26Leaders of public health should always be ready to tell people things which they don’t want to hear and storytelling is an effective strategy to pass the message across.Certain things that should be brought to the attention of people whether they want to hear are like… stop smoking, importance of eating a healthy diet and exercises for about half an hour each day. Constructing simple narratives can motivate people to easily heed such messages as they help in communicating the potential harm posed by such undesired health behaviors as well as benefits of the desired behaviors. Of course, no one wishes to spend their life tethered to oxygen tanks when they should be enjoying their life. Everyone dreams of living long enough with the hopes of playing catch with their lovely grandchildren.

The challenge of communicating health messages

Communicating some health messages can at times be more challenging than you might think. For instance, unlike what most lay people believe and the good intention of any health professional, cancer screening doesn’t always result in a better health outcome. Such a narrative is a little more complex and when constructed poorly, it can defeat itself. The concept of leading through story telling isn’t new as you might probably. When reviewing a leadership book in 1995, Warren Bennis said that leaders are distinguished from counselors or psychotherapists by the fact that they are able to find a voice which enables them to easily articulate a common dream.

An effective leader is able to put useful words to formless longings as well as needs that are felt deeply by the society. These leaders create a community out of their words. Jack Welch, the CEO of General Electric knew how to effectively regale his employees using memorable stories that inspire and instruct them. This enables the employees to relate their personal experiences with the vision he has for the company. An admirer of the CEO said that a good story from an executive has the potential of sparkling the imagination of listeners and triggering a creativity snowball which will in the long run permeate an organization’s culture. Such stories need to be shaped to reflect the organization for them to be effective.

Effectiveness of public health narratives

Having strong public health narratives has a wide range of benefits starting with the ability of fostering the ‘macro’ medicine culture. Most executives in leading organizations have used stories successfully for shaping their corporate culture. Experts also continue to add that any effective leadership story must be true or authentic to the audience, the teller, the mission and the moment. Still on the same note, the target audience in public health, especially the policy makers and clinicians must be prepared to receive and embrace the message, particularly the moment for it to have a positive effective. Finally, everything done by a story teller needs to be faithful and in line with his ultimate mission.