Lead with a Story, by Paul Smith

Author and consultant Paul Smith spent decades working in marketing at Procter & Gamble, and the accumulated wisdom of his many hard-earned lessons are nicely encapsulated in his eminently practical, “Lead with a Story: A Guide to Crafting Business Narratives That Captivate, Convince, and Inspire.”

Smith covers a lot of ground in this ~280-page book. Leadership is an overarching theme (as reflected in the wordplay of the title), but the focus is on practical application. He shows how storytelling can be used as a lever on anything from motivating a team to teaching hard lessons and catalyzing creativity and individual performance. Every chapter includes explicit how-to guidance with strong summaries and exercises.

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The defining feature of “Lead with a Story” is its story richness. Smith does more than share real-world examples, he explains the principles and dynamics of effective storytelling in terms that will resonate with a busy business leader or executive. And to be sure, there are stories galore: The book even includes a vast, miniature table in the appendix which indexes and categorizes every useful story by business challenge. In this regard, its practical value is more likely as a reference tool, as opposed to a more narrative work along the lines of “The Storytelling Animal.

One story that sticks with me is a tale of a young P&G rep who struggled to understand how impoverished families in India could justify purchasing modern feminine hygiene products. It came clear to her when she visited a poor family, and an exhausted mother explained that her daughter needed to feel confident about attending school and getting an education. “I don’t want my daughter to be like me,” the mother confided.

Make me understand the meaning behind modern consumer products in the third world, and you’ve just earned your storytelling stripes, Mr. Smith.

Anyone looking for an easily applicable how-to guide for stories that can land well in the business world, this book is worth a look. Smith has also written storytelling books for sales and for parenting, and he’s a prolific blogger who is definitely worth following.

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