In my work as a storyteller and advisor to senior leaders, I’ve worked with a broad range of leaders across a broad range of industries — from coal mining to biotech, fashion retail to healthcare, venture investing to consumer technology.

Good leaders vs. great leaders

What I’ve learned about great leadership is that, of all the many responsibilities leaders have in common, there are only two that distinguish truly great leaders from all the others: the ability to create a vision, and the ability to inspire and activate their teams to achieve it. While achieving the former requires a combination of intellect and daring, the success of the latter relies on Story. Story is the single most powerful tool a leader has to make an idea real.

The power of story in an organization

The best stories do three things: they spark imagination and desire in the listener, they allow each individual to see their role in creating a shared future, and they inspire individual ownership and accountability at every level of the organization.

What makes a great story

While this sounds easy enough to achieve, it isn’t. Because great stories aren’t just about words and images on a page. Great stories are about reaching people, deeply. And reaching people is a mix of art and science. It’s part poetry. It’s part romance. It’s part heroism. It’s a brilliant combination of the right words, the right images, the right medium, and the right cadence, tone, and conviction of the one who tells the story.

The first step in becoming a better storyteller

Teaching someone to tell a better story requires more than a single blog post, but the first step I often use with leaders to help them get past the clutter of everything they want to say, so they’ll focus on the simplicity of what their listener needs to hear, is to tell their story with headlines alone. Great storytelling is like great product design. It starts by focusing on the essential and having the discipline to leave everything else out.

Storytelling is for everyone

But great storytelling isn’t just for CEOs. It’s also for the project leader, the entrepreneur, and the job seeker. It’s for anyone whose job it is to sell themselves — or their ideas — to create a better future.