Leadership Is Offering A Story

I was talking with a friend this week. He was sharing with me how his work is “complicated.” A specific chunk of the conversation was about “so many things to do,” including squirrels to chase. He offered a funny line — “The road to hell is paved with many interesting squirrels to chase.” We both laughed.

My friend and I both like paying attention. Systemic awareness, and perhaps overall curiosity as a human being, will inevitably involve a few squirrels. I encouraged him to take on what he loves about it rather than just lopping it in to a category of derogatory reference.

What I really loved with this friend is an aha of further nuancing leadership amidst complicated environments (maybe a bit complex too).

  1. The Need is Coherence — In the midst of all of those big lists that inevitably change, it’s not just whiz bang project management that is needed. It’s not just software to help coordinate. It’s not just tenacity to get done what is likely impossible. It’s not just “watching over” more diligently. Underneath complication and complexity is the need for  coherence. Enough shared reference to feel connection and relatedness.
  2. Coherence Comes From A Narrative — Yes, a story. Just like the ones that people used to read to us. Many kids love stories — my 12 year-old thrills at reading together at night or in the morning. Maybe that thrill never quite goes away. The story might be less interesting than the three bears. However, it is completely compelling. For example, a story is that “we (on team ___, at company ___) are evolving who we are. That requires commitment to our existing processes. However, it also means trying new things.” Enough simplicity to hold complexity.
  3. Narrative Is The Job of Leaders — Sometimes it is a marketing story. Hmm…, OK. The stories I like most are the honest ones that invite us to be fully human together. Creative. Imaginative. Leaning in to rough spots. It’s funny that offering the story still feels like a soft skill to many, right. It’s not detailed spreadsheet analysis. Yet it is an equally important form of “doing.” I’m guessing that 25% of the leadership work is helping to offer the story, to create coherence for groups of people to not just be tenacious, but self-organized into their work.

We are just trying to be better humans (thus the blog name, Human to Human, H2H). In many contexts. Through participative leadership, dialogue, and change. We are just trying to be smarter together. And more thoughtful. And more creative. And more kind. About the things we care about and that we contribute in our families, communities, organizations, and worlds.

That’s the story I tell myself.

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