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The rst step in successful story-triggeringis for leaders to be mindful of their actions.
Such purposefulness is easier said than done.Often a leader’s intent doesn’t match the livedexperiences and perceptions of her colleagues.She might want to foster collaboration yet is seenas acting in ways that create competition. Shewill only be able to tell if she is on the right trackby becoming aware of the stories that are beingtold about her; some story-listening might berequired here.
The next step is for leaders to identify orengineer opportunities to do somethingremarkable, and to do it conspicuously.
This might be as simple as a leader telling anauthentic story that reveals something aboutthem – in particular, something about how theyreally feel, rather than what they think. If thissounds wishy-washy, it isn’t.In his book
The Political Brain
, neuroscientist andpolitical pundit Drew Westen puts it this way,using the context of political campaigns:
“ Campaigns aren’t won with bags full of anything [e.g. policy promises]. They are wonby candidates who can convince voters, throughtheir words, intonation, body language, and actions, that they share their values, that they understand people like them, and that they inspire the nation or save it from danger.”
One CEO we worked with punctuated eachsentence of a sustainability policy he waspresenting by smacking the projection screenwith the back of his hand. By the end of thepresentation, no-one was left in any doubt as tothe fact that sustainability was important to him.The psychologists Robert Kegan and Lisa LaskowLahey point out in their book
Immunity to Change
that we can also apply the idea of story-triggeringat the individual level, helping people to createnew stories for themselves which full theprerequisites for behaviour change.The usefulness of this approach became clearto me while I was conducting a workshop with80 professors at an Australian university onways to improve collaboration. As I began tomake the point that two important behavioursfor good collaboration were to make and keeppromises and to speak your mind to colleagueswith respect and good intent, I noticed a womansitting at the back of the room. She had herarms rmly crossed and was shaking her head,clearly very unhappy with what I was saying. SoI stopped my presentation and asked the womanif she would like to share what she was thinkingwith the rest of the group. Practically before Ihad nished my request, she said,
“There is noway in the world you can be open and honest with a senior professor around here.”
Before Icould comment, she went on to tell a mini story:
“I once did what you are suggesting and I had tomove departments.”
Now, no amount of clever argument or telling offamiliar stories would have changed that person’smind. She had obviously had an incredibly badexperience. The only way to help her gain a newinsight would be to create an experience with adifferent result to what she was expecting, andto do this many times over. She would then havea new story that would in turn guide her futurebehaviour.
There are many ways to apply storytelling toyour work setting. You can help your leadersto become better storytellers, and youcan also begin to share stories of customerservice or safety, or stories that convey yourvalues, brand, service or product.
But thereis one particular type of storytelling that I’d liketo focus on here, that which will help you bringyour strategy to life.As I’ve said in my paper,