For years, I have called myself a storyteller. Since graduating college, I have found myself in positions where I use a wide variety of communication tactics to reach a goal. Whether that is company alignment following a shift in senior management, increased brand awareness or support for a new program, the way an organization tells a story can greatly impact its success. And I find it mind-blowingly exciting to use words to influence change.

But recently, I realized that “storyteller” isn’t enough. It doesn’t come near to painting a complete picture of the work I do — quite happily and passionately — on behalf of my clients. After all, a story isn’t created out of thin air. Rather, it is carefully crafted and molded. It winds and bends to become what it ultimately becomes, with much thought along the way of what it needs to say and what the audience should walk away with.

Every story needs a strategy.

Imagine you are in charge of the Democratic Party right now — having just lost the presidential election, with a minority in both the House and Senate. You need to not only rally your party for upcoming elections, but figure out a way to overcome the challenges that caused you to lose the election and majority in the first place. How do you go about achieving such a lofty goal? Sure, you could leverage a few people that have significant influence, such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, but does that expand your base as widely as you need to win in 2018 and 2020? And, if so, what message(s) do you craft that will reach that diverse base? How and when do you deploy those messages?

It requires strategy.

Whether a political party or a private company, it’s critical to step back. To take stock in where you are. Where you want to go. What steps you need to take to get there. To understand the obstacles that can, or will, stand in your way. To ask questions. Where have other companies failed? Where have they succeeded? What is the current landscape? Is it conducive or obstructive to your near and long-term goals?

A strategist asks (a lot of) questions and listens intently to the answers. He hears what people are saying, and more importantly, what they are not. His questions are aimed at uncovering the possibilities, opportunities, challenges and realities that lie ahead. He seeks to draw a picture that reflects those things; because without a clear picture of the present, it’s nearly impossible to create a future. That picture becomes the starting point. The canvas on which the strategy will be built. A beautiful representation of curiosity and knowledge. Research and analysis.

It requires an intense commitment to knowledge and understanding.

With the foundation laid, a strategist gets to work on tactics. Laying the actual groundwork to achieve goals. Defining each step along the way. With an eye focused on the future and feet grounded in the current reality of opportunities and challenges, she builds a framework, a blueprint. She defines metrics and outlines accountability. She addresses challenges and uncertainty. Builds confidence and secures buy-in.

It requires a deep love for — and skills in — communicating.

Surrounded by a solid team, a strategist never settles for the status quo. Always asking questions. Seeking knowledge. Challenging others around her to do the same. Being a strategist is a commitment to curiosity, knowledge, growth, teamwork and evolution — wrapped in organization. A strategist doesn’t fit neatly into one title or role; rather, she may wear many hats and work with different teams or clients. Straddling the line between past, present and future, she is simultaneously focused on yesterday’s lessons and tomorrow’s opportunities.

As a strategist, I love creating and telling stories. It’s one of the many tools in my growing and ever-expanding toolbox. But, every strategy requires different tools, and it’s my passion to figure out which ones will be most effective for each unique opportunity — and, of course, to keep building that toolbox.

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