You are previewing this content.

The Proteus Leader Show #28: Storytelling and Values

Erika discusses the power of storytelling with Steve Morris who offers practical advice about how to share stories as a means of building and communicating company values.

00:00-01:03 - Introduction

01:04-04:04 - How Companies Bring Core Values to Life Through Storytelling

04:05-07:52 - The Demonstrated Value of Storytelling

07:53-10:25 - What Happens in an Organization When Stories are Shared

10:26-12:28 - Practical Ways to to Implement and Invite Storytelling Within Your Organization

12:29-13:52 - Closing

Intro: (00:01) You're listening to the Proteus Leader Show with Erika Andersen, where you'll get practical tools and insights for leading and managing and staying ready for future. Erika is the founding partner of Proteus a firm that focuses uniquely on leader readiness. A nationally known executive coach and bestselling author. You may already know her as one of the most popular leadership bloggers on Ready for something you can use today? Here's Erika.

Erika: (00:32) Hello, everyone. Welcome back to the Proteus Leader Show. So my guest today is Steve Morris. Steve describes himself as being on a mission to help organizations and their leaders realize their potential and make a positive impact on the world of their customers. He works as a leader and innovator on brand strategy, humanized marketing, organizational life, and leadership with artistry. His new book, The Evolved Brand: How to Impact the World Through the Power of Your Brand, will be published later this year. So, welcome to the show.

Steve: (01:03) Well, thank you Erika. I absolutely appreciate you having me on here and I'm so excited for our conversation today.

Erika: (01:09) Me Too. I'm very much looking forward to it. Steve, you and I connected through a mutual friend, Denise Lee Yohn. And then when you and I talked, I was especially struck by the work you do on storytelling and its connection to organizational values. So I thought that hearing more about that could be really useful to our listeners. So let's do this. So the first question I wanted to ask you: You believe that companies can bring their core values to life through storytelling. So can you talk to us about how that works?

Steve: (01:38) You know, kind of do two things in my work world, one of which is working with brands and bringing the belief systems of an organization, out both first into the culture and then into, ultimately, the outside world and part of the belief systems within an organization is that what you and I would describe as the core values of organizations. And you know, we as humans, we're wired at a very visceral level. In fact, even Darwin talks about how we're wired to connect with one another and you know, you go back through time and we think about how even before the written word or even books were published and things of that nature, how information was carried from one organization or one tribe to the next, and it was through story. We can all picture those times and places where we gathered around either a campfire or some type of dining room table or some type of a hearth in some way.

Steve: (02:40) And the elders of the organization are then sharing stories to the rest of the families or the tribe, if you will. And then those stories are then passed down over and over and over again. Then when we think about that through the context of core values, you know, any organization has a set of beliefs that at center, and, you know, those of us that raise our hands and say, hey, we want to be part of that particular organization, we also subscribe to the beliefs of the organization. And the storytelling becomes really important because it goes beyond, what Erika, I'm sure you've seen where you have, you know, an organization that either puts like a mission statement up on a conference from wall or at the entrance of the corporation, yet the CEO in and of themselves, they can't even quote it, or core values that really only show up in, say, an employee manual or they're indoctrinated on day one when someone gets onboarded into the organization. And what I love doing is taking those core values and turning them into operational values which drive hopefully very consistent behavior, but also behavior that can allow the individuals to kind of interpret on their own. And stories can be a really potent way to kind of evangelize those beliefs.

Erika: (02:40) So, three dimensionalizes them.

Steve: (04:08) Yeah, and completely puts them into action. So, you know, it's interesting, there was a study recently that I was looking at, and it was a study about how people remembered stories that came from radios much more deeply than they remembered stories that came from like sitcoms of the seventies or things like that. So you think about, you know, the reason that that's potent is because when people had to listen to a story around a radio back in the days before tv, we actually put the story in our head and we could actually then take that story and kind of make it our own. And the same thing happens with core values within organizations is that when we hear it and we hear it told by somebody else within the organization, then we're much more apt to sort of, have it sort of embedded within us and then also have the ability to retell that story to somebody else within the organization or even outside of the organization where, you know, a customer experience might come into play.

Erika: (05:11) So I assume, as I'm listening to you, I assume you're talking about stories that are examples of the values in action where somebody has demonstrated value or applied the value and gotten some benefit or has seen the value of, of doing that. Is that accurate?

Steve: (05:28) Precisely accurate. Yeah. So if you think about the difference, or one of the ways to think about the difference is that, you know, you and I could have a conversation about, you know, let's just take a, you know, a core value that might come from an Elon musk organization and that might be to perpetually or consistently innovate and we can talk about what that might mean. But if you and I both shared a story or if I shared a story with you, or you shared a story me about how that core value actually came to life. And you told me about, you know, a situation that you were faced with and what you were up against and how you innovated your way through that. Now we've taken that whole the whole meaning of that thing and we've put it into this sort of live action thing where, where we both get value from it and then I get to them. If you were the one that told me that story, I could get them to repeat that story to somebody else.

