1: As leaders, one of our most important responsibilities is communicating new, sometimes complex ideas and inspiring action to implement change.
What’s the best tool we have to accomplish this critical objective? We tell a “springboard story,” what author Stephen Denning in The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling: Mastering the Art and Discipline of Business Narrative.
In past RiseWithDrew posts, we’ve looked at key elements of this specific type of story: it must be purposeful, be told in a minimalist fashion, be authentically true, and spell out what would happen without the change idea.
Today, we add the final element required for an effective springboard story: our story must have a positive tone and an authentically happy ending.
2: “A frequent mistake is to try to spark action with a negative story,” Stephen writes. When we create fear together with hierarchical sanctions, we get “grudging compliance.”
Which is very different from the “enthusiastic implementation that transformational change requires,” he notes.
Negative stories can be effective to get people’s attention. But they won’t spark action. “They tend to highlight the pitfalls of ignorance” and are “meant not to inspire people but to make them cautious,” notes Stephen.
Negative stories generate understanding and learning. When we tell a story about a team that failed to meet its objective, we help others to avoid making the same mistakes. We often learn more from their mistakes than from their successes.
If we aim to spark action, on the other hand, we must have a happy ending. Period.
So, we choose an authentically positive tone. “This isn’t spin. This isn’t about whitewashing problems,” Stephen writes. “This is about telling a story that is at once authentically true and ends well: this is the way it actually happened.”
3: What does a happy ending entail? Are all parties happy? Not necessarily. “The happiness of a story’s ending relates to the narrative as told and the point of view of the narrator,” Stephen notes. “Some endings that are regarded as happy include disastrous outcomes for the ‘bad’ characters in the story.”
Exhibits one and two: Snow White and Cinderella are both thought to have happy endings. Yet, “Snow White’s stepmother is forced to dance herself to death in red-hot shoes, and Cinderella’s sisters have their eyes pierced by doves,” he observes. “The question isn’t whether the events in the story are happy for all concerned; the question is whether the story is told in such a way as to convey a satisfactory ending for the character we care about, that is, the protagonist.”
Reflection: Think back on my attempts to inspire change. In each instance, did I tell a positive or negative story? What were the results?
Action: Journal my answers to the questions above.