Of all the things that Warren Buffett is good at — making money (his net worth: $67 billion), building a company (Berkshire Hathaway's stock market value: $500 billion) and teaching (he wants to be remembered as a teacher, he said) — there's another thing that is certainly his forte but doesn't earn the famous investor a ton of credit: storytelling.
And more than ever, storytelling is an essential building block of leadership success.
Consider Buffett's annual letter to shareholders. In his latest letter, accompanying Berkshire's annual report that came out two weeks ago, Buffett compares fund managers to monkeys and uses other analogies and stories to explain why investors, on average and over time, will do best with low-cost index funds.
In an era of increasing CEO distrust, Buffett relies on a couple of centuries-old methods — letter-writing and storytelling — to build trust in him and his company.
Whenever Buffett wants to share his take on the world, he often tells a story. I'll never forget five years ago Buffett called me at my Fortune office to tell me that he believed many CEOs were discounting women to their own detriment and to the harm of the U.S. economy — and would Fortune run an essay by him about this topic? Of course, we said yes.
In "Warren Buffett Is Bullish on Women," in the 2013 Fortune 500 issue, he brilliantly translated his take on diversity to a language that guys running Fortune 500 businesses can relate to: "No manager operates his or her plants at 80 percent efficiency when steps could be taken that would increase output," Buffett wrote. "And no CEO wants male employees to be underutilized when improved training or working conditions would boost productivity. So take it one step further: If obvious benefits flow from helping the male component of the workforce achieve its potential, why in the world wouldn't you want to include its counterpart? Fellow males, get on board."
What, beyond a point of view and a specific message to communicate, makes a great storyteller? After more than 30 years interviewing and profiling CEOs and world-changing entrepreneurs, I've learned that the leaders who best attract followers do four important things with their storytelling: