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Leadership Storytelling

Steve Denning published an article titled “Leadership Storytelling 3.0: From Arithmetic to Calculus” in Forbes.

He talks about the fact that storytelling has really gone mainstream in the business world. Not many years ago, when you talked about storytelling in the corporate world, people wouldn’t get what it’s about. Nowadays, storytelling is a commonly accepted and utilized tool for business leaders.

He also talks about the evolution of leadership storytelling. He labels the stages of storytelling Leadership Storytelling 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0.

In phase 1.0 it’s all about just telling stories – without really thinking too much about them or the effects they have. It’s just natural, intuitive storytelling that happens when human beings get together.

In stage 2.0 there is a lot more awareness about the effects storytelling can have. In this stage, leaders also understand the mechanics of narrative. Leaders consciously make use of stories. They think about what kind of story to use in order to get the desired effect in their audience. Narrative patterns are used for different purposes. Examples of purposes might be:

  • to move people to act or think differently,
  • to communicate your identity (as a team, brand, company or individual),
  • to foster teamwork,
  • to transmit knowledge,
  • and so on.

Steve Denning then goes on to talk about some of the pitfalls and downsides to storytelling 2.0 – and how to leverage storytelling even more with what he calls “Leadership Storytelling 3.0”

  • At the organizational level, the very goal of the firm is to generate positive outcomes for customers. This is best measured by a story: the Net Promoter Score is a methodology that enables the organization to measure whether it is delighting the customer by inviting the customer to imagine a story: “Would you recommend this product or service to a colleague or friend?”
  • At the level of the team, work is planned in the form of user stories—a special kind of story devised to formulate the goals of teams in terms of customer outcomes.
  • The user stories that are developed are then sized and prioritized using other methodologies called “story points” and “planning poker” to measure how much work is involved in making any of the user stories “come true.” In such work places, people routinely speak of “implementing stories.”
  • Value stream mapping is a tool that creates a story of the organization seen from the customer’s point of view, and helps identify any delays in delivering value to the customer. It enables the organization to manage the forgotten competitive weapon: time.
  • These story-based measures enable the firm to go further and—for the first time—calculate the productivity of a firm in terms of human outcomes rather than merely the production of things.

In this third generation of leadership storytelling, with the shift in vocabulary to NPS, user stories, story points, planning poker and team velocity, we are a long way away from the innocent world of “Once upon a time…”

I really highly suggest that you read the original post by Steve Denning.

And if you really want to dig deep, you might want to check out his books too (particularly The Leader’s Guide to Radical Management, The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling & The Springboard).

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