The Story About Leadership

By Chris Chittenden

The thing about leadership is that people need to follow. It is pointless to have a great vision of the future, if no-one else embraces it and helps you create it. The question is "What do leaders do to turn their vision into something concrete?"

Take a moment and reflect on the people who you consider to be great leaders. Who are they? What qualities do they exhibit that draws you to them?

We contend that great leaders stir us to action because they are able to fundamentally change the way that we feel about their vision. In other words, they do not tell us about their vision just to get us to understand the logic of their point of view rather they tell us in a way that changes our emotional state and opens us up to embracing their vision.

To understand the importance of this distinction, you may recall from previous articles we claim that we are always in an emotional state and that state predisposes us to certain actions and not to others. Therefore to get us to create their visions, leaders must take us to an emotional space to embrace their story and maintain that emotional space in order for the vision to be implemented.

Therefore it is important for people who wish to lead others to develop the ability to tell stories well. Not in the sense that they make things up, but rather in the way they deliver their story. Once again, spend a moment to reflect on people you have known, who have been great story-tellers. Those people who draw you into what they are telling you until your entire focus is on what the person is saying and you are totally immersed in the story. This is what leaders should aspire to be - great story-tellers.

So what are the things that draw people into a story? Firstly there is the emotional state of the story-teller. That mood must be congruent with the story being told. Therefore, if you are looking to get people excited about your vision, then you need to speak about it in a state of excitement. That is not to say that you should pretend to be excited but rather you should actually be excited. After all, if you are not excited about what you see for the future, then perhaps the vision is flawed. One way of maintaining this excitement is to talk about it with others who are also excited by this picture of the future. Remember moods and emotions are contagious and this works both ways, so regularly speaking with others who are excited about your vision will help you stay excited.

Secondly, it is important to speak to the listening of those whom you wish to influence. When we listen to others, we are always interpreting what they have to say on the basis of our emotional state, our values, our beliefs and so on. It is fundamental that, if you wish people to immerse themselves in your story, you have to tell it in a way that they will interpret it as you intend.

The first aspect of speaking to others’ listening is to determine whether they are ready to listen to you in the way that you feel is appropriate. It may well be that people are not ready to listen to your story at this point in time. We have a saying that "the right conversation at the wrong time is the wrong conversation". Therefore it may be necessary to enter into other dialogues to ensure that your audience is ready to listen to you in the way that you hope.

The second aspect of speaking to other’s listening is to understand them. You need to be able to recognise their mood, know their values, beliefs and so on. All of which means that you need to get out there and meet and talk with people. Whenever possible, tell them about your vision in person and make sure you do it often.

Finally, to be a great story-teller, there is the element of trust which we have covered in previous articles. When you combine these three factors, your mood, your ability to speak to the listening of others and trust, you are well on the way to becoming a great story-teller and we believe that you will find that people will listen more attentively to your vision and help you create it.

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© 1998 Chris Chittenden