I think story is the most powerful tool for growing leaders.
Peter Senge offer a boatload of insight into this challenge.
Check out the following links my colleagues and I will shining some light on the topic over the next few weeks.
Shelli Jost Brady, Charles Collie and I will Be offering a workshop Wednesday Oct. 9 on Stories for Growing Tomorrow’s Leaders at The Highpoint in Richmond.
Bold Whisper’s Jennifer Einolf and I will be offering The Tell It Well Intensive on Oct. 10 at Meadpwbrook Country Club in Chesterfield.
Remember: You Matter. Your Stories Matter. Tell Them Well!
The Storytellers Channel
What Do Leaders Do?
Peter Senge (pictured to the left) is a senior lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management and a founder of the Society for Organizational Learning. He is the author among others of the book The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. I’ve enjoyed his books, but the greatest impact he’s had upon me has been his explanation of what leaders do. He said,
“Leaders initiate and sustain change and grow leaders.”
This is in the context of his definition of leadership – The capacity of a human community to shape its future. At first glance this is confusing. Community? What about the great man or woman? The Heroes and heroines of history’s myths?
I always wanted to be one of those heroes. I wanted to be the knight on the white horse who led the charge. I always had a clear vision for the future.
And a clear idea how to get there. And I was happy to lead the way. Some people chose to follow, some followed for a while then chose different paths. Some came and went and returned.
Over time my vision of leadership evolved. I adopted the principles of Servant Leadership which shifted the focus from me to our community. Anyone who spends any time around me eventually hears me say, “We live into the stories we tell ourselves.” My stories became more about what we could accomplish, together. This addressed the initiating and sustaining change parts of the leader’s role. But…?
How Do You Grow Leaders?
I’ve come to believe growing leaders is about living the community’s values. Jack Welch defined values as measurable behaviors. A community’s culture is determined by the way it does things, i.e. the way behavior is measured, evaluated, and most importantly, rewarded.
For me, growing leaders has two parts. The first is Talking the Talk and the second is Walking the Walk. An effective first step in communicating values is telling stories. Sharing examples of people in problematic situations and showing how they resolved the problem in alignment with the community’s shared values. The second is living with integrity: behaving in alignment with the values communicated in those stories. Again, for me, the following story demonstrates both.
James “Junie” Johnson, Jr. was 6’5”. He joined the Army when he was 15. When he was wounded in Korea his mama told them his real age and he was discharged. Years later, he joined up again, eventually retiring after 30 years. This story took place during that civilian interlude.
There were not a lot of options for a black man in the south in the 50s and 60s. Upon his recovery Junie had come home to Richmond, where he’d found work with McAllister Masonry as a bricklayer’s laborer mixing mortar and carrying brick. When my dad was discharged from the Navy, he decided to follow his little brother into the trade and he too found himself working for “Old Man” McAllister.
Daddy and Junie hit it off and when Daddy went into business for himself, Junie came along. I adored Junie. He was family. When I was 5, he’d set me on his shoulders as he stood flatfooted on the floor painting the ceiling in our apartment. He always had a smile on his face. I know returning to service was the best thing for him, but I missed him when he re-upped.
Daddy had a bias for action. He would frequently tell anyone who worked for him, “Do something. I can fix wrong; I can’t fix nothing.” Also, he did not like people sitting down on a job site. “Homeowners always think they’re paying too much and when they see you sitting down, they’re sure of it.”
Long after Junie had returned to the service Daddy loved to tell about the day he left Junie on a job site digging the footing for an addition. In Virginia the freeze line is 16” below ground and so building codes require we dig down at least 18” to undisturbed ground when we’re pouring the concrete footing, so the building’s foundation won’t settle.
Well, Daddy was gone longer than he intended, and Junie had finished the job. Junie straightened up the job site and Daddy had still not returned. So, Junie jumped back down in the footing and cleaned up the edges and still Daddy hadn’t returned. This was the early 60’s and Junie couldn’t just take a stroll around he neighborhood to get out of view from the homeowner, so he jumped back down in the footing and did a little more cleaning up.
When Daddy finally returned, he found Junie up to his waste in the ground, the bottom of the footing was over 3’ deep. The minute he saw Daddy he started, “Buddy I’m sorry. I know you don’t want people sitting down and…”
Daddy said, “It’s alright. One thing’s for sure, this addition not going anywhere.”
Daddy would tell this story any chance he got to remind us to (1) Do Something. We can fix wrong; we can’t fix nothing. AND, (2) if we did what he told us, he would stand behind us.
My daddy was my first role model as a leader. His values were clearly communicated and clearly demonstrated. He lived with integrity. He talked the talk and he walked the walk.
I Want to Hear from You
I’d love to hear the stories of leaders whose stories and behavior influenced you.
Til next time,