Storytelling in Social Leadership – a first draft

We need a new style of leadership for the Social Age: a style that is based upon our ability to collaborate and share within communities, to create meaning in the moment, to build our personal reputation and rely on this (more than hierarchical forms of power) to get things done. Social leadership is about ethical decision making and acting with integrity and transparency to deliver the promises of a new social contract, where employer and employee both need to find value.

Storytelling process

We need to shape stories, find the core narrative, rehearse the words then release them into the community

There are three core areas within my NET model of social leadership: ‘narrative‘, ‘engagement‘ and ‘technology‘. Each area has three individual components and, through a series of articles, i’m exploring each one in turn. I’ve already explored ‘curation‘, today i’m turning to ‘storytelling‘.

We communicate in stories: establishing commonality and sharing values. From the earliest stories warning us against wandering off alone at night or why we need to be wary of strangers, through to tales of nation building and love, stories are the units in which we create and share meaning.

Story elements

Storytelling is made up of many elements: choosing genre, style, stance and tone of voice, among them

Cultures build their histories around stories, but stories are not truth: they are an interpretation, flavoured and coloured by our preconceptions, our history, viewpoint and context. Stories are intensely personal but highly subjective.

NET Model - Narrative

The 1st Dimension of Social Leadership is ‘Narrative’, with three components: Curation, Storytelling and Sharing

Within social leadership, i use three components for Narrative: curation, storytelling and sharing. Curation, as we’ve seen, is about determining the content for your stories, it’s about curating the space that you will be known for and determining what will add value as opposed to cluttering up the airwaves. Storytelling involves us determining how to create meaning around the content.

Stories require some structure: we need to consider our stance, our characters, tone of voice and length, as well as the genre we use and where the bookmarks go.

No learning happens in isolation, so the context for storytelling within an organisation is important: where is your story coming from, is it ‘official‘ or informal, am i expected to act upon it or just enjoy it? As social leaders, we need to be able to actively choose the styles of our stories and illustrate them accordingly. Formal stories need a particular structure, whilst informal ones may vary. Our stance is the viewpoint from which we start: are we ‘alongside‘ the learner, or are we standing in front of them and explaining things. Are we being directive and telling them that ‘this is what the story is‘, or are we co-creating the meaning alongside them?

We fill our lives with books, but don’t use all of them all the time: when choosing to read with my favourite nephew, I choose a particular storybook (a Thomas the Tank Engine one of course), whilst for my niece it’s different. The genre, characterisation, style and length all impact on likely engagement.

Of course, we are not writing novels for our teams, but the principles of what make stories stick are the same: well crafted, coherent, emotionally engaging, free from spelling mistakes!

We also need a good balance of the factual and the social, a balance between just pushing out information (which may not be best done through stories) and pure social chatter (which lacks focus). We need to engage but also inform.

Narrative and storyIt’s worth thinking about two elements: narrative and story. The narrative is the core informational structure, the story is the words we put around it. Organisations often focus effort on controlling the story, when the narrative is more important. The words can change with each retelling, but the narrative remains the same. It’s like the story of the fall of Troy: you can read the original texts, you can read an academic study or a children’s book, or you can watch Brad Pitt in the film, but whatever version of the story you experience, the core narrative is the same. It’s just retellings of that narrative.

Whilst this is a slightly simplistic view, what i wanted to emphasise is that you don’t have to exert effort trying to control the retellings, you just need to work on the strength and coherence of the core narrative.

Story and retelling

As stories are retold, the core narrative should remain the same, even as the words used to tell it change

Social leaders promulgate the seeds of stories within their communities: they set them free to be told and retold, each retelling grounded in the core narrative but taking on it’s own story form. Indeed, the process of curation (with it’s interpretation and ‘sense making’) is largely about the reframing of stories to be appropriate and to resonate with our core audiences.

So the model at the top is the first draft of a model for shaping and releasing stories as a true social leader!

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About Julian Stodd

A learning and development professional specialising in e-learning and learning technology.
This entry was posted in Book, Curation, Leadership, Narrative, Social Learning, Stories, Storytelling, Tone of Voice, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

35 Responses to Storytelling in Social Leadership – a first draft

  1. This is truly impressive. I enjoy your posts.

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  8. I like where you are going with this. Recently there has been pushback from the storytelling community as the the distinctions between narrative and storytelling. I like the frame that you create and particulalry like the Trojan War analogy. Well done!

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  20. I can not find the scholar I am paraphrasing here, but it is in regard to memorizing poetry and stories. If the narrative remains the same, the words or stories that can be used to express the narrative are controlled. Culturally there are only certain words and stories that fit. The scholar was making the case for the reliability of oral histories. It makes the point that it is the narrative that matters.

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