The power of narrative — how  leaders transform complex strategies into compelling stories

What’s the difference between sharing a strategy and telling a story?

It’s a trick question. There shouldn’t be any difference.

Effective leadership hinges on the ability to understand the landscape your business operates in and the challenges you’re facing, to delegate responsibility, to make decisions, and to articulate and communicate a clear vision. There are many other requirements, but these key elements form the foundation.

Leaders get the job because they excel at the first four things. But conveying complex strategies and ideas in a way that resonates with various stakeholders can be challenging. The vision for change may be sound, but is it compelling? The rollout plan may be complete, but does an engagement plan even exist?

This is where the art of storytelling shines. It’s an integral, yet often overlooked, component of strategic leadership. It’s not saying, “Here’s my plan…”, “Do this…”, or “We should…”. It’s about framing ideas and strategies as compelling narratives. This is what helps leaders captivate their audiences, inspire action, and drive meaningful change

Let’s look at how sharing a strategy is akin to telling a story, and how narratives combined with visual storytelling can help people understand, buy into, and support change — whether large or small. 


Empathize with the characters: Put people at the center

In any good story, the characters play a central role in driving the plot forward. Similarly, in strategic change or organizational transformation, employees, customers, and other stakeholders are the protagonists whose actions and decisions shape the outcome. You may have formulated the plot, but it’s your people that have to act it out. So when it comes to internal comms, effective leaders understand the importance of putting people at the center of a strategic narrative, highlighting their roles, aspirations, and challenges. 

As a leader at the top of the org chart, you and your C-Suite “get” one another. You share perseverance, experience, connections, and intelligence from your time shared in the trenches. But your organization is likely full of people at all levels with these same qualities. And while you have those things in common, you are somewhat removed from the day-to-day- perspective of those hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of people.

However, by harnessing the knowledge, passion, and expertise of your people, consultancies and organizations can better create a sense of buy-in, understanding, and ownership that is crucial for driving sustainable change. For example, by visualizing and humanizing the strategy through key stakeholder involvement and showcasing real-life examples of individuals impacted by the proposed changes, leaders can foster empathy and create a sense of shared purpose. This helps make what matters to them matter to the team.


Craft the narrative arc: Engage people on an emotional level

At its simplest, every story follows a narrative arc: It has a beginning, a middle, and an end. For maximum engagement, a well-defined strategy also should unfold like a compelling tale with a mix of characters, anecdotes, and situations.

By structuring strategy as a narrative, leaders can provide context, build suspense, and create a sense of urgency. Instead of bombarding stakeholders with long emails, dry data, and bullet points, they can engage them on an emotional level, making the strategy more relatable and memorable.

For example, by sharing success stories of employees who have embraced innovation, or by highlighting the positive impact of the strategy on customer satisfaction, anecdotes help to add depth and authenticity to the narrative, making it more compelling and persuasive — making it believable.


Visualize the storytelling: Paint a vivid picture for people

Just as a picture is worth a thousand words, visual storytelling can be a powerful tool for conveying complex ideas and concepts and effectively communicating a change story. Whether through presentations, infographics, or videos, leaders can leverage visuals to paint a vivid picture of their strategy, making it easier for stakeholders to understand and internalize.

As is evident, visuals can help simplify abstract concepts, illustrate key data points, and evoke emotions in ways that words alone cannot. By incorporating elements such as graphs, charts, and illustrations, leaders can provide visual communication cues that guide the audience through the narrative, enhancing comprehension and retention.


Create a call to action: Inspire people to effect strategic change

Every great story has a purpose — often to inspire, educate, or entertain. Similarly, a well-crafted business strategy should culminate in a call to action that motivates stakeholders to embrace change and work towards a common goal. Whether it’s rallying employees around a shared vision, encouraging collaboration across departments, or inspiring innovation and creativity, leaders must clearly articulate —and visually demonstrate — what is expected of their audience and how they can contribute to the success of the strategy.

By framing the call to action as the climax of the narrative, leaders can build momentum and create a sense of urgency that better propels stakeholders into action. No matter the delivery — through a rousing speech, a compelling presentation, or an interactive workshop — leaders must seize every opportunity to galvanize their audience and ignite their passion for change. 

But remember that the story continues (and sometimes changes) as the actual execution evolves over time, so you need to work to sustain the initial emotional engagement. And keeping people excited and engaged throughout the journey is no easy feat. Leverage the story from start to finish, and not just at the outset. What’s done? What’s next? What’s working? What do we need to focus on or fix? Strategy is not static. It’s a living thing.

Think of it this way: Strategy is what you do rather than what you say. It’s complex and dynamic. It’s hard to see, awkward to quantify, and maddening to keep on track. You really do need to use storytelling to make the abstract clear, to make the massive manageable, and to connect your people to the strategy.

Make the strategy the foundation for the messaging — not the message

Sharing a strategy is not merely presenting a set of objectives and action plans. It’s about planning, crafting, and unfolding a story of the change in a way that engages, inspires, and mobilizes stakeholders towards a common purpose. By using the transformation strategy as a foundation for the messaging, versus being the messaging, you can better articulate — and show — people where your vision will take them, why it matters, how everything connects over time, and how they fit into that big picture. 

When you do that, you’ll have their attention — and you’ll be able to better drive meaningful change and propel your organization toward success.