Erika: (06:24) Yes. Okay. That makes complete sense. As you're talking, I realized we do this a lot in our organization. At Proteus we have three values: Illuminating, Strengthening and Trustworthy, and we often tell stories about ourselves or quite often about each other, like when so-and-so did this it really helped the client to feel more capable and more independent of us or of anybody in here's how that worked and here's why it helped. So I've experienced what you're saying and it's really strong. It's a really strong thing that happens.

Steve: (06:58) Yeah. So it's quite beautiful when put into action. And then the other thing that I've also witnessed that happens within that when people begin to tell stories that are attributed to the core values in action, is that it also begins to invite them to think about, well, when have I experienced situations, or even witnessed situations like a coworker, stepping up into a courageous situation or having a courageous conversation either with a, you know, a customer or with another employee or even with our boss or whatever. And then telling those stories, they then get to create and tell those stories, which makes sort of like, not only is it own-able, but also it brings her own sort of genius or unique way of approaching. Here's how I interpret this thing into action.

Erika: (07:48) Personalizes it and they own it even more, then.

Steve: 07:51 Yeah, absolutely.

Erika: (07:52) What have you seen, you know, so a story or a series of stories like this are like a stone dropped in a pond. So what are the ripples you see? What happens in an organization when stories like this start to get shared?

Steve: (08:05) First and foremost, as we just talked about, the storytelling makes the core values actionable, so they become much more understood and much more believable because we've seen them in action or we've heard other people talk about them in action. It also then makes them more believable because you can, you can both understand them and you can feel them. So it's not just something like, I intellectually understand, it's now that I emotionally can embody. And then thirdly, it's something that begins to hold the others, all the others, including myself, the storyteller, accountable for the actions within the core values, and therefore they're transferring the responsibility to everyone within the organization which creates this culture of accountability. So these beautiful things that, like when I hear a story, let's say you and I were working in your organization and you told me a story that was in any way, shape or form relatable to my job, I, all of a sudden, have to live up to or feel a responsibility to live up to the accountability of, of living up to those same types of stories.

Steve: (09:18) And then next, like I said previously, that also flattens the organizational hierarchy, making, not just the leaders responsible for upholding the values of the organization, but everyone throughout, and then it invites the listener of the story to both retell and as noted before, then mine their own stories. And, that then becomes contagious in a really good way. We often use contagious in a bad way, but contagious throughout the organization and it's a great way for organizations to inform or indoctrinate new employees or new folks that their onboarding and in fact one organization that I've worked with, one of the ways that they onboard employees talking about core values as they won't even talk about the core value until they've told a story of that core value in action. And then they say it's sort of like the moral of the story is, but rather it's the core value of the story is this. And then they understand what that actually means.

Erika: (10:25) It would be impossible for me to agree with you more. Everything you're saying completely resonates for me. So I always promise our listeners that this will be practical, you know, so everything you're saying completely makes sense. So if you're someone listening to this podcast and you're thinking, okay, what can I start doing right now to start implementing this practice in my team? What would you suggest? How do people get started with this?

Steve: (10:49) Great question. So one of the things that I would advise people to do is identify two or three of your best employees, the employees that you believe that everyone in the organization should be emulating their behavior and I would capture some of the things that they do best and further I would actually capture and maybe have them tell you the leader or a small leadership team, some of the stories that they believe are most successful in moving the organization forward and then trying to sort of capture and bottle that magic of these awesome employees because they exist in every organization, right? These like hero employees that like, wow, if only everyone were like Jane, like you know, the way that she talks to a customer, the way that she deals with conflict within inner office situations, the way that, the way that Jim is very innovative like, and, and look at those individuals and it's almost like mine the values and the stories and the behaviors from those folks, and then try and capture them in the fabric, the flavor and the personality of the organization so that they can be evangelized and then capture the stories that come from those individuals and start by telling those stories over and over and over again.

Steve: (12:15) And then once that happens, you can then begin to invite other people to offer up their own stories of how those best behaviors came to be and when they came to life in action.

Erika: (12:28) Oh, I love that. That makes all the sense in the world. And I love this sort of ancient - this is very timeless what you're saying, you know it's tribal and it's one of those things that worked 2000 years ago and works now in the 21st century, this inviting of people to tell their stories in honor of the things that really work and support the organization's success. It's really cool. Very lovely. So, thank you so much. I feel like we could just keep talking and I was promise that we'll keep this short, so even this little bit really reinforces my belief in the power of story and I love the connection you've made between story and value. So thank you so much and listeners, if you'd like to find out more about how Proteus can help bring your company culture to life in these ways and others, just go to and choose the Company Culture topic. So, thank you so much, Steve. I really appreciate you being here.

Steve: (13:24) Erika it's my pleasure and happy to talk to you anytime. I love the work that you're doing there and, wish you only the very best.

Erika: (13:30) Oh, thank you. So thank you everybody also for listening, and until next time, here's to creating the life you truly want.

Outro: (13:38) I hope you're feeling better equipped to create the career, the business and the life you want. For more insights and tools for leadership and management, join us at Have an excellent day and thanks for listening.