Book Review: Lead with a Story

Lead with a Story is a book on storytelling, but make no mistake it is also a leadership book.  It is full of practical wisdom on leadership and management that come to life through real world stories. Like a physician who takes his own medicine or a preacher who lives by his own sermons, its author, Paul Smith, shows how anyone can craft business stories that captivate, convince, and inspire. — Robert Tanner

Several months ago, the media placement firm, Media Connect, asked me to review Paul Smith’s book, Lead with a Story. Paul is the Director of Consumer & Communication Research at Proctor and Gamble and a trainer on leadership and communication. When I received my free review copy in the mail, I noted the bold promises on the cover:

Features powerful stories for 21 of the toughest challenges business people face.

A guide to crafting business narratives that captivate, convince, and inspire.

With the Internet, I read so much professional copyrighting that promises so much so easily. It’s easy to become a bit jaded! Since reading the book, I’m happy to say however that Paul’s real world stories are powerful. Just as important, his stories are also simple and relatable. You do not need an advanced degree to get the point! Lead with a Story is a collection of thought-provoking stories. Paul has not forgotten the practical manager either who finds storytelling challenging.  Lead with a Story is also a how-to guide for developing compelling business stories.

Like Paul, I am a disciple of storytelling and I use it frequently in my own consulting and training work. Some leaders do not understand or accept the power of this tool however. You can literally read the skepticism on their faces when you discuss this tool. Without any words, they are telling you:  I’m not here to tell stories! Fortunately, Lead with a Story makes a compelling case on the value of this neglected skill that even the most-hardened skeptic will find difficult to refute.

I enjoyed reading the many stories in the book and the lessons Paul makes from them. His real-world stories reinforce important leadership and management lessons on topics like communication, leading change, leadership vision, valuing diversity, delegation, employee engagement, and many other areas.  These story lessons are tools that can positively impact behavior.

For example, managers often struggle with how to influence their employees, peers, or boss to “do the right thing.”  In my work, I spend time with managers like this helping them to learn how to adjust their own approach to get better results. WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?) is one tool I use. As I explain to them, you cannot change the behavior of others by appealing to them with what is important to you; you have to appeal to others by focusing on what is important to them and aligning that with what you need. Find out what another person’s WIIFM is and focus your efforts there. (Leaders who learn this concept are much more successful in managing conflict, motivating others, and leading change.)

Paul has several examples of WIIFM in his book.  One of his stories I liked about WIIFM dealt with behavior that should be easy to change—littering. As Paul explains however, it is not always easy to get people to do the right thing:

 In the 1980s, none of the antilittering campaigns were working in Texas. Even the highly successful national TV campaign showing a Native American shedding a tear over a littered highway didn’t work there. Why? Research . . . found that the people in Texas who did most of the littering were 18- to 35-year-old pickup-driving males who liked country music, didn’t like authority, and certainly didn’t care about weepy Native Americans. This was their target market. They called this demographic “Bubba.”

What did Bubba care about? Bubba cared about Texas. Everything is “bigger and better” in Texas. And like all of us, Bubba cared about himself. The solution then, was to appeal to Bubba’s love of his home state, and his natural self-pride. Thus, the campaign “Don’t mess with Texas” was born. . . . The message in the ads was the same. When you litter here, you’re messin’ with Texas.” And when you mess with Texas, you’re messing with anyone who cares about Texas. . . . This association turned the worst litter offender into the biggest antilitter advocate.  “Hey, that’s me!” Not only was Bubba not littering, but if he saw someone else littering, he’d call him out on it. Litter dropped 72 percent over the next five years.

The lesson again is this: If your audience doesn’t naturally care about your idea, find out what it does care about and associate your message with that.

Storytelling is indeed powerful! We learn this from the struggling single Mom on welfare who used storytelling to captivate the world with her stories about a young boy wizard living in England.  (During the process, she became a billionaire! Humans love stories.) We learn this from behavioral interviewing where job candidates have to tell their own story to convince others to hire them. (The best way to sell yourself is to effectively tell your story!) We learn this from the insightful corporate leader who used storytelling to jump start the stalled leadership development efforts in her company. (Perseverance with storytelling is a recipe for change!)

We also learn the power of storytelling as a tool for leadership in Paul Smith’s book, Lead with a Story. I recommend that you buy a copy and keep it in your management toolbox.  It would also be a great gift to give to someone who is a student of effective leadership.

Take your leadership skills to a higher level by crafting business stories that captivate, convince, and inspire!



  • Lead with a Story is published by AMACOM, a division of the American Management Association. The American Management Association is one of my former clients. I did not receive any compensation for this review.
  • Photo cover used with permission.
Written by Robert Tanner | Copyrighted Material | All Rights Reserved Worldwide

This article is accurate to the best of the author’s knowledge.
Content is for informational or educational purposes only and does not substitute for professional advice in business, management, legal, or human resource matters.

Robert Tanner, MBA

Welcome to my leadership blog. I'm the Founder & Principal Consultant of Business Consulting Solutions LLC, a certified practitioner of psychometric assessments, and a former Adjunct Professor of Management. As a leadership professional, I bring 20+ years of real world experience at all levels of management.

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