For many the ‘horse and carriage’ part of the article title has been met with dumbfounded blank stares and a (hopefully) silent ‚huh?‛ But for others, you are already humming the tune. ..and the chances are you will find it harder to get out your head than it was to get in! Please accept my apologies and allow me to suggest a remedy for this: listen to one of your teenagers CD’s (give me a call if you don’t have a teenager in the house).

My title in is, ‘Director of Storytelling’. It is a title I love and if I am honest is one that describes me rather well. Family and friends will tell you I am a sucker for any sales person with a story and have a collection of memorabilia (each with its own unique story) to prove it: There is the‌ Russian teaspoon, Boer War diary cover, Hawaiian dice, Native American prayer coil, Crimean war icon and so I could go on. Left unsupervised in an antique store can prove to be a costly oversight.
Stories are important. They are important for us as individuals as we live out our own story. Stories inform life. They hold us together and keep us apart. We inhabit the great stories of our culture. We live through stories. We are lived by the stories of our race and place. We cannot ignore them, deny them or afford not to learn from them. We remember them, share them and treasure them. Stories have a transforming power and energy all of their own. Given some time and space, we can all conjure stories we have that will bring a smile, elicit a tear or cause us to ponder.
‘So what has this to do with leadership?’ you might well be asking. Well everything really. In a Connection economy, one in which the emphasis falls on relationship as the defining competitive differential, there are two ignore-at-your-peril implications for those in leadership: Firstly there are the personal implications and secondly, there are the functional implications.
Firstly, let’s examine the personal implication for leaders in a Connection economy.
The most important asset for any leader in this context will be his or her quality or depth of character. In other words, for the leader, ‘who you are’ will matter most. Your reaction to this might well be ‘but hasn’t this always been the case?’ Not necessarily so. In a bottom-line, shareholder driven economy, those leaders able to procure the greatest growth have been prized. Personal character flaws have all too often been overlooked when the desired growth has been achieved. The malignant growth of bloated egos and super-size opinions were allowed to grow unchecked so long as the results were good. We are familiar with the implosion stories of those for whom this was true. And as we read or read the stories we are left wondering just how it was that they could have been allowed to reach the point they did.
When it comes to leaders the word ‘integrity’ is well worn, almost to the point where we not longer understand what it really means. It has been devalued so often and now, more often than not, is mere rhetoric, ‘leadership speak’ that needs to be said but no one really pays much attention too. If we trace to the root of this word we uncover an understanding that integrity has to do with ‘integration’. It implies that to live with integrity is to live an integrated life. This is significant and has powerful implications for those who wish to lead. What it means is that the dichotomy many leaders have created between ‘character’ and ‘performance’ can no longer persist in a Connection economy. Furthermore, what we know about Generation X and Generation Y, indicates that these two generations, more so than those before them, will ask questions of leadership that will strip bare and expose any dichotomy in this area. It is a potentially scary proposition for those leaders who have subjugated character in the pursuit of profit and principle for expediency. Whereas before respect centered around position (positional respect), it will, with these generations, centre on relationship (relational respect). Leaders will be judged not merely by what they say and accomplish but by how they live and who they are.
What this means is that the unfolding personal story of the leader will become subject to close public scrutiny. Any gap between the talk and the walk of the leader will be caught in the harsh glare of the ever-present and watchful public spotlight. Leaders will have to own and acknowledge their story � both the highs and the lows, the good and the bad. Leaders will be required to develop an unprecedented level of emotional intelligence if they are to lead in the Connection economy. As one CEO of an international pharmaceutical company put it, the ‘soft stuff’ has now become the ‘hard stuff’. Show me a leader who understands this and I will show you someone ready to lead in a Connection economy.
In the past leaders have been encourage not to allow their story to form part of the mix. ‘Personal’ and ‘professional’ were kept apart. But leaders who begin to explore their own story find that they discover new energy and insight; they discover the capacity to empathize and inspire; they unlock a potential reservoir of humility and perspective; they gain insights to life seasons, process and change. They better understand and recognize those beginnings and endings, characteristic of all stories. And in all this, as they live and share their story, they become the kind of leaders others feel they know and can identify with – the kind of leaders that others wish to emulate.
For leaders unaccustomed to all this, pursuit of one’s own story carries a warning. It is not an easy task. It is sure to be an emotional journey and is one that may well require external facilitation. However, it is one that you simply cannot afford to neglect if you wish to be an effective leader in the future. Storytelling is usually prompted by the asking of a question. For leaders some of the questions might be: who has most influenced you as a leader? What role have difficulties played in shaping your take on leadership? What regrets do you have as a leader? What has been the best advice you have ever received? Have you always been regarded as a leader? How did your childhood shape who you are today? Knowing what you do today, if you could give yourself advice when you first were appointed in your current position, what would that advice be? How best do you learn?
Secondly there are the functional implications for leaders when it comes to storytelling in the Connection economy.
The traditional lists of words describing the attributes and skills that define a leader have never included ‘Storyteller’ amongst them. That term has found a more likely home within the realm of attributes associated with mother, teacher, producer and author but not that of leader. I think that is about to change. In a Connection economy, the smart leaders will be those who understand the power of the corporate or collective story. They will look for the synergies between the individual stories of ‘their people’ and that of the collective whole. They will understand that the two are inextricably connected and they will know how to use that in building the corporate culture.
In this context the smart leaders will understand the need to constantly look for and create opportunities to share the corporate story. They will know that their position provides them the best vantage point to collect, nurture and share that story. They will understand that this is more than an opportunity, it is a responsibility. It is a responsibility that they will take seriously. They will see to it that they meet new staff and that the induction process, whatever that might be, is laced with the story of the place and people. They will ensure that those new to the mix feel they have the opportunity to contribute to the story. Smart leaders understand that the story cannot become ensnared and trapped in history and tradition but rather that it is dynamic, present and inviting of participation. Smart leaders will ensure that all this is not mere rhetoric but is built into the policies, programmes and culture of the institution they lead. They will see themselves us custodians of the story, a story that embraces everyone.
Leaders as Storytellers. It is a powerful and fresh perspective for those in corporate leadership. It is a platform from which leaders can view their role and responsibility towards those they lead. It invites attitudes and actions not usually associated with leaders emerging from Industrial era mammoths that so many large corporations resemble.
A place to start? Why not institute some storytelling workshops, which if done properly, could transform your business. Ensure that such initiatives are understood as a process rather that an intervention and be sure you are ready for the potential impact such workshops could have in shaping your future � your unfolding corporate story.
Go on I dare you.
(I would be happy to engage with you further on this subject or help unpack what such a storytelling process could involve in your context)
Keith Coats is a director of, a dynamic organisation that helps companies identify the mega trends that will impact the people connected to their business � employees, customers and partners. Keith is a recognised expert on leadership development and a gifted facilitator, executive coach and futurist.

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