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The Leader's Guide to Storytelling: Mastering the Art and Discipline of Business Narrative Hardcover – March 8, 2011
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From the Back Cover
The LEADER'S GUIDE to Storytelling
This revised and updated edition of the best-selling book The Leader's Guide to Storytelling shows how storytelling can be used to handle the most important and difficult challenges of leadership: sparking action, getting people to work together, and leading people into the future.
Using a myriad of illustrative examples and how-to techniques, The Leader's Guide to Storytelling explains how you can learn to tell the right story at the right time. Throughout the book, master storyteller and former World Bank executive Stephen Denning debunks commonly held myths about storytelling and offers a practical guide for any leaderCEO, middle management, or someone on the front lineswho wants to tap into the power of stories to effect change within their organizations. He shows how to select the right narrative pattern for the leadership task at hand and offers encouragement for reluctant storytellers. He reminds us that learning to tell stories is less a task of learning something new and more one of reminding ourselves of something we already know. It is a matter of transposing the skills we apply effortlessly in a social situation to formal settings.
Leadership is essentially an activity of connectionof connecting with people's minds and hearts. Using the discipline of the business narrative, storytelling leaders can enable others to imagine new perspectives. Effective storytelling can also help leaders communicate who they are or what their company is, transmit values, share knowledge, tame the grapevine, and create a vision for what's to come.
The revised and updated edition of this book reflects changes in organizational thinking that have occurred over the last five years. It reflects how storytelling has become a central component both in leadership, as described in The Secret Language of Leadership, and in management, as described in The Leader's Guide to Radical Management. It also shows how social media are transforming branding and marketing and how our understanding of disruptive innovation has evolved.
About the Author
STEPHEN DENNING is a leading writer and consultant who consults to organizations in the United States, Europe, Asia, and Australia in the areas of leadership, innovation, business narrative, and management. He is the author of the acclaimed books Squirrel Inc., The Secret Language of Leadership, and The Leader's Guide to Radical Management.
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As a starting point, it will be helpful to know that author Stephen Denning puts on many hats in telling his story. In fact, this is not just a book about leadership or storytelling; it is a book that directly challenges entrenched institutional hierarchies to adopt a changing of the guard. Through a range of techniques that move from basic formulas of storytelling to a Machiavellian-worthy detailed walk through the sensitive clockwork of Corporate America, Denning masterfully unfolds his plan for success. In short, it is a book about real life, real people and real opportunities in a world that is changing globally and exponentially before our very eyes.
Speaking directly to the topic of leadership Denning states that "Leadership is essentially a task of persuasion--of winning people's minds and hearts" (p. 10). As the title of the book suggests, Denning promotes building and/or becoming this type of leader through the art of story and narrative. To better understand the word narrative in Denning's vernacular I encourage reading this book with a broadened scope of the word. In other words, through successive chapters, Denning is eloquently describing the inner clockwork of business and human interactions as though the word narrative were synonymous with knowing how to tango--he is teaching us the dance steps... "Throughout this book, I make the case, step by step, that if you consistently use the narrative tools described here, you will acquire new capabilities" (p. 12).
Denning expands on these concepts (appropriately so) by telling his story which consists of his turbulent entrance onto the scene known as "knowledge management" as a staff member of the World Bank. He tells how he came from the ridged and analytical world of facts, figures and corporate prominence, to a "maybe they can use your help in that department" scenario. In short, he helped make the World Bank what it is today by launching a successful campaign to make the World Bank a world leader in what is known as knowledge management. And he did it through the successful execution of business narrative and storytelling. "Mind-numbing cascades of numbers or daze-inducing Power Point slides won't achieve this goal. Even logical arguments for making the needed changes usually won't do the trick. But effective storytelling often does" (p.19). As can now be imagined Denning demonstrates various types of stories and which scenarios they work best in, i.e., the board room, the class room, a dinner arrangement etc. As an illustration to these delicate and opportunistic dynamics Denning expounds, "If I was going to hold the attention of my audience, I had to make my point in seconds, not in minutes" (p. 20).
Change: One of the common messages in industry is that with leadership comes change. When presenting ideas on change; that is, in Stephen Denning's world, telling a well-crafted story--"the idea must be a worthwhile one that has the potential to resonate with people's hearts... There's an old Brazilian proverb that when you dream alone it's just a dream, but when you dream together, it's already the beginning of a new reality" (pp. 64, 78). From a business perspective, Denning cites some facts and figures that cannot be ignored: "Only 10 percent of all publicly traded companies have proved themselves able to sustain for more than few years a growth trajectory that creates above-average shareholder returns... The rate of return on assets of U.S. firms has declined by 75 percent since 1965" (p. 4). In this context Denning begins to integrate the art of storytelling into identifying the clockwork pieces of Corporate America--the good, the bad and the ugly--what works and what doesn't.
