IT talent: Storytelling a core skill for 2020 and beyond

Your future as an IT leader depends on your ability to craft and deliver a story - especially around digital transformation. Learn how top CIOs are making this skill central to IT talent strategy
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Storytelling tips for leaders

“Tell me a fact, and I will learn. Tell me a truth, and I will believe. But tell me a story, and it will live in my heart forever.”

This Native American proverb holds a powerful lesson for business leaders. Effective storytelling goes beyond facts and logic. It connects with hearts and minds. It inspires. And it helps people remember the why behind their actions – all essential components of change management. Storytelling not only builds advocates, it leads to success, said Jason James, CIO of Net Health.

IT Talent Strategy: New Tactics for a New Era

Storytelling is a soft skill many leaders struggle with early on in their career; I was no different. I over-communicated with users in hopes of helping them understand issues and provide transparency. In retrospect, my messages were unnecessarily long, overly detailed, and not written for a specific audience,” said James.

“Effective storytelling engages an audience,” he continued, “making them more likely to relate and remember your message. It’s essential for building advocates and getting users excited about embracing new technologies. Your future success will be dependent upon your ability to craft and effectively deliver your story.”

Storytelling is especially useful for teams undergoing digital transformation, as Stephanie Welsh, senior director of IT strategy and enablement for Red Hat, recently noted.

“Through storytelling, you can develop a compelling vision of where you are and where you want to go, bringing people along with you on the journey in a way pure data and bullet points would never be able to,” she says.

It needn’t be complicated, Welsh pointed out. Leaders who have worked to master this skill know that storytelling is effective when it’s simple, relatable, and woven into daily communications.

“You might tell a story about your first day at a new job, for example, and describe how excited you were but at the same time petrified that you were going to mess something up, and then relate this to how your team may be feeling about taking on new roles to support your digital transformation initiative,” says Welsh.

How to cultivate storytelling skills

As leaders embrace the power of storytelling, it’s increasingly becoming a top skill they look for in new hires and cultivate in their existing teams. Not only do leaders want people who can extend the reach of their stories, but also weave their own as they look to collaborate and influence people across the business.

In fact, a new report from Harvard Business Review Analytic Services highlighted communications as a core skill for IT talent in 2020 and beyond. According to the report, “All the IT leaders interviewed for this report spoke of the need for their teams to be effective verbal, written, and visual communicators. This communication requirement means being able to present in front of IT and business colleagues, to be capable of pitching ideas and influencing people’s thinking, and to master storytelling.”

The report went on to describe some of the novel ways IT leaders are cultivating this skill in their organizations. For example, “DBS Bank worked with the co-founder of an Oscar-nominated visual effects company to turn employees into storytellers. He taught over 200 key technology and operations leaders how to tell a great story and present a business case in a more succinct way. Each person wrote a story based on their work, department, or division, and the top 50 were showcased in a book,” noted the report.

This example is one of many in the report demonstrating that leaders understand the power of soft skills – from storytelling, to adaptability, to collaboration – and that they are rethinking their talent strategy to put these skills front and center.

Download the full report: “IT Talent Strategy: New Tactics for a New Era,” to learn more.

Carla Rudder is a community manager and program manager for The Enterprisers Project. She enjoys bringing new authors into the community and helping them craft articles that showcase their voice and deliver novel, actionable insights for readers.