it impacts the business
  • Key goals and objectives the change is designed to meet


Additionally, lay out a timeline for the employees to let them know exactly when the change will take place. These insights will give them a better grasp of the company’s vision and settle any worries about the unknown.


As Ron Crossland says in Voice Lessons: Applying Science to the Art of Leadership Communication, “Facts alone seldom persuade and rarely inspire.” Enrich your message by using metaphors or analogies that draw attention to your message. Use examples that will show what the change means for people.


There are many stories someone can tell to lead change. For example, tell an uplifting story that brings the vision to life. Consider telling an “I know what you’re thinking and feeling” story. This is a story that anticipates their objections and shows them how their objections and concerns aren’t applicable in this case. 


Always make sure that any story you tell is authentic and told from the heart.

Put it to the test


Let’s say that you, the team leader, needs to get your team to “willingly” work over the weekend to get out an important client project. You can use the following four steps to build your leadership story:


  1. Storytelling is ultimately about delivering important business messages. Decide what is the message you need to get across and the feeling you want the receivers of the communication to have. Get it clearly, succinctly in your head.
  2. How can your points be supported by stories or a narrative? For instance, you could get buy-in for a new initiative, by talking about clients you know and how this new initiative will positively affect them.
  3. Rehearse delivering the story. If you don’t feel comfortable with storytelling, rehearse it.  Don’t worry about being perfect the first time. That’s why it’s called a rehearsal. Each time you repeat it, it will be smoother and help build your confidence.
  4. Memorize the opening. This will help you begin with confidence that will grow as you continue.


Always remember, storytelling makes leadership possible. A leader without the ability to tell a great story has lost the platform and power to persuade.



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