Sunday, March 02, 2008

Storytelling and Leadership: Two books reviewed

Two books to help tap one’s inner resources and better influence others are reviewed. The first will be used for our Bluegrass Storytelling Guild study resuming this month. The second book I am using in teaching Human Resource Management and Leadership at Midway College this year. Both demonstrate the power of stories and storytelling to change worlds.

Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins (How to use your own stories to communicate with ;pow3r and impact). Annette Simmons, AMACOM, 2007.

This inspiring workbook leads one through many exercises to learn to access, select and tell personal stories to influence others. For several years, I have been developing my own stories to connect with many others, including children in our local Spellbinders storytelling chapter, in public schools. Years ago, I discovered as a therapist, the power of story to help change the perspective of those feeling stuck in a variety of situations. This is the second such book I have found to guide our discussions and probably the best.

Simmons explains how to train our brain for storytelling. In Part Two, she introduces the six types of story; Who-I-Am stories, Why-I-Am0Here stories, Teaching Stories, Vision Stories, Values-in-Action, and I-Know-What-You-Are-Thinking stories.

Simmons employs story, movie plots and anecdotes to illustrate her points. In the movie Amistad, 47 West Africans, kidnaped, chained, starved and beaten, somehow take change of their captors ship. Yet they were apprehended trying to get home. Can you image the challenge of a white lawyer, in a white county where slavery is legal trying to get justice for these men and women who do not speak a word of English? A grumpy ex-president John Adams tells the abolitionist lawyer the secret: “In a court of law, whoever tells the best story wins!” So they found a translator, learned what happened and retold their story in such a compelling way that the verdict was overturned four times. In the end, a handpicked judge round them innocent, although it was suicide for his career. Such was the power of their story that, eventually, justice could prevail.

Simmons believes that each of us has transforming stories within us. She teaches how to access and shape these stories for various audiences and occasions. I give this book five stars and it will guide our storytelling guild discussions this year in Lexington, Ky. (859 -293 -5302)

The Secret Language of Leadership (How Leaders Inspire Action Through Narrative) Stephen Denning, 2007, John Wiley.

Two national magazines, including Financial Times, rated this as the #2 or #2 Business Book of the Year for 2007. I have been teaching management and leadership in a variety of settings, IBM and college, for some twenty five years. I am familiar with the leadership literature. I authored Hidden Lions (How leaders undermine and sabotage themselves, their careers and their companies), 2002. Denning’s book is the best of the lot and I am currently introducing this model of narrative intelligence to my HRM classes. It is good enough for me to give as gifts to selected friends involved in mentoring and coaching leadership.

Denning tells how he stumbled across the power of story to spur both desire and action in his job as a director at World Bank. Then, serendipitously, he tells how he was able to shape this discovery to change a world wide organization to pioneer in a new knowledge sharing system to empower many others. To begin with, he only had ten minutes for his presentation.. He had to be brief and catch the imagination of his group audience. How he was able to do so, using the right story at the right time, followed by support of reason, sparks his secret language of leadership.

Denning begins with an analysis of the 2000 campaign of Al Gore, and in ten points shows how Gore failed. He then contrasts the Gore of 2000 with the Gore of 2006, An Inconvenient Truth. In follow the current political campaign, I happen to believe that Barak Obama is illustrating the dynamic of Denning’s principles while others are failing to do so.

Humans think in stories. We dream in stories. Our hopes and dreams reside in stories. We plan in stories. Out imagination consists in stories. We gossip, love and hate in stories. . Our emotions have this narrative character and our decisions rest on these narratives.

The philosopher MacIntyre puts it thus: “I can only answer the question ‘What should I do?” when I can answer the prior question, ‘Of what story or stories do I find myself a part?’” If this is true, then all forms of communication are effective to the extent that they generate a new story in the mind of the listener.

"Narrative intelligence, then, reflects a recognition that the narrative aspects of the world matter because human goals matter, and narrative encapsulate human goals." Denning describes six key enablers, explaining and demonstrating, and then the three key steps: getting attention, stimulating desire, and reinforcing with reason. He concludes with exercises and his book is well documented and related to other leadership literature and research.

For those who want to understand leadership, better inspire and lead others, and help change the worlds in which they live, this book is highly recommended. The book is highly endorsed by others in the field as “highly readable and downright practical.”


The Bluegrass Storytelling Guild will resume its regular monthly meetings
We meet on the last Saturday of each month, March to October, at Paschal’s conference room, Lofgren Court, off Winchester Road at the county line, 10-12 noon. March 29, RSVP please to reserve a place (859) 293 -5302 or .


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