Steward Leaders: The Story we tell with cost and value

Posted by Matthew Thomas

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When deciding whether we want to buy something new - whether a product or a service - we tend to take one of two approaches: cost or value. These approaches tell different stories.

 

A cost approach focuses on what something takes to obtain it.

 

A value approach focuses on what something provides us when we obtain it.

 

Like what you're reading? Subscribe Now! When we hear ourselves focusing on how expensive something is, or saying "we don't have the money," we have focused on cost, and determined that the value proposed by the product or service is not worth the cost.

 

When we compare prices against features, and decide what is the most important that will allow us to do, be, or feel what we want, then we are focused on value.

 

Steward leaders work hard to balance these two approaches - nevertheless, steward leaders drive toward value, since decisions based in value will have a greater positive impact on their organization than decisions based solely in cost. Value puts our actions in context, and therefore offers us a story to tell. Cost merely tells the story of expense. 

 

What stories do you tell? I'd love to hear them. 

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Topics: steward leaders, Matthew Thomas, steward leader, steward leadership, organizational story

Telling your steward leadership story: Changing narratives

Posted by Matthew Thomas

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matthew-thomas-2Recently, we've been talking about how steward leaders tell their organization's story. Over the past few years, I've been having conversations with organizational leaders as they run up against a community or organizational narrative that works against the sustainability and growth of their business or mission. 

Overarching narratives, as we have seen, can deeply affect how we appear to others. Often, we find ourselves trying to write a new story into an environment where the broader story works against us.

Like what you're reading? Subscribe Now! In these environments, we often see that a steward leader builds a coalition of other leaders around a new way of telling a story - usually by starting with a vision. Successful visions typically build upon that leader's fascination advantage. This vision gives leaders the opportunity to form a new picture of new outcomes, and paint in new characters. Then, steward leaders begin re-telling the story. The new narrative competes with the old narrative - often using new characters and a new storyline.

When winning over an audience stuck in the old narrative, parable often helps. Parable tells a story that gets the audience to root for the side they would not normally root for in the narrative you are trying to tell. For instance, if your audience opposes the vision or the initiative you propose, tell a parable that uses the audience's own values to get them to see the world differently.

20150822_105655Here's an example: In a membership organization, the overarching narrative was that decline was inevitable, the opponents were the people who were no longer as institutionally loyal as previous generations were, the heroes were those faithful few who were involved, but they couldn't stand against the tide of apathy and cultural shifts that were running the organization into the ground. They saw themselves as the agents of a cause fewer and fewer people cared about.

A new steward leader came in to this organization. He quickly realized that they had, for years, depended on decades-long relationships with members for the core of their business, and hadn't paid any attention to what value they provided to the members and to prospective members. Steward leadership meant that he had to develop new vision that would demonstrate value. In order to do so, he had to change the primary value conversation from institutional loyalty to the value that the institution provided to its members. This meant also overcoming the negative attitude of the loyal few toward the less committed folks. It took some time, but eventually the story changed. Instead of perpetual decline, the narrative became about what valuable things the members were able to do, assisted by the membership organization.

What opposing narratives do you encounter regularly? What do you do to change them?

 

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Topics: vision, steward leaders, Matthew Thomas, steward leader, steward leadership, Mission and vision, Vision and mission, organizational story

Telling Your Steward Leadership Story: Who's the Hero?

Posted by Matthew Thomas

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matthew-thomas-2Knowing how to tell our story can change the way others respond to us - and may help bring resolution. Steward Leaders, often in the position as Agents or Helpers in a story, often have to be careful about how we tell the story, depending on our audience.

 

As we saw in the diagram in our recent post on Character Roles, conflict consists of the interactions of three characters or sets of characters: the Agent, the Helpers, and the Opponents.

 

StoryPrimarySequence

 

Our audience wants to be able to relate to the hero of the story - whoever that is. Often, it is the Agent; other times, the hero really is one or more of the Helpers. The Opponents are the ones often instigating the conflict, preventing the Owner from getting the Resources to the beneficiaries.

 

Like what you're reading? Subscribe Now!(Related: How do you govern with a bully in the boardroom?)

 

 

Becoming the hero of our own story can often come across to our audience as egotistical or narcissistic if we aren't careful. More often than not, it does not come across as steward leadership. While there are a few contexts where this works, most of the time, our best opportunity is to help our audience see themselves as the hero of the story.

 

Listen, for instance, to the difference in tone between the two descriptions of the same situation, by the same person:

 

Conversation 1:

 

"You all were stuck. You didn't have the resources to solve your problem. So we came in and fixed it for you. Now your problem is solved, and you're better off for having worked with us." (Could we even append, "Now aren't we great?")

 

Conversation 2:

 

"You had a job to do. It was essential that you get it done. You needed a way to do it that satisfied your stakeholders and didn't disrupt other operations too much. Now, you've had amazing success. We're glad to have had the opportunity to come alongside you to be a part of the good work you do."

 

While these conversations are generic, my guess is one sounds better than the other, even if still a bit clichéd. Conversation 1 puts the speaker in the position of hero in the story; Conversation 2 puts the audience in the hero position. Obviously, tone, nuance, and specifics will help make either conversation sound better in context. Nevertheless, Conversation 2 has the bone structure to connect better to the audience in general.

 

(Related: How does your organization fascinate others?)

 

What do you think the response would be to Conversation 1? To Conversation 2?


How do you tell your story?

 

I'd enjoy hearing your story - click the button below to send it to me!

 

How can we help?   Connect with Matt Thomas!

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Topics: stewardship, steward leaders, steward leader, steward leadership, organizational story