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Recently, 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.
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.
Here'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?
I'd enjoy hearing your story - click the button below to send it to me!
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