3 tips for using storytelling to lead

This week Gabi Hollows shared with us her passion for working with Indigenous Australians and her gratitude to the communities for having welcomed her into their culture.

Drawing on dreamtime narratives of creation and law, Indigenous Australians rely on storytelling to educate, inform and instill cultural and spiritual values.

“It’s all about the wisdom of the elders and we have to respect that,” says Gabi Hollows.


Teaching life lessons through storytelling is something we do naturally with our children. Hungry for information and context we rely on our own history and life experience to teach not only the skills they need for success, but protect them from some of life’s cruelties.

In saying that, as a leader, it is easy to forget to apply this same principle, something our Indigenous community is so good at, to our leadership mentoring opportunities. Taking stock of this, here are my 3 tips for using the practice of storytelling to be a better leader.

1. Storytelling creates reliability. It opens a door for conversation and leadership opportunity, simply because it is real – it is a show of cards and experience. This is important in leadership as without it you are a dictator, not a leader.

2. In the face of harsh feedback or advice, storytelling can be a saviour; bedding the necessary lesson or message within a narrative delivers an opportunity to the recipient to decide the ending. We have all had an experience of being told what to do, rather than being led to do the right thing. Sometimes providing an example of our own shortcomings and how we used these as a method for improvement can be more powerful than the feedback itself.

3. Stories create a uniting thread. It may seem an obvious thing to say, but history is one big story – our path to success and the way we got there. Sometimes these stories get forgotten.  I founded my business over 15 years ago and have held firm to my vision of inspiring wealth education and there is an importance in the history of my business. It is about more than a brand pack, it about the blood, sweat and tears it takes to make it to where you are. Constantly sharing these stories, the good and the bad, keeps the vision alive and unites those around you who may not have been there from the start to understand what you are trying to achieve.

This week I would like to leave you with something extra – the inspiring story of one of the great indigenous storytellers, Shellie Morris. The singer-songwriter, and Northern Territory Australian of the Year, has forged an incredible career – her voice and heartfelt music has seen her grace the stage from remote Australian communities to Melbourne, the Vancouver Winter Olympics, New York, Japan and London.

Using music to communicate the importance of shared experience and wisdom passed down through the ages, Shellie has been a huge inspiration and role model for Indigenous Australians. She has performed with the award-winning Black Arm Band, collaborated with Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and is working this year with Casey Bennetto of Paul Keating the Musical fame.

As an Ambassador for the Fred Hollows Foundation Shellie has helped raised awareness for the organisation and its work in improving Indigenous health and assisted their fundraising. She has also collaborated with Liberian women refugees on the project “Liberty Songs”, which share their stories of family and struggle. Her own recordings are Shellie Morris and Waiting Road and she features on Black Arm Band’s Murundak and Hidden Republic.

“My work with the Fred Hollows Foundation has been so rewarding in so many ways. Here is an organisation that truly works with communities, has tangible and successful results and builds the capacity of individuals as well as communities. To return to some of the communities I have been working in for many years and see that trachoma has been almost wiped out and the songs we create continue to be sung around the community is testament to the incredible work of its founder and all those who are part of this wonderful foundation.”

Shellie grew up in Sydney and reconnected with her family in the Northern Territory with the encouragement and support of her adopted family. She is a two-time winner of Female Musician of the Year at the NT Indigenous Music Awards and her language album Ngambala Wifi Li-Wunungu (Together We Are Strong) created with the Borroloola Songwomen won 2012 and 2013 National Indigenous Music Awards.

In 2014, she is performing at Showcase Scotland, MIDEM in France, WOMAD NZ, The Queen’s Baton and the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

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Watch Gabi Hollows interview on The Bottom Line