Storytelling is an invaluable tool in the leader’s toolkit. All good leaders establish vision, goals, and desired outcomes. But great leaders do so with stories. What’s the difference? The value of imagination, of course!
To level up your team’s performance—and your own!— build a shared journey away from the present that is to the future that will be. Teams who think in terms of conceptual landscapes think creatively, a necessary precursor for innovation. Characterizing the landscape in terms of terrain (perhaps with jungles, mountains, quicksand, and water; safe versus unsafe areas for refreshment or respite; anticipated wildlife or unknown and poisonous species) enables teams to move more confidently, quickly, and cohesively through space and time. As this occurs (by this point, perhaps the team is envisioning themselves moving through the jungle—er, um, navigating organizational challenges—feeling the earth under their feet and the air in their hair), they begin to derive meaning and personal satisfaction in pursuit of vision, goals, and objectives, because they are critical characters in the story.
Away from imagination, and back to daily life in and among the team, behaviors will shift. Interactions will become less transaction-based and more meaningful and resonant. Identity will move away from that of employer and employee to the open and collaborative partnerships that occur when forces are in the fight to achieve something bigger. Definitions of success will evolve beyond the completion of tasks to the fulfillment of ideals, and nothing less. Everyone is part of the story.
Try it and see! There’s no risk in being vulnerable here. Maybe it’s a group of knights forging into battle, leader out front drawing the attention of a fire-breathing dragon (it might not be a quick battle, but hopefully the armor holds, and this action buys the team some options to maneuver!). Or, a team of ninjas exercising quiet leadership from behind who leave barely a footprint. Maybe it’s working to serve a client’s needs by building a metaphorical five-course meal; or, deciding that the best action for the client is a menu of simple ala carte options arguably equally elegant. Perhaps it’s swimming across a pool to the deep end for a moment, just to test the water, versus plunging into the depths of the ocean, knowing only that the team is as prepared as possible.
Establish the vision, delineate the goals and objectives, share what you know of the landscape, and then chart the course for the adventure. Make it a great story.