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1 June 2016 | By Stuart Maister Community

Defining your leadership story

Recent elections show how reality is a story brought to life – and business leaders overseeing transformation can learn from it

A carefully defined and articulated story can determine what happens in the real world. And a good example of this is to look at the success of the SNP, who claimed yet another election success in May. Their growth is based on a strong narrative which has already created a new, highly devolved reality for Scotland.

Last year the Scottish nationalists almost went a stage further. They came close to winning a famous victory by building their story on the “why” not the “what” of Scottish independence. In other words, their strong suit was a big idea, aimed at the hearts of Scottish voters, that captured their imagination. They painted a picture of a strong, free Scotland, in charge of its own destiny, unchained from the yoke of London domination.

Setting themselves up as a challenger brand, they took on the establishment. The “stay” camp, by contrast, focused on the “what” – ie. the stuff of life – as they aimed firmly at hard-headed realism. They may have won the vote, but the issue of Scottish independence has not gone away.

For those leading change in a corporate environment, this is a massive demonstration of the power and importance of narrative. It’s all about how you frame the story.

Your leadership story

In the way you engage your own constituency – of customers, prospects, colleagues or investors – you may face the same kind of potentially divergent narratives. It is critical that you develop and articulate clear storylines that focus on these three critical questions.

1.     Who am I engaging?
This is the bleeding obvious, but it is incredibly how often leadership narrative is driven by “what I want to say” rather than “who it is I am saying it to”.

2.    Why should they care?
Give careful thought about their agenda. Developing a narrative that resonates with the group you seek to engage works best if it is based on their issues, not yours.

3.     How will you do it?
This is emphatically not about what you do but how you do it. It is here that organisations usually stand out. What is great, different, exciting about you or your proposed change?

The skill is then to develop a narrative that springs from the intersection between their “why” and your “how”. Identifying a few big ideas that you will consistently bang on about means there will be consistency over time – I call these the narrative themes, and they are the fundamental blocks on which you build your story.

You can see how this all has worked with Scottish voters. It can apply to your business too.