Leadership and storytelling

By Limor Shiponi

The connection between leadership and storytelling is presented in many places as the connection between a position & a required skill. My take on this issue is somewhat different and it focuses first of all on defining leadership and where it appears, under what circumstances and pre-conditions.

What are leaders made of? This question has been employing the minds of many people who believe that if only they knew the right and finite answer they could produce leaders upon demand. The big question contains many other questions, like:

  • Can you identify leaders before they appear?
  • Can you teach a person to become a leader?
  • Can anyone become a leader?
  • What traits define people who are leaders?
  • Is leadership an innate quality?
  • How does one know she is a leader?
  • Is being a leader good?
  • What are leaders needed for?

There are also various theories, some of them very different than others and there is the issue of definition. I’m using this one

Leadership – the ability to motivate a group of people for the sake of a common objective.

In the frameworks of this definition related to storytelling I find interest in three kinds of known leadership forms:

The leader that stands apart from the crowd – that’s the kind of leader that receives his ‘status’ through external definitions which try to describe traits, attributions, style, looks, behavior etc. The minute he is in position, part of his attention will go to keeping the ‘stands apart’ look and feel. People who speak about storytelling and leadership often refer to this form and love telling stories about such leaders and their ability to tell stories (which does not necessarily contradict the fact that if they can’t tell stories they might still be great leaders…)

The leader that stands with the crowd – this too is a status one would like to keep but he also believes at the same time that ‘standing with’ is a more appropriate social disposition. These leaders are often described as people who lead by ‘storying around’. Again, the storytelling skill is not necessary although seems natural to being social.

Situational leadership – the potential of leadership – is something all stories tell us about and they do it through presenting conflict, challenges and the struggle to overcome them for better or worse. Meaning – this is where storytelling as a deep mechanism teaches us the greatest lessons about leadership.

Stories are about people coping with a gap in their life. The gap can be closed only if the person will find a way to create change in the original arrangement of his own life-course and circumstances. If that person managed to close the gap at least once, he is holding the potential to lead others – motivate them for the sake of a common objective.

The need and possibility to lead can appear from no-where; for that reason it requires the gap to be possible to close even if for a very high price; it requires mentoring in some form that will stand witness, teach a healthy path, keep the rising leader true to his word and to what’s going on; help sketch possibilities and suggest tools. Leadership required the involvement of systems too, through defining rules, keeping relevance and fortifying the worthiness of the leader – any leader in any situation.

From this point of view, leadership is not about status but a functional domain embedded in mature democratic forms of living, the possibility for change that will create the sustainability of ‘us’. Leadership in storytelling is situational and can appear within any person who sees the possibility to help a group close a gap – because he’s been there before.

5 thoughts on “Leadership and storytelling”

  1. Pingback: Storytelling Business Social Media Marketing PR & Technology Curated Stories June 18, 2011

  2. I think my favorite leadership these days is that of the Hobbit. Get in, set the beacons on fire, save a few from being burned alive….all that “Return of the King” stuff. I’ll get Gandalf stand on the wall. And herein ends my esoteric post of the day. 🙂

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