Leading with Springboard Stories

Communication Organizational culture Respect


Key Point: The elders of many indigenous tribes would likely smile, perhaps even smirk, at the newfound attention regarding the vital nature of story telling as a necessary trait amongst leaders in modern organizations. Story telling is the essence of behavioral guidance in many cultures. In some they actually refer to the word story as a verb rather than a noun.

Steve Denning is one of the leading experts regarding story telling in organizations. His latest book is The Leader’s Guide to Radical Management. He is also the author of The Leader’s Guide to StorytellingThe Secret Language of Leadership, and a regular blog on Forbes. Denning outlines different types of story telling for different purposes and I would like to highlight what he calls “springboard stories” within the context of sparking action and leading people to a more desirable future state. This is what Denning says: 

“Sparking Action. 

 Leadership is, above all, about getting people to change. To achieve that goal, you need to communicate the sometimes complex nature of the changes required and inspire an often skeptical organization to enthusiastically carry them out. This is the place for what I call a ‘springboard story,’ one that enables listeners to visualize the transformation needed in their circumstances and then to act on that realization. Such a story is based on an actual event, preferably recent enough to seem relevant. It has a single protagonist with whom members of the target audience can identify. 

Leading People into the Future. 

An important part of a leader’s job is preparing others for what lies ahead, whether in the concrete terms of an actual scenario or the more conceptual terms of a vision. A story can help take listeners from where they are now to where they need to be, by making them comfortable with an image of the future. The problem, of course, lies in crafting a credible narrative about the future when the future is unknowable. Thus, if such stories are to serve their purpose, they should whet listeners’ imaginative appetite about the future without providing detail that will likely turn out to be inaccurate.”

I have just been part of an organization story telling process involving 4,000 plus team members over a short three-month period. This experience reinforced for me that story telling can help develop rich understanding about stated values and how they ideally get translated into daily work. The challenge is to highlight memorable springboard stories, that are powerful enough to spring people into sustainable intentional action. Not all stories do that. 

Character Moves: 

1. Become more than a leader/storyteller, learn to become a master springboard storyteller. It’s as necessary of a skill in leadership as becoming digitally literate, a superb coach, a relationship builder and results executor. Invest in this skill. 

Springboard stories in The Triangle,


One Millennial View: There’s no secret to the value of a great story, told with good delivery by a gifted storyteller. (My profession is completely based on the demand for stories). Some may think this is skill reserved for entertainment purposes, a dinner table or some other “recreational” period. But there’s a reason we remember a good joke, or an inspiring tale. It’s the “story” element that keeps it memorable, and gives us the ability to reference it later. We grow up learning through key worded text books, which is just fine. It works. But, in the real world, I’m likely walking away from a meeting involving a “springboard story” with more comprehension, motivation and purpose than if the same message was delivered in bullet points. 

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis