Today, we are in front of daily wars of narratives: political, social, models of the world, futures, concept of Man.
In The World As It Is, a memoir of Obama’s White House by Ben Rhodes, who held several roles including Speechwriter and Deputy National Security Advisor, there is an episode in which the President seems to place storytelling at the very top of his job description, extending it to those close to him. Literally he quotes: ‘Storytelling, that is our job’. And he was not referring to the function of speechwriting, as we know one that requires almost an alter-ego transformation to write what the leader wants to say, but not even himself knows it.
Over the years, I have become very curious and fascinated about the function of ‘speechwriter’ in USA presidencies, a function which has been held by incredibly smart people, on both sides of the USA American spectrum. Obama was a good storyteller himself, who very often would set aside the proposed speech and would hand rewrite it himself. The only thing that interfered with his storytelling abilities (did his anthropologist mother influence that?) was the strong ‘lawyer within’ which tended to put a premium in ‘explaining the logic’ and, in doing so, driving many people around him truly mad.
Storytelling wraps up intention, emotions and behavioural triggering in ways that no other leadership arsenal does. People remember stories, not bullet points.
Reflecting on storytelling as one of the five pillars of Viral ChangeTM, I can see that there are some characteristics of a story-leadership narrative that work brilliantly when used in combination. These are my experiential views, not a piece of ‘scientific research’.
Compelling: convincing, attention grabbing, impossible to dismiss, it wakes people up
Surprising: there is something unexpected, unusual, unpredictable, refreshing
Not neutral: people may like it or not, agree or disagree, but they can’t be neutral about it
Pulling: it seems to produce some traction, perhaps a sense of belonging (‘I want to be part of that’, ‘I wish I could be part of that’). People feel some attraction, the opposite of a push: I feel the weight on me, a bombardment
Aspirational: It has a future underneath, it points to the future perhaps anchoring in the past. That angle is not entirely clear in historical narratives that tend to ‘explain the past’ to perhaps justify a present but often fall short of making clear sense of a future. Entire nation narratives have been built upon stories of ancestors crossing rivers that never existed, descending from lands that were fictional and settling in territories where they never left behind any archaeological footprint
Unique: if you can take this in. I know it’s difficult but nevertheless an aspirational feature. The test is simple: does this sound like my next door neighbour? (read competitor)
Human: since humanity is not a given anymore, this feature is not to be taken for granted
BTW, as anything else in leadership, it gets better with practice.
12 rules, based on my proven Viral Change™ methodology, to counter attack the Covid-19 pandemic. An epidemic of the right behaviours, at scale, is needed.
Downloadable PDF versions in English and Spanish available.
Dr Leandro Herrero is the CEO and Chief Organization Architect of The Chalfont Project, an international firm of organizational architects. He is the pioneer of Viral ChangeTM, a people Mobilizing Platform, a methodology that delivers large scale behavioural and cultural change in organizations, which creates lasting capacity for changeability.
Dr Herrero is also an Executive Fellow at the Centre for the Future of Organization, Drucker School of Management. An international speaker, Dr Herrero is available for virtual speaking engagements and can be reached at: The Chalfont Project.
His latest book, The Flipping point – Deprogramming Management, is available at all major online bookstores.
Would you like to comment?