A large part of the culture of an organization is created through the stories told by its people. Stories about the past, the present and the future help create a coherent narrative of who and what the organization is. The life of the organization is made alive through the telling and retelling of these stories. The culture is a living system and is nourished through narrative.
When an organization and its people are going through change, the group becomes “thirsty” for coherent narrative. The need for stories becomes greatly elevated and a gap is created. People naturally look to their leaders to fill this gap. If formally authorized leaders fail to provide a coherent narrative about change, the people will create stories themselves – to make sense of the changes they experience. Since these stories are generated from reaction rather than intention, the new stories will probably not be 100% aligned with the overall purpose of the change.
Leadership can easily sidestep this problem by engaging in purposeful storytelling, and intentional story generation.
Lasting organizational change happens when the purpose of change is communicated well, through the coherent storytelling of formally authorized leaders.
Storytelling is an essential aspect of effective leadership.
Past, Present, and Future
Stories about the past are mythos. When leaders tell stories about the past, they can honor the people who took part, convey core values, and create a coherent present-tense narrative, by naming what in the past helped create a positive outcome in the present.
Generative stories about the present are celebrations. Since all change happens in the present, it is here that stories of experimentation and learning can be shared: who is trying what, and what is the outcome? These stories speak to the value of creating lots of learning via experiments.
Stories about the future are visions. These stories confirm the clear destination, and encourage the journey. Stories about the future are most effective when they state a clear goal and are confirmed by activity and effort in the here-and-now.
Telling stories about the past, present, and future is what helps create the coherent narrative of the flow of changes within the 100 day Rite of Passage. Through engaging in deliberate, authentic actions and behaviors, leaders can generate stories about organizational change. To generate stories, leaders must intentionally behave in ways consistent with the change story, and leave the storytelling to whoever will pick it up. Whatever formally authorized leadership pays attention to will signal importance to the rest of the organization. Making sense through change is what people look to their leaders for – and through Leadership Storytelling, change initiatives are more likely to actually take root and succeed.
Written by: Louise Kold Taylor, OSA Certified Trainer