“This is what we storytellers do, we restore order with imagination. We instil hope again and again and again” is something Walt Disney said to P.L. Travers in convincing her to sign over the rights to her Mary Poppins in order for him to translate her magical book to the big screen.
Given many of the socio-political and economic forecasts for 2016, these might be good words to remind leaders as to their role during the days ahead. Certainly as a leader, you are a broker of hope for those who follow. Political and economic rhetoric falls short in capturing the imagination and inspiring others. When leaders understand their role and responsibility in the meta-narrative that is always at work, they can see more clearly the need and importance of being a ‘storyteller’. Stories capture our attention and they serve as a catalyst for action. We can know and be known through story and smart leaders understand the core organising and orientation that stories afford. Stories are the pathway to our imagination and with imagination order, the right order, can be restored.
So what is the thing that will keep your staff, your partners in business, showing up each day excited, motivated and wanting to contribute? What is that ‘spoonful of sugar that will make the medicine go down’? How can you cultivate an engaged workforce, a collection of people who share the dreams and aspirations that guide and motivate you in your business?
These are simple but important questions. They are something that most leaders want yet somehow few show any real intent towards developing. Efforts in this regard are often delegated, are sporadic and poorly thought through. They are hinged on bringing in a ‘motivational speaker’ or organising a staff retreat or event of sorts that is intended to ‘make everything right’. Seldom do such initiatives achieve anything worthwhile or lasting.
A significant part of your leadership responsibility is to be a storyteller. It is to engage the imagination of those who listen to what you have to say. It is to instil hope not once, not twice but again and again and again. This important work cannot be falsified; it cannot be something that you can say without believing. As you have opportunity to address your partners in business keep in mind this wisdom from Richard Rohr:
“If I am going to continue to address groups as if I have something to say, then I have to really know what I know, really believe what I believe, and my life has to be more experiential and intimate rather than mere repetition of formulas and doctrines”
Authentic leadership is lived. Authentic leadership transcends skills and diplomacy. Authentic leadership demands a deeper awareness and engagement from oneself and is something that is never fully mastered. It is a consistent application of your role as ‘storyteller’. In pursuit of such, smart leaders understand the importance of story – theirs and that of others; they understand that story, imagination and hope are connected in ways that can’t always be explained, rationalised or predicted but that nonetheless demands their attention and engagement.
2016 will need smart leaders. Be such a leader.