Here is a standard and kind-of-old narrative in our business community: great leadership is about telling others what to do in the clearest possible way.
In that regard, communication gurus have put storytelling on a pedestal because stories help clarify and provide meaning to the boss’s orders.
So, a few decades ago, we entered an era of maximum telling. The rule became that if you’re not a great storyteller, if you don’t make your ideas resonate with a great story, you may not be a great leader.
And as a result:
- Everyone wants to tell their story.
- Everybody wants to grow their audience.
- Everybody wants more engagement, views, and likes.
- Everyone should write a book and do a TED talk.
- Everybody judges everyone else by the story they tell.
The narrative about storytelling creates pressure to perform. But not everyone wants or can perform, and some feel like they should tell some made-up story to succeed.
This situation would be almost all fine, except that the speed of change, the level of complexity, and the degree of interconnectivity in which we live require more people to figure out how we will continue to evolve and thrive as a species.
We need to move from an era of telling to a new era of activating.
- The post-pandemic organization will be a lot more empowering.
- New models of self-managed organizations emerged.
- More people want to resign and work on their own or join companies that give them autonomy.
- To create impact, leadership “shows” like the COP 26 conference feel far from adequate.
Telling people everything they should do no longer works. It assumes that people don’t know what to do in the first place, which is wrong. Plus, the context has changed by the time they execute the order, and the order is no longer relevant.
So, we have to find new ways to gather everyone and foster participation.
- Co-creation material, furniture, and software are the new normal.
- The board room now looks more like a lab.
- Outstanding leadership is not just about telling great stories but also about activating new ways of thinking and new narratives.
- Successful CEOs build companies with a narrative that rallies people around a shared opportunity.
Narratives go beyond stories. They turn people from the status of an audience to participants.
Since we need everyone to help figure out the solutions to our biggest challenges, we will need to learn how to build more narratives.