The are many references to storytelling in leadership journals, and to the importance of using stories to capture the attention of groups of people. Stories are the oldest form of teaching that we know of in human history. This oral/aural tradition of communication has fueled us and given us a collective sense of meaning. Stories teach us in every arena of life. When I look back over the years of my education, the storytellers stand out. They made everything real.
Years ago I worked as a process operator in an oil refinery.
Last week I talked about stories, and the power they have to engage people. It was one of my most popular offerings to date. One thing got more attention - both in comments and questions - and that was the part about how engaged people can become in the awful story and what we can do about it. Many of you know that I am a pilot. Part of that journey through aviation involved becoming a flight instructor. One thing I learned about people who love to fly is that the next best thing to flying is talking about flying.
Here's a bit of trivia. The Wright brothers' historic first powered flight traveled a total distance that is less than the wing span of a 747. That was in 1903. In 1911, the Wrights' Vin Fiz was the first airplane to cross the United States. The flight took 84 days, stopping 70 times. Now, the last time I was in a 747, I was traveling to Hong Kong. Those are dramatic increases in the space of 100 years.
Recently I was asked if it is more important to prioritize your time or your energy. The more I think about it, the more I see an interesting dilemma in a schedule driven world. I have been through many physically intensive times and roles. I have been with people who lived their lives through their physicality. These Many have taught me ways that they managed their energy in order to apply it where it really counted.
To those of you who are living through transformations, and especially those who are leading them, here are some thoughts directly to you. Real transformation means that we change the rules of how we engage, how we make decisions, and how we do business. Transformation means seeing the world through a different set of lenses and using a different set of responses than we have used before. It is a culture change.
Recently one of my past clients told me that his business has encountered a sudden increase in demand. So much so that it exceeded the organizations capacity to deliver. Additionally, the demand is from a different (basically new) market sector than before the downturn, it seems to be sustainable, and it is inexplicable based on what they know about the current market. Additionally, his existing long-standing customer base is still operating on reduced demand, but based on what they think, is expected to return at some point and also deliver some pent-up demand.
I often get asked to explain the difference between transformational and transactional leadership, and I recently saw an example of a large corporate change that illustrates it. The leadership of this corporation set out to reduce the number of call centers that it had around the world. It had a highly diversified business model with a number of different customer bases. The call centers had grown up locally without a central strategy.
During every change effort, at some point people seem to revert to old ways. In fact, some cases people never seem to change at all? I can't count the times I have heard leaders say, "I can't believe that people are still doing that! We've have already approved the new system and announced the changes!" Understanding why changes can vanish in the midst of large organizations is a study in human and organization dynamics.
The simple part is that it happens the same way whether it is one person or a thousand. It gets more complex when you put an organization into the mix.