The "how to" merges with the why it works: There are powerful illustrations and success stories imbedded in the pages of Corporate America and Denning makes good use of them. Success stories of companies such as Costco, Starbucks and Southwest Airlines are among them. As no surprise, he introduces the success of these companies by telling the corporate stories; which fittingly enough tell how the founders themselves have helped their companies thrive through the art of narrative (p. 113). Through these stories, Denning begins to expand from the personal mandates to be ourselves, be honest, be genuine (chapter 4) to broader ideologies that exist within Corporate America. Specifically, he focuses on the word "value" as a make or break component to not only be a successful leader, but a successful organization. "Douglas Smith, in On Value and Values suggests that this has happened because society has lost sight of the importance of ethical values and instead pursued value" (p. 126-127).
Expansion and ideologies: It is at this point that the reader is introduced to the fact that Denning is doing much more than writing a book on business narrative; he is writing a book about life, values and ethics. In my introduction I indicated that parts of this book were written in a Machiavellian-worthy manner. My mention of this is validated as Denning proceeds to integrate and discuss the values of the robber baron, hardball strategists, and pragmatists against those that he describes as "genuinely ethical" (p. 127). Readers are indeed taken into rare look at the inner workings, the back stabbings and the failures within large (and small) organizations. In the reading one may begin to question the relevancy of the expositions; however, in the larger picture they are indeed part of the narrative. Ultimately, skills to deal with rumors that have been known to inflict mortal wounds on corporations through modern media such as Facebook and Twitter are addressed in earnest (Chapter 9, Tame the Grapevine).
Summary: Stephen Denning illustrates that ethical practices, innovation and becoming "interactive leaders" is one of the keys to future global success. One of the strongest illustrations of this dynamic is presented when he tells a story from the book "Adam's Task" by Vicki Hearne (p. 275). In a nutshell, the book describes different types of animal trainers... "Finally there are the `animal trainers,' who exhibit soft, acute 360-degree awareness of who they are and who else is there" (p. 275). Denning goes on to say that these are the kind of leaders who have the vision and natural savvy necessary to be effective in today's global society; the kind of "awareness that leaders need to exhibit in relation to the people they are seeking to lead" (p. 275). Ultimately Denning is a promoter of leadership that works in Gandhian terms, not in Machiavellian terms. To do this he suggests "besting "the opposition. "Besting means not fencing people in--you leave them room to change their minds... You give them the courage to change by creating heroic expectations for them. The bigger the expectations, the harder they will try and achieve them" (p. 283). All this through the power of narrative and storytelling...
Comments and implications for future research: In reading this book it is clear that we are in a global society that is experiencing exponential change on a multitude of fronts. In this context, it will be of great interest to follow the ongoing research that is taking place on the dichotomous nature between the remnant hardnosed "industrial revolution" management styles and Denning's suggestion on true leadership. The societal implications are as exponential as the changes taking place. For leaders in community capacity building Denning sends a strong confirmation that there are tools that work. My personal statement: learning Denning's "narrative tango" is a valuable dance to master. "The pendulum has begun to shift back toward an interest in being together. Growing numbers of people are interested in moving from a world of `me' to a world of `we.'" (p. 160). From a community development perspective, the statements do not get any stronger than this...
Unfortunately the author then proceeds to talk not about storytelling (defining identity through narrative) but about anecdotal communications. Ever heard a politician's campaign speech about meeting a steelworker in Pittsburgh or a manager talk about this reminds me of the time I was down in accounting? This book purports to help the reader achieve a better version of that speech/talk.
But it fails even in that regard. As some of the other reviewers mention there is lack of a clear framework to understand the recommendations; making the book fragmented and confusing.
We provide the Salesperson with the right message delivered through mini-stories to help the Buyer discover that the status quo is no longer acceptable. These stories work because they present a scenario that allows Buyers to develop awareness through their own sense of discovery. Buyers trust this discovery because they made it and they begin to trust the Story Seller for telling it. When the Buyer can picture the issues in the real world scenario, it helps them see how the results may apply to them and they start to make sense- they gain insight. Stories transport the Buyer from the role of critic into the role of participant.
In short, Stories allow the Buyer to take your offering for a virtual mental test drive: Could you ask for more?