Leadership And Being The Change You Want To See.

Written by David Pullan

Leadership And Being The Change You Want To See.

In my last two blogs I have talked about the hungry elephant of emotion that can over ride our decision making faculties if we don’t feed it properly. I’ve also talked about how story is the best nutrition for the elephant because it creates contextual meaning through cause and effect, and it subsequently stimulates an emotional reaction. Get the story right and the sated six tonne Baba in your brain will bend to your every command.


This week I want to look at the role that leaders can play in creating and nurturing the stories that underpin an organisation’s culture.


Edgar Schein, formerly of MIT Sloan School of Management, once said that the only thing that leaders do of real importance is create and manage culture. I would say that this is even more true in a climate where cultural change is front and centre for many organisations.


So how can leaders use the concept of story to achieve this? Let’s look at three methods.


1. The Visionary Leader


Daniel Goleman places this at the head of his list of leadership attributes. The Ariel Group also talk about the leader as conceiver, and McKechnie and I spend a great deal of our work helping clients to develop and tell the story of their organisations in the past, present and future. If you prepare and deliver the right stories you will capture hearts and minds as well as lodge ideas in the long term memory of your listeners.


2. The Listening Leader


In times of cultural change a leader can have an enormous influence purely and simply by encouraging, listening to, and rewarding stories that promulgate the direction in which the business needs to travel. If you do this consistently then the valuable stories will emerge and, more importantly, they will be repeated widely. There was a time when people used to come to our coaching purely in order to become inspirational speakers. What has changed in recent times is that our wise clients are realising that they need to be inspirational listeners before anything else.


3. The Leader As Behavioural Role Model


One of the funniest comments that McKechnie and I used to get was when we asked clients about how they had been getting on with their leadership communication since the last session. We’d sometimes get the reply, ‘Well, I haven’t really had an opportunity to practice this week.’ 


The obvious reply would have been, ‘Why? Have you been asleep?’


From the moment we wake up to the moment we go to bed we are communicating, even if we don’t open our mouths. People are reading our body language and, because the human mind seeks meaning, those people create a story to fill in the gaps of knowledge and thereby make judgements about who we are and what we stand for. If those stories and judgements aren’t favourable then the internal emotional elephant kicks off and runs into the jungle. You could spend a long time as a leader trying to extricate absconding elephants from their hiding places if you’re not careful. 


My point here is that as a leader you are always in the spotlight and your every movement will be monitored and become the source of story in the minds of your people. It's important that your behaviour and moment to moment demeanour models the culture you want to embed.


Be aware of this and consciously consider the way you embody your leadership.


So in summary, use story to your advantage as you lead change: Create the vision, listen with genuine curiosity and appreciation and, as Gandhi purportedly said, be the change you want to see.




photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/29057345@N04/24040725071">Gandhi at Parliament Square</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">(license)</a>



  • W B Yeats

    'Think like a wise man, but communicate in the language of the people.'