elon musk on stage discusses solar city plans facing the crownd in 2017

“The great storytellers have an unfair competitive advantage,”1» said Bill Gurley, partner at Benchmark, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm which led investments in Snapchat, Uber, Instagram or Dropbox. This strong affirmation underlines the fact that those who master the art of federating around stories benefit from a considerable advantage. Would this be a sign of leadership?

Inspire others

The faculty of inspiring others, making a vision tangible or a story true may be a sign of leadership. Leaders are gifted storytellers or brokers of anecdotes. Bill Gurley added: «They [storytellers] are going to recruit better, they will be darlings in the press, they are going to raise money more easily and at higher prices, they are going to close amazing business developer partnerships, and they are going to have a strong and cohesive corporate culture».

Storytelling: a codified art

If some people can rely on their intuition to tell a story well, storytelling however relies on a few principles, such as: a fundamental purpose, a hero, a conflict, a structure and strong emotions enabling contact with the public.2 We could draw a parallel with the way fairytales or movie scripts are built. Who did not keep on dreaming, while hearing “they lived happily ever after”, as a promise for a better future? Even though they could also hear a magical belief…which true leaders should distrust.

Let us watch Elon Musk keynote about Tesla Powerwall, launching the division of solar batteries, a storytelling using the « desire, obstacle, result » canvas.

That day, Musk did not seem so at ease, or particularly transcendent. Looking for his words, sometimes stuttering, his proximity, sincerity and ability to improvise or entertain when needed, the ambiance that he built as if he was on a one-on-one conversation created progressively attention and implication. His direct and simple conclusion generated applause and enthusiasm.

Emotions as the vector of communication

The common point of leaders at ease with storytelling lies probably in their ability to contact with their emotions and those of their public, to give the opportunity to their audience to identify and project themselves in the story told. That night, Musk was an imperfect man presenting a project with the ambition to transform the world of tomorrow. As in films, series or novels, it’s above all because characters are human that we manage to connect with their desires and dreams.

Yes, storytelling is a sign of leadership. Let’s each of us try, in our humble level, to take inspiration in the art of storytelling to convince, engage or lead projects.


[1] Bill Gurley, “In defense of the Crowd,” abovethecrowd.com, 7/7/2015 ; http://abovethecrowd.com/2015/07/07/in-defense-of-the-deck/

[2] Adrien Rivière, « Storytelling : cinq clés pour devenir un grand orateur », Les Echos, 29/01/2018 ; https://www.lesechos.fr/idees-debats/cercle/cercle-178571-le-storytelling-le-secret-des-leaders-2148946.php