Yesterday evening, courtesy of my friend and colleague Dominique Turcq of BoostZone, I had the pleasure of running a short session for rising leaders in France’s leading construction company, as part of their global leadership programme. A graphic recorder was on hand to capture some of the key elements of our discussion.
Together, we explored the power of stories and storytelling to change the way we see the world, which felt very timely given recent events in UK and US where the vote for Brexit and the election of Donald Trump have both shown the dramatic ability of cogent stories to bring about seismic upheavals in the political landscape.
Storytelling is not necessarily benign, as Christian Salmon argues in his excellent book Storytelling: Bewitching the Modern Mind. Stories can be used quite cynically and very effectively to raise fears and to manipulate our emotions. But stories are the water in which we humans swim: we cannot escape their influence nor avoid telling them.
The hard task for those seeking a more progressive and inclusive world is to tell stories that can inspire us to take this more demanding and ultimately more generative route. Barack Obama managed in 2008 and 2012. The UK Remain Campaign and Hilary Clinton both notably failed to do so in 2016.
It has become a commonplace of leadership literature to talk about the need to win both hearts and minds. But our lives are governed – for good or ill – by the limits and possibilities of our imaginations. We ignore that reality at our peril.