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3 Types of Stories Every Leader Needs in Their Toolkit


Tue Mar 28 2023

3 Types of Stories Every Leader Needs in Their Toolkit

Throughout history, storytelling has been an integral part of human communication. From ancient civilizations to modern boardrooms, stories have captured our imaginations, connected us, and taught us valuable lessons. For leaders, storytelling is an essential skill that can be harnessed to inspire, educate, and motivate others.

We will explore three types of storytelling that are particularly useful for leaders: pocket stories, which are short and used to make connections and integrate advice; origin stories, which illustrate frustration that leads to change and unifies people around a goal; and paradigm-shifting stories, which are designed to create new mindsets and shared language.


Pocket Stories: Quick and Engaging

Pocket stories are brief narratives that pack a punch. They often rely on vivid imagery and are usually personal to drive home a message, making them ideal for quickly connecting with an audience. These stories are perfect for meetings, presentations, or even casual conversations, where a leader wants to provide advice or insight without losing their audience's attention. Imagine a CEO wants to encourage their team to embrace failure as a learning opportunity. They could share a personal story about a time when they failed and how that taught them a great lesson. This is an example of a pocket story.

Origin Stories: Unifying People and Creating Willingness to Change

Origin stories delve into the heartbreak, anger, or frustration that led to a significant change or the birth of an idea. These stories resonate with people , creating a sense of unity around a shared goal and fostering a willingness to change. By sharing their origin stories, leaders can inspire their teams and encourage them to rally around a common cause.

For instance, a social entrepreneur might share how witnessing the devastating effects of poverty motivated them to create a nonprofit organization. By recounting this powerful origin story, the leader unites their team around the shared goal of alleviating poverty and galvanizes them to take action.

Paradigm-Shifting Stories: Creating a New Mindset and Shared Language

Paradigm-shifting stories are narratives that challenge existing beliefs and provoke a shift in mindset. These stories are usually longer than the other two, requiring time to build a compelling argument and introduce new insights. A paradigm-shifting story aims to create a shared language and understanding that enables the audience to see things from a new perspective. These stories require more design and practice, but when told well can truly initiate a paradigm shift.

For example, a leader might tell a story about a company that transformed its fortunes by embracing a radically different business model. Through this narrative, the leader illustrates the importance of challenging traditional ways of thinking and encourages their team to remain open to new ideas. By sharing this paradigm-shifting story, the leader cultivates a culture of innovation and adaptability within their organization.


Storytelling is a powerful tool that every leader should learn to wield effectively. Pocket stories, origin stories, and paradigm-shifting stories each serve a unique purpose in connecting with an audience, conveying values, and inspiring action. By mastering these three types of storytelling, leaders can communicate more effectively and create lasting impressions that inspire and motivate their teams to achieve great things.

Remember, a well-crafted story can transcend barriers, touch hearts, and ignite the spark of change. So, as a leader, it's time to embrace storytelling that will resonate with your audience and guide them toward a brighter future.

To learn more, check out my session Storytelling Demystified: 5 Powerful Stories That Fit Any Organization's Issues at the ATD 2023 International Conference & EXPO May 21–24 at the San Diego Convention Center in San Diego, California.

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