August 12, 2020
Great Leaders = Great Storytellers

For four decades, Procter & Gamble Co. employed a guy named Jim Bangel.

Bangel joined the company in the early 1970s, working in its research and development department. His job required him to write a memo each month about his work.

These memos were originally modeled after his colleagues’ memos — dry recapitulations of research findings. But this got old after a while.

So Bangel changed his approach. He started telling stories that revolved around a fictional character, Earnest Engineer.

More characters were introduced over time. Ed Zecutive was the president. Max Profit was the CFO. Sella Case was the sales director.

Thousands of P&G employees started reading Bangel’s memos. Before long, he was given a new job title: official corporate storyteller.

Bangel’s stories made him the single most influential person at P&G, writes P&G’s director of consumer and communications research Paul Smith in Lead with a Story: A Guide to Crafting Business Narratives that Captivate, Convince, and Inspire.

What was true at P&G is true in banking.

“The most important challenge that someone in the C-suite or high up in a company is faced with is communication,” says Frank Sorrentino, chairman and CEO of $7.6 billion ConnectOne Bancorp in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. “But communication needs to be understood for what it is. It is not me telling you something. That's just me talking to you. Communication is when I convey an idea to you, and you absorb it, understand it and then act upon it. That's when communication has taken place.

“Good storytellers are able to communicate with their folks because stories allow people to understand what you're trying to communicate,” Sorrentino continues. “If I tell you a story about what it is we're trying to accomplish, and I can give you an anecdotal story about [it], that will resonate with people. They remember it.”

Research backs this up.

“Our brain is hardwired to respond to story; the pleasure we derive from a tale well told is nature’s way of seducing us into paying attention,” writes Lisa Cron in Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence.

“Our neural circuitry is designed to crave story,” Cron continues. “The rush of intoxication a good story triggers doesn’t make us closet hedonists — it makes us willing pupils, primed to absorb the myriad lessons each story imparts.”

Indeed, as Smith explains, facts are 20 times more likely to be remembered if they’re part of a story.

Stories break down mental barriers and foster that “emotional state of curiosity which is ever present in children,” writes training coach and bestselling author Margaret Parkin.

“Once in this childlike state,” Parkin continues, “we tend to be more receptive and interested in the information we are given.”

The moral of this story, says Sorrentino, is that “every great leader is a great storyteller.”

John J. Maxfield, editor in chief of Bank Director
/ ideas, insights and perspectives on
Bank Director sat down (virtually) with three CEOs featured in our AOBA Summer Series for a glimpse into where they see challenges, opportunities and inspiration.

“The biggest opportunity is continuing to be a leader and advocate, and restoring trust in financial services — both nationally as well as locally — and being seen as a trusted advisor and a trusted advocate.” — Jill Castilla, chairman and CEO, Citizens Bancshares

Kiah Lau Haslett / managing editor for Bank Director