Today we are in front of daily wars of narratives: political, social, models of the world, futures, concept of Man.
In Ben Rhodes’ ‘The world as it is’, an account of Obama’s White House by the then Deputy National Security Advisor (2009-2017), 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 no referring to the function of speech-writing, 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 years I have become very curious and fascinated about the figure 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 which very often would set aside the proposed speech and would hand re-write 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 Change™, I can see that there are some characteristics of a story-leadership narrative that work brilliantly when 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 or not, agree or disagree, but they can’t be neutral to 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 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 as 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 practicing.