I’ve always loved a good yarn. A tale of derring-do, or of hijinks, or times gone past. I used to particularly love listening to my granny when she would talk of life in Donegal before the arrival of all the things we now take for granted.
Storytelling is how we connect as humans.
Storytelling also sits at the core of leadership: as a skill leaders use to communicate, create connection and influence, but also as a place for reflection and curiosity.
I am currently designing a change leadership training course and I was reminded of where stories fit into Ken Wilbur’s 4 quadrants model.
To paraphrase, the model posits that:
- if we want to make structural or systemic changes within an organisation (Q4), we need to look to the culture of the organisation (Q3), which means that
- we need to change the behaviour of those who work in the organisation (Q2), which in turn requires that
- we explore the values and beliefs, fears and aspirations, experiences and imaginings of those who inhabit the organisation (Q1).
And how do we tend to carry our values, beliefs, fears, aspirations, experiences and imaginings around? Well, usually in the form of stories – Q1. It makes them a type of fable which means that the teller of the story is unaware of all they have embedded into the story.
The challenge for leaders and managers during times of change is to slow people down as they move quickly from the feelings they have to action. In fact, leaders and managers need to help the people in their teams to be more curious about their made-up stories behind the feelings they are experiencing.
For example if someone is feeling apprehensive about the impact of a change on their role, they could ask “What is the story you are telling yourself about what might happen to you?” By making that story explicit, the team member can become clearer about what assumptions they are making and the conclusions they have reached about the future.
It also allows the leader and the staff member to get clear on what is fact and what is inference.
By making these distinctions, we can support others to move into conscious choice, rather than unconscious reaction. We can also use these distinctions to ensure that we do not fall into the trap of believing the stories we tell ourselves.
Carl Jung once said “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will rule your life and you will call it fate.”
As a leader, you are called to support your team members to free themselves from the stories which rule their life AND you are called to do the same for yourself. That’s part of how you help people move through change and uncertainty.
What are the stories that you have become conscious of and freed yourself from? What was the impact?