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What's Your Headline?
Last weekend I opened my news page and noticed two different headlines for the same event listed side-by-side.

Here’s what they said.

Headline 1: Philippines ferry passengers rescued

Headline 2: Philippine Ferry Sinks; Five Dead, 63 Still Missing

I looked at both articles and found that they both presented the same descriptions of the facts, but each had a decidedly different slant on the story. The first one described the events, and talked about what things contributed to being able to rescue over 900 passengers from the sinking ferry. The second focused on the tragedy of the event, the loss of lives, and the uncertain fate of those who were still missing. I noticed after reading the first, I felt thankful for the people who used their time and energy to rescue others.

After reading the second, I felt more sad and depressed. Interesting comparison as to how the same events can be cast into a different story just by the headline you choose to place on it. I also wonder how each story might impact a reader’s likelihood to ride a ferry in the future. My hypothesis is that the disaster story might reduce the likelihood more than the story of rescues, even though both versions talk about the loss of life. Each of us has some story about what we are trying to accomplish, particularly if working in some sort of change effort. How do you cast it? In leadership, there is a difference between leading from inspiration and leading from desperation. Marketers will tell you that bad news sells.

However, they are trying to sell the medium, not the message. In leadership and change, the message is the medium, and vice-versa. Given that opportunity, what headline do you want to place on your special story? In the Tasks of Change, Chuck Schaefer used “Appreciating the Situation” as the heading for Task One. He meant it in the sense of building a thorough understanding of all the aspects of a given situation. That meant the positive and the negative, the full description of things that are going on. As a leader, you are not out to spin the story so that things only look and feel good or to minimize the negatives. You are there to build understanding and a compelling direction for people to go. Your headline needs to align with the spirit of that direction. The most successful stories for change outline all of the facts of the current state. This is coupled with a compelling desired state, and is headlined in a way that speaks to the value set of the population.

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