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Why You Should Avoid Being a Storyteller

Just answer the question.

There’s a popular thesis that great leaders are great storytellers, that if you aspire to be a great leader, you need to develop your storytelling skills.
I’ll save the debate on that thesis for another 60-Second Read.
Suffice it to say that I believe there are other skills that leaders need to develop before storytelling, such as delivering great results, leading with influence, and developing exceptional talent.
But again, that’s for another time.

When You Should Avoid Storytelling
Here’s when you should avoid storytelling: When you’ve been asked a question.
Simple as that.
Many inexperienced leaders feel compelled to provide their reasoning first: “That’s a great question. As you know, the economy is in an interesting situation with the Fed raising interest rates, inflation coming down, the dollar’s cooling off, and the job market still very tight….”
Don’t make that mistake.
Just answer the question, and then provide your rationale, and do it succinctly.

The “1-3-1” Framework
Here’s a simple “1-3-1” framework to use when you’re asked a question by your Board, VCs, senior leadership, etc.:

  • 1-sentence answer, followed by
  • 3 reasons to support your answer, followed by
  • 1 question, asking what questions they have.

Question: “David, what do you recommend we do about our supply chain?”
Do not start to discuss all the issues/problems surrounding the company’s supply chain. Why? Because those waiting for answers will be wondering, “Where’s he going with this?”, or “Stop wasting my time, and get to the point.”, or worse, “I don’t think he knows; is he trying to figure this out on the fly?”

Instead, answer the question in one sentence: “We need to increase the number of suppliers.”
Then provide 3 reasons for your answer:
“We need to do so, as our main supplier is not reliable, new more reliable sources have come to market, and the exchange rates are in our favor for seeking alternatives.”
Then follow up with a final question back: “What questions do you have?”

A Better Streamlined Approach
This streamlined approach illustrates to others that you are competent, respectful of their time and their intelligence (if they need more info from you, they’ll ask for it), and you have the confidence to have an opinion/perspective.
Obviously, you need to know your stuff so you don’t waffle. But that’s why you’re in the role you’re in, right?
Worst case, take a few seconds, think of the 1-3-1 framework, and then answer.
Better still, when you’re preparing for an important meeting with your Board, VCs, and/or senior leadership, ask yourself, “What questions should I expect?” And then use the 1-3-1 framework to prepare your responses.

Storytelling skills can be helpful at times. But not all the time.
Usually your stakeholders want to be informed, not entertained.