Some leaders closely guard their brand-defining secret recipes. Successful entertainment executive Peter Guber gladly unveils his “secret sauce” in the new book Tell to Win, subtitled Connect, Persuade and Triumph with the Hidden Power of Story.
Guber, who produced such films as Rain Man, Midnight Express and The Color Purple, illustrates the power of storytelling with compelling examples drawn from his own life and career.
Indeed, first-hand experience is his recommended source of useful content, although he encourages the reader to be curious and find content everywhere, including history, books and movies.
While there are numerous captivating story examples in the book, many business professionals will relate to a story Guber shares from his years as a young studio head at Columbia Pictures. Promoted through the ranks quickly, he was still playing catch up in developing effective team leadership skills. As a result, he found himself overwhelmed at the end of each day trying to tackle all the problems that ended up in his office.
Hollywood legend and former studio head Jack Warner came to the rescue with some great advice in story form. “Kiddo,” said Warner, “think of yourself as the zookeeper and the problems left in your office as monkeys.”
Warner then explained that when people came to see him, they’d try to offload their monkeys on him. Although Guber might not spot a monkey immediately, when it inevitably appeared, his job was to take the monkey and its owner by the hand and walk them out of his office. When they returned, they needed to bring a solution to the problem.
From this analogy, Guber learned that the proper role for the studio head was not to assume all the problems of the business, but to guide and counsel his team as they worked toward a resolution. Later, he was able to share the lesson with other leaders, telling them to stay out of the “monkey business.”
How to harness the power of story
Guber writes for business people whose comfort level is typically the world of data and statistics. Yet, few listeners remember carefully researched facts and figures after a presentation.
Instead, writes Guber, leaders should think of themselves as in the emotional transportation business. In place of a data dump, he proposes that purposeful storytelling is the means to connect with an audience, whether customers, employees or shareholders, and motivate them to action. Storytelling showcases a leader’s enthusiasm and makes him or her memorable.
In addition to numerous entertaining stories to inspire the reader’s creative thinking, Guber’s book is filled with practical, actionable advice. Among the tips:
- Realize that stories help you build a following for your brand.
- Be interested in what is interesting to your audience.
- Be authentic. Show the audience you have skin in the game.
- Prepare, prepare and prepare to engage your audience.
- Create a dialogue that makes your audience participants, not passengers.
- Surrender control of your story to the audience to promote a viral story.
- Drop your script, when needed, and be spontaneous.
Guber, whose long career includes service as chairman and CEO of Sony Pictures, today heads the Mandalay Group. In the third act of his career, Guber realized “that the face-to-face telling of the right story in the right room at the right time and in the right way can galvanize listeners to action and reset the teller’s success trajectory.”
Although he appreciates the benefits of technology, Guber advocates for the in-person connection, terming it “state-of-the-heart technology” and an essential part of a leader’s toolkit.
Have you harnessed the power of storytelling for your business or career? Can you share examples?