Magazine article New Zealand Management

Leadership: In Search of a True Story

Magazine article New Zealand Management

Leadership: In Search of a True Story

Article excerpt

Byline: Reg Birchfield

The management world is suddenly awash with tales about just how effective storytelling is as a core leadership competency.

The thinking goes something like this. Storytelling, like the opposable thumb, differentiates humans from the myriad of other species that inhabit the earth. That at least is an explanation Auckland's robust advertising and ideas man, Mike Hutcheson, offers in his foreword to local author Wade Jackson's recently released book Stories at Work.

By telling stories, particularly organisational ones, we've learned to "coordinate and galvanise collective action for common purpose", Hutcheson adds. Jackson's view is less anthropological and rather more germane to this column. His book simply tells leaders how to leverage the power and impact of storytelling to get faster and better organisational results. Fair enough.

Stories, Jackson writes, are like oxygen. We don't, on a day-to-day basis, much notice its presence but, try living without it. By telling and sharing stories, we make connections that help us to understand who we are and to make sense of the world around us. And that, of course, is the essence of his argument and this column.

These are, for a raft of increasingly obvious reasons, challenging times. Leaders that use narrative effectively are more likely to be listened to. The issues confronting enterprise, economies and communities are pretty complex. Powerpoint presentations packed with figures and formulae won't cut it if leaders want individuals to take the information on board. On the other hand, stories that explain where and why we are where we are, and point out the road ahead, encourage listeners to listen and, maybe, even write their own happier endings.

The commercial world's best known advocate of tusitala leadership, American writer and consultant Stephen Denning, thinks leadership is about connecting people's "hearts and minds". Through business narrative, storytelling leaders help others to "imagine new perspectives". Storytelling can, he believes, help leaders to "communicate who they are or what their company is, transmit values, share knowledge, tame the organisational grapevine and create a vision for what's to come".

The relevance and facilitation of narrative-based leadership is linked to the evolving drift from transactional to transformative leadership, and to the explosive impact of social media. Transformational leadership is about people, emotions, values, standards, ethics and connecting with the future. …

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