by Dan Stojanovich

Article in July 2013 edition of Engineers Australia (Executive Engineer Section Page 60) Magazine

Do you use the “carrot” or “stick” approach in your management style?

Both methods of motivation have their place, but using the “stick” can not only get very expensive, it can also generate resentment and even resistance. Use this method with extreme caution.

So what “carrots” do leaders have at their disposal?

One of the cheapest, and yet most powerful, is the use of story. Stories that engage hearts and minds can inspire people to soar. Though narrative power is not always found in any old yarn, the right story punches way above its weight.

No wonder so many effective leaders are master story tellers (without needing to be entertaining raconteurs). Humans are hard-wired for stories – which are much more palatable and easier to remember than long “laundry lists” of facts and figures. Stories form the basis of so many cultures, religions, myths and legends, mainly because they work – and keep working.

“Nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time has come,” wrote Victor Hugo. If that idea whose time has come can also be conveyed in a story, no matter how brief or in what medium, it can be very powerful indeed.

Good stories can also be very infectious.

Whether you’re running a project, brand, organisation or any other enterprise, taking the people with you (rather than forcing and policing them) can be the game changer.

The story you tell – and how you tell it – can transform.

OK, so there is lot of psycho-babble out there today about “story-this” and “story-that” – it might help to just remember that good leaders have been using stories for millennia. Some of those leaders have employed talented story crafts-people to help tem tell a better story, and still do so. One of the talents of a leader is to recognise what to run with and how to make it as engaging as possible.

Pragmatic engineers tend not to tell their stories too well (consider the number of books about architects versus engineers). Engineers tend to just keep “doing stuff”.

But it is not just about grandstanding.

Yes, telling those (often) nation-defining engineering stories can be great for documenting, recognising and celebrating great achievement, but it means even more.

The right stories, well told, not only recognise and acknowledge all those responsible (staff, contractors, consultants and other stakeholders), they influence public policy and the political landscape. That in turn means a more favourable climate for more great work.

Ditto for any project, brand or enterprise, and so the leader grows too.

Remember, the most popular documentary series on Australian TV in 2004 was “Seven Industrial Wonders of the World” – a series which celebrated seven landmark engineering achievements. The series (available on DVD) still has millions of fan around the world. It told those stories from a very human perspective – and that is the trick, as readers of Joseph Campbell (“The hero’s journey” etc) will attest. Those key human drivers still drive us all, and they can be harnessed. You can use “history” to change the future.

As a leader you do not have to do it all yourself – engage your people. They can surprise you, as well as themselves.

I have run group workshops (up to 100 people) where I lead the group in a mass interactive story creation exercise – the engagement and stories have been astounding. People have surprised themselves at how involved they were and what they came up with. They shared powerful experiences and lessons well learned.

I am writing this at the Marriott Hotel in Kula Lumpur (opposite the Bukit Bintang shopping centre – with so many luxury brand shops it makes Sydney and Melbourne look pretty provincial). My room has several Marriott print magazines full of stories about travel experiences. Sure, I could Google the information, but I never will. Awareness precedes moving hearts and minds. Getting the story out there is very important – and often complicated – but essential. Special skills can help here. But you can be sure the Marriott would not be doing it if it wasn’t working for their business. Consider the process at work here and think about the various cunning ways of getting your stories out there and working for you.

Leaders can achieve remarkable things.

Fortunately, in many cases, leadership is a talent and skill which can be improved. Thinking like a leader is a good start. Innovative thinking and determination can achieve much. “Think different” as Apple’s former chief executive Steve Jobs used to exhort.

Appreciate, too, that all sorts of individuals in your team can make a contribution – arrogance leaves you blind to opportunity, but it is important to harness the crowd. A small group of individuals can have significant impacts on other people’s paradigms.

As American anthropologist Margaret Mead observed: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Stories can be their greatest ally.

Civil engineer & MBA Dan Stojanovich has spent many years as CEO and Creative Director of communications businesses. He has advised hundreds of clients on strategy, branding and enterprise development. He encourages us all to use both sides of the brain – “because you can” . He currently runs fabelhaus.com (story house) and can be contacted on email: go@fabelhaus.com or d.d.stojanovich@gmail.com

 

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