UA-27757076-1 -

Leaders as Storytellers

The 21st Century calls upon our children to develop the skill of leadership – that is to abilify the gifts of others and work together to bring about changes that transform the world to be more just and beautiful.

Developing the skill of leadership, according to the Grow a Generation resource What Do You Mean I’m in Charge: Leadership Skills for Teens,  entails

  • finding opportunities (within which you define your role and tasks involved),
  • taking stock of resources (removing unhealthy preconceptions and critically researching past performance and future expectations),
  • developing relationships with mentors and networks,
  • understanding “where” you are leading and developing the means to clearly communicate your mission to others,
  • actively listening to “who” you are leading and drawing connections between their dreams and aspirations and the mission,
  • beginning a lifelong journey of consciously and deliberately improving your leadership skills.

How do we teach our children to “to clearly communicate their mission to others?”  Most leadership programs add a component of public speaking. Many schools have begun to stress communication skills within projects (for example, interacting with the judges at a science fair). I’d like to stretch and extend ‘presentation’ skills to encompass storytelling and