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"This book, Steve Denning’s Magnum Opus on Storytelling, is a great achievement: the one book every manager should read before giving up their lifeless PowerPoint presentations. The book is creative, eclectic, passionate and useful-a rare and winning combination for a business book."
Larry Prusak: co-author of Working Knowledge

"Storytellers play a pivotal role in the 21st century enterprise, and Denning has provided us with a handy field guide to the narrative craft. After making a compelling argument for the power of storytelling, he gives us the details on how to deliver the right story at the right time. Read this useful book-and then tell your friends about it!"
Tom Kelley
author of The Art of Innovation

The Leader's Guide to Storytelling

Mastering the Art & Discipline of Business Narrative

by Stephen Denning

Hardcover, 277 pages
May 2005,
Available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, and Borders.

The book is a comprehensive look at the role of storytelling in meeting the most important leadership challenges today, including motivate others to action, build trust in you, build trust in your company (branding), transmit your values, get others working together, share knowledge, tame the grapevine, create and share your vision, solve the paradox of innovation, and use narrative to transform your organization.

In his Harvard Business Review article, Telling Tales (May 2004), Steve Denning outlined the main high-value forms of organizational storytelling and how they could cope with the principal challenges facing leaders today. Now, The Leader's Guide to Storytelling offers a detailed account of why each type of story works and how it works, with numerous examples from business settings of each type of story and practical templates so that to assist leaders to construct their own story.

The book covers some new areas, not covered in the HBR article, including:

  • the role of narrative in marketing and branding;
  • the reasons why conventional approaches to resolving transformational innovation don't work, and the role of narrative in resolving the paradox of innovation.
  • how leaders should perform a story in a business setting.
  • what is the nature of the leadership is needed for transformational innovation and how does this differ from conventional notions of management?


  • Did you know…

  • That storytelling already constitutes more than $1 trillion in the US economy?
  • Why storytelling can handle leadership challenges for which conventional command-and-control techniques are impotent?
  • Why Lou Gerstner was successful at transformational innovation in IBM when so many other leaders failed?
  • Why John Kerry lost the 2004 presidential election despite an overwhelming case for change?
  • Or why Carly Fiorina failed at HP?
  • How Michael Dell can communicate who he is in 60 seconds?
  • Why companies waste billions of dollars on advertising?
  • Why the ideas that are rejected in a company are usually worth more than the company itself?
  • That business audiences who are skeptical or hostile to a new idea can be turned into enthusiastic converts by telling the right story?
  • That stories can not only fuel the rumor mill but also kill it?
  • Why most leaders have difficulty telling a compelling future story?
  • The secret behind generating high-performance teams?
  • What ever happened to ethics in corporate management?
  • What do transformational leaders actually do?


  • You'll find the answers to these questions and much more. Thus it's a book that's as much about leadership, as it is about storytelling. It addresses the most difficult challenges that leaders face and suggests practical ways of dealing with them. What is typically missing in current theories of leadership is: what specific leadership behavior leads to what result? It is thus unclear exactly what transformational leaders actually do to achieve the results they are said to achieve. This makes it difficult to validate the underlying ideas or to train people to become leaders. What The Leader's Guide to Storytelling does is to spell out the specific, identifiable, measurable, trainable behaviors that can be used to achieve the goals of transformational leadership.

    In some ways, you could say that it’s the business book equivalent of Squirrel Inc, with examples from the world of IBM, GE, Xerox and so on, rather than the imaginary land of squirrels. It gives detailed how-to advice and practical templates for constructing and performing your story.

    But The Leader’s Guide is considerably deeper and broader than Squirrel Inc. because, as I was writing it, I discovered that there was a need to clarify the underlying subjects. Why is change so difficult? What is human identity? What are brands? What are values? What is knowledge? Why can’t we solve the problem of innovation? What kind of leadership actually works and why? Narrative bears on all these issues, but the book has ended up being more than a simple toolkit of how to use story, and goes into the underlying reasons why story works when nothing else does.

    What to read a few chapters?

    You can have a look at the Table of Contents.

    You can also read an excerpt from the Foreword and Chapter 1

    Available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, and Borders.




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