I have long felt that the ability to create a compelling vision, or ‘storytelling’, in a way that gets others engaged and on board, is a critical success factor for Boards, senior leadership teams and individual leaders. Why? Because as human beings, we require meaning in order to feel motivated and purposeful in our daily lives and work. Without meaning and purpose, we cannot be totally at our best and make the contribution we are capable of. It is not enough that Boards or senior leadership teams have a vision of the future: they have to communicate it and create a compelling narrative. Storytelling, is a powerful tool for achieving this.
So, I was intrigued to read recently "Sapiens, a brief history of Humankind" by Yuval Harari. In a little over 400 pages he tracks the timeline of history from 13 billion years ago to the present day.
The power of storytelling is a constant theme, none more so as he considers how man moved from existing in small intimate groups of hunter gatherers to more organised, large social groups and constructs.
He argues that any large scale human co-operation relies on myths (or stories) that exist in people's collective imagination.
In the corporate world, he cites the example of Armand Peugeot who inherited a metal working shop from his parents in 1896. He decided he wanted to go into automobile production and was sufficiently forward looking to realise that he had to create something much bigger than himself, something that would outlive him and have ongoing significance and meaning. And so he created the Peugeot company: but he realised that the company would only be successful if he could create a compelling story around it that others would believe. He knew that it was not sufficient to have plant, machinery and employees and spent much of his time talking to whoever would listen about his vision and what the company meant. The fact that Armand Peugeot died less than 20 years after first founding the company, and yet Peugeot still survives, is testament in part, Harari argues, to the power of his original story.
Good corporate governance increasingly involves attention to culture and relationships with stakeholders. Actually, what is culture if not the story of "what it feels like to be part of this organisation or providing services to it?" And what is important in stakeholder relationships if not explaining the story of what the organisation is about and trying to accomplish and then inviting them to consider how they can best support, contribute and engage with that? So as 2018 begins, how clear is your Board or senior leadership team collectively about the stories it wants to tell?