Thursday, February 25, 2010

Squirrel Inc.;a fable of leadership through storytelling

My mother-in-law blesses me often by passing good books along to me, especially books that wouldn't normally rise up on my radar.  My mother-in-law works for Gerber Company in what used to be a corporate library, but as names change, I think she's in the knowledge information center, or something like that.  In her work she comes across books that are written primarily for business application or leadership and yet have good insight for life in general.  A recent book she gave me was Squirrel Inc.; a fable of leadership through storytelling, by Stephen Denning, 2004.  Jossey-Bass.

This work is similar to Andy Stanley's book on preaching.  Both books speak to people who stand in front of other people and are called to be leaders in some form.  In Stanley's work he suggests that Pastors/Speakers orient their sermons/talks around one point, and the work in accomplishing that often pushes one to story.  The first point of departure for Stanely is what he calls "Me" - beginning with a story about the speaker and how the point to be made is connected in some way to the preacher.

In Squirrel Inc., Stephen Denning, writes to business leaders about the power of "story."  Dennin suggests two types of leadership exist.  The first is the prevelant one that is stressed in most leadership books.  The primary path includes; hiring the right people, setting high goals, confront brutal facts, fix the systems, reingeer the process, enhance quality, streamline procedures, install a culture of discipline, re-form and flatten the structure, enhance interpersonal mechanics, build skill inventories, etc.

The alternative path that Denning proposes is described as:  "swimming in the richness and complexity of living.  It breeds out of the connections between individuals  As an organizational participant, the leader grasps the interrelatedness of the people of the organization.  The leader sees employees, clients, and partners as living, thinking, feeling individuals.  Each individual has a history.  Each individual is significant." (149)

The best means of accomplishing this kind of leadership, Denning suggests developing ones leadership through narrative, storytelling.  He offers this rationale:  "narrative - unlike abstractions and analysis - is inherently collaborative.  Storytelling helps leaders work with other individuals as coparticipants, not merely as objects or underlings.  Storytelling helps strengthen leaders' connectedness with the world.  Isn't this what all leaders need - a connectedness with the people they are seeking to lead?"(149)

Denning suggests leaders can utilize storytelling to:
  • spark action/communicate a bold new idea
  • communicate who you are/communicate personal and the firm's identity
  • transmit values
  • get everyone working together
  • share knowledge
  • tame the grapevine
  • lead people into the future
The enjoyable side of the book is that Denning uses a story to illustrate how using stories can be integrated and bring transformation, not only to a company or particular culture, but to the person who is willing to be be shaped by stories.  As a follower of Jesus, I concur, and view THE transformative story as the story of Jesus.  The story that is transformative not only for our business, but our lives is His Story, and how we respond to it, receive it or reject it.  The response scripture and the church tell us vital is faith, confessing Christ as Lord, and being a person whose story is taken up into His story.

Here's a final thought from Denning on leadership:  "Before I met you, I had success, yes.  Things worked but they weren't wonderful.  I functioned in a fashion.  But nothing flowed.  Nothing soared.  I had imagined that leadership had to do with the fabricaiton of products, with results; that it was a drag race with winners and loosers.  I've come to see that those are just by-products.  You can only be a leader if others believe in you.  They only believe in you if you believe your own story.  If the story doesn't rise up from the deepest recesses of your being, it risks being superficial and unfulfilled." (144-45)

Many thanks to my mother-in-law for sharing a good work.

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