Effective leaders listen for stories that touch the heart and mind

Leadership and the knowledge economy

The management literature has known it for a long time. The management consultants realized it quite some time ago. And finally, the cooperate management world itself seems to have noticed:

Leadership is not identical to management.

The number of presentations about good leadership increases steadily. Leadership is the new buzzword. The leadership team is everywhere. Even though often it is little more than the core/top management. Often, leadership translates to being in the lead—the responsible person.

However, slowly but increasingly, the new reality seems to dawn on many people:

Leadership ≠ Management.

Why is that so?

Effect of the knowledge worker

As Drucker already pointed out: The number of knowledge workers is steadily increasing. Today’s work organization work is a recent invention of a mere 200 years. Before the industrial revolution, professionals organized themselves in guilds and were often still doing a lot of manual labor. The most experienced worker was leading the others and showed the ropes.

Only when unskilled labor started to increase did another work organization become necessary. The foreman was born. The job consisted mainly in telling others what to do. As the jobs became more specialized, knowledge work steadily increased. It was enough for a steel worker in the 19th century to have big muscles. Today he needs to know metallurgies. What has remained constant is the way we organize people.

This managing of people has produced ever-larger hierarchies. Commonly, the person at the top is utterly unfamiliar with the work at the bottom. Over the last 100 years, our society has accepted this paradigm. Chief executives are excused from having a profound IT background in the IT industry by saying their work requires another skill set.

But if we started with a clean slate, how should we organize the work if only skilled people would be working in the trade?
Direct supervision only allows organizations of limited size, like in the middle ages.

The solution is clear, and everybody is already talking about leadership. Authentic leadership understands the problems of the simple craftsman as it is not too far away from his problems. At the same time is far enough above his daily trials and has a broader scope and vision.

The essence of leadership is to influence

In the book 21 Laws of leadership C. Maxwell talks about the principles that enable good leadership.

For him, the essence of leadership is influence. With influence, you can create positive change.

Influence requires good communication. One aspect of communication is searching for answers outside yourself and your team. This search can happen verbally, but you must also listen to non-verbal language. How do people behave? How do people act in groups? You need to tune into the room. Are people attentive, or is everybody just on duty?

Good communicators search for stories.

The most prominent of being a good communicator is listening to other people’s stories and retelling those stories. By retelling their stories, you act on the emotions of everybody.

“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Let’s assume you know a lot of details about a new cross-platform programming framework. You are convinced your audience should start using this framework.

These three steps will make your undertaking a success.

  1. Know the audience and discover their stories. Discover if they need your framework.
  2. Find the correct formulation of your message. What is the one thing about your framework everybody needs to know?
  3. Adapt the message to the audience by using their stories

Using the audience’s stories allows them to see the framework from their perspective.