Three Leadership Stories You Should Tell
(photo by Tobias Mockenhaupt on Unsplash)
The Fundamentals Of Visionary Leadership — Continuity, Novelty, And Transition
Successful leaders inspire, motivate, and encourage their employees. They recognize the importance of communication and connection when it comes to gaining consensus and mobilizing change around their vision and strategies. The leader points the way to the future and asks their team to join them on the journey. Progress relies on change, but great leaders know not all change leads to progress. They recognize that while they constantly ask people to adapt to change, people need to understand why change. They need to believe in the purpose for change and see the right change for the right reasons. Change works best when people feel some form of emotional connection with the stated vision and purpose. When you tell stories, you engage the emotional system and speed the path toward that change.
As leadership storytelling expert David Hutchens says, “When leaders tell stories, they create engagement and belief around their work. There’s no faster or more human way to align people to action.” At this year’s Forrester Technology & Innovation Forums (both North America and EMEA), David shared the three important stories that technology leaders should be telling to drive innovation and transformation success: 1) continuity; 2) novelty; and 3) transition.
These are based on the Appreciative Inquiry framework that describes continuity, novelty, and transition as the three factors that give life to healthy organizations. Visionary leaders and their organizations learn and apply lessons from the past (continuity) to surface and develop ideas for creative action (novelty) to implement change in systems and behaviors to progress toward a desired state (transition).
Continuity stories are about identity, purpose, values, and the wisdom and tradition that perpetuate and connect day-to-day life in the organization. Continuity is a necessary part of change or transformation. Leaders should mostly minimize disruption in these areas, especially if the organization’s principles, values, and purpose are strong. David Hutchens states that “even as you lead people to a bold future, you need to reassure them that there are some things they can count on to remain the same.”
The dialogue around continuity is built on founding stories, turning points, the proudest achievements, and empowering traditions. It is a discovery of the organization’s history as a positive possibility. A well-known example of this is the Patagonia origin story, which is core to its brand and purpose. While many brands try to cultivate a particular image depending on the ebbs and flows of the marketplace, Patagonia has had a consistent identity from day one.
Novelty is about valuing original thinking, curious questioning, and acting. It is about searching for new ideas, open innovation, and challenging the status quo. It is about how people imagine and dream future possibilities. Novelty also includes learning from collective experience and investment in personal growth and development. When leaders tell these stories, they want to show what might be possible. They ask their people to “imagine if the world looked like this … ” — these future-focused stories are at the very heart of driving innovation.
Transition is about how the novel ideas are transformed into visible changes that are experienced by everyone as positive movement toward a future state. The journey is taken with minimal disruption (i.e., without a threat to continuity). Everyone recognizes the positive reason for change, the desired outcomes, and the next steps to be taken. The leader shares stories to show how progress toward the desired future is achieved. Transition stories reveal what it looks like when people are solving hard problems, showing resilience, recovering from mistakes, and learning.
Apply The Three Stories To Inspire Change
Combine the three stories to communicate and motivate people to follow your vision and strategies. Set a vision with a novelty story, assure people that it is not change for the sake of change with a continuity story, and show them that change is possible with a transition story.
- Novelty: A story is great for bringing a vision to life, but the challenge is that a vision is in the future and stories are about something that has already happened. You can use an example of an external story and ask people to “imagine if we had that here” and how that would be valuable within your organization.
- Continuity: The origin story does not have to be the organization’s founding story. It could be the purpose or values of the team and what inspires and motivates you and the team to do what you do for the benefit of the business and your customers.
- Transition: Change happens when people decide to do something different. This can be small, positive behavior that results in incremental benefit. Remind, recognize, and encourage these changes through stories, as they show that positive choices do make a difference. Transition stories like this incentivize people to believe that change is possible.