As a wee one, sometimes I would lie in bed and keep myself awake thinking of scenarios I didn’t have the answers to, trying to wrap my mind around some concept that was pretty grandiose. Like, “what if there was no earth and no planets and no stars and no moon or sun – what would space look like? Just black that goes on forever?” Interestingly, I didn’t end up working for NASA…
I guess I haven’t stopped this quest to philosophize the amorphous because lately, I’ve been trying to wrap my head around how the government, the behemoth that it is, communicates change within and to the public and motivates groups or even the masses to take part. In essence, how do leaders within the government or any organization effectively lead?
Along the way of this genre of pondering, I came across this HBR article by Stew Friedman, Professor of Management at Wharton – “How a 2-minute Story Can Help you Lead.” At large, it discusses how “leaders gain trust and teach people what’s important to them by telling stories.” It explains that a good leadership story has the “power to engage hearts and minds” and has these 6 essential elements.
1. Draws on your real past and lessons you’ve learned from it.
2. Resonates emotionally with your audience because it’s relevant to them.
3. Inspires your audience because it’s fueled by your passion.
4. Shows the struggle between your goal and the obstacles you faced in pursuing it.
5. Illustrates with a vivid example.
6. Teaches an important lesson.
This article reminded me of a book I read a few years ago called “Squirrel, Inc” by Stephen Denning. Maybe akin to delivering a message through the likes of Fraz Kafka’s beetle in Metamorphosis or George Orwell’s pigs, the book is a look at leadership through storytelling. In short, a bunch of squirrels work for a mythical company (no surprise there hopefully) that provides nut burying services. Squirrel, Inc. is having problems because humans are digging up their nuts and more than 50% are lost. The company wants to change its vision to a nut storing business but this has to be communicated within and this poses problems. The book outlines how the squirrels “learn the fine art of change through storytelling in their quest to overcome obstacles, generate enthusiasm, and team-work, share knowledge, and ultimately lead their company into a new era of success and significance.”
This idea of leading through storytelling seems to have a compelling truth to it. In our “breakneck speed” society today, “attention is one of the most valuable modern resources.” Going back to my childhood tendencies to wrap my mind around amorphous concepts, how do leaders, as Stephen Denning puts it: Persuade people to change? Get people working together? Share knowledge? Tame the grapevine? Communicate who they are? Transit values? Lead people into the future?
Maybe storytelling, and to tailor to our twittering and jittering society today, storytelling in 2-minutes – is something worth trying…
What are your thoughts? Have you seen examples of this that have worked?