All through history, stories have been a powerful way to build communities, to give meaning to the often tragic ‘nonsense’ of life and to inspire for action. As the beautiful quote, attributed to Antoine de Saint-Exupéry goes: “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”
“Having a story and being true to it”, is a good metaphor for leadership in two ways. First of all, if you have a story, you have made sense of who you are, what you want to do and how and with whom you plan to do that. You have made sense of your situation and your challenge in a personal way. You have moved beyond the rational expectations and explanations of your context and become self-authoring. As Wouter De Geest puts it: “Leadership, for me, is more and more giving meaning to the things I do… Do I have a story?”
Secondly, story telling is communication. Good story telling as good leadership “arouses the heart”.[i] Aristotle defined three criteria for a good story: logos (‘Is my story coherent?’), pathos (‘Is my story emotionally loaded?’) and ethos (‘Is my story truthful?’). This comes close to the definition of leadership that gave Wessel Ganzevoort with the authority of an old wise academic at the M&O Year Conference in 2010: “Leadership is aligned essence”[ii]. Coherence and essence are for him the hallmark of leadership.
[i] The poet David Whyte pleas in his book “The heart aroused, poetry and the preservation of the soul at work.” (1999), London: The Industrial Society, 285 p. for sense making at work by poetry.
[ii] For an account of this congress: http://thefutureleadershipinitiative.wordpress.com/2011/06/26/528/.