Storytelling in Leadership Starts With These Questions

Written By

Jen Mueller

Sports fans inherently know the importance of storytelling. Unless they’re the type who look at the score or the outcome… and nothing else. No highlights. No recaps. No interviews. No social media. No conversations with other fans.

And let’s face, that’s not the way fans consume information.

It’s also not the way you or your colleagues consume information. Even data driven people with a thirst for stats know there’s a story behind the numbers that influences or affects decisions.

Storytelling is hugely important for conveying messages, providing context and influencing people – things all leaders should do.

But there’s a catch.

Storytelling is subjective.

A good story isn’t universal. What resonates with one person might not land with another.

Yet it’s universally accepted the most influential and effective leaders are great storytellers. It’s a requirement that seemingly comes with a moving target unless you start with the same set of questions I use in the locker room. The guys I talk to are great at telling stories that add context, elicit emotions and explain results. You call those post-game interviews. I call it storytelling and my job.

My goal in a post-game interview is to tell the story or what happened and why it matters. Essentially the questions I ask are ones every fan wants answered when they look at the outcome of the game. The answers athletes provide tell the story.

Each one of my questions fall into one of five basic categories:

How did you contribute? There’s a specific reason I asked for the interview in the first place.

My questions could sound like:
              How did you make that catch?
              How did you anticipate the throw and end up with the interception?

What went right? This is pretty self-explanatory.

The questions could sound like:
              What made the biggest difference from last week?
              What adjustments were made in the second half?

What went wrong? Getting a straight-forward answer can mean asking specific questions.

My questions could sound like:
              Why couldn’t you find sustained success in the run game?
              What did the opponent do that was different from what you expected?

Where do you go from here? This could be turning the page, looking ahead or lessons learned from the experience.

My questions could sound like:
              How do you turn the page?
              Can you quantify the significance of your recording-setting day?

Teammate admiration. Asking about a teammate opens the door for praise to be shared among the team.

My questions could sound like:
               What was your view of that 3rd quarter catch?
               How do you explain the effort of ____ when he’s been sick all week?

The answers to these questions tell the story of what happened. Unlike the essays you were forced to write in high school or college the answers to the questions don’t require pages and pages of writing. A 5-question interview typically lasts 2 ½ -3 minutes in a post-game setting.

Now that the pressure is off to write an essay, go back through categories and revise the questions to relate to something you did today.

After all, a post-game interview is just asking a player to recap his/her day at work. What happens if someone asked you to recap your day at work and launched into a list of questions. Could you answer them? Would you feel comfortable sharing the answers?

Comfort level aside you should be able to answer all of these types of questions at the end of every week, project, goal, etc… The answers aren’t just for you, they’re for you team. People around you count on you being able to articulate the positives, negatives, next steps and acknowledge individual contributions. All of those elements build trust, foster rapport and increase productivity.

Don’t forget it’s the stories that compel people to take action. Just ask any sports fan who’s booed, cheered, shown frustration or suddenly started to worry about the team. The numbers don’t generate that kind reaction, stories do. The same kind of stories you should be telling when talking to your team or fanbase.

Communicating with Remote Teams


Jen Mueller SuperBowl Ring

Jen Mueller, veteran sports broadcaster and rock star keynote presenter is the author of The Influential Conversationalist. She specializes in conversation strategies that develop leadership potential to improve business communication.

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