Great Storytellers

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“A great storyteller will and always be rooted in the people.  It is granted to him to reach back to a whole lifetime, culling from his own experience as well as the experience of others to unfold narratives that provide counsel, advice and direction.”

          –     Walter Benjamin, (1892 – 1940), German essayist, as quoted by Doris Kearns Goodwin in her book, Leadership: In Turbulent Times

In the hands of a great storyteller, the story doesn’t have to be all that good.  Check out Aaron Sorkin‘s work if you don’t believe me.  Sports Night, The West Wing and others weren’t based on great stories, but they were told magnificently.

Goodwin’s book is about four presidents (Roosevelts (2), Lincoln and Lyndon Johnson).  In their own rights, each was a very good storyteller, despite being very different in their approach.  Where the concept comes to life is when we learn the influence of great storytellers on the four men, and how it helped them shape their leadership styles.

Who were the great storytellers in your life?  Mine include an uncle, a couple mentors, a teacher or two, a coach and a handful of friends along the way.

What made them great story tellers?  I bet their approaches were rooted in the people, reaching back over a whole lifetime, culling from experiences to establish a narrative that provided counsel, advice and direction.  The point of a storyteller is to adapt the story to the circumstances.  A seminal story in my career, told by one of my mentors has been used to cheer someone up during struggles, motivate them during times of great success and to ground them when they got out over their skis a bit too far.  Same story.  Culling from experiences, providing counsel, advice and direction.

This quote might seem inconsequential in Goodwin’s intended purpose for the book.  That said, it leapt off the page at me, and connected in a way that made it the lead for the Daily Diff’s return from hiatus.

Remember a great storyteller that made a difference for you.  If they’re still around, call them, text them, drop them a hand-written note and let them know…

 


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  1. […] Yesterday we touched on the noun effect; great storytellers. […]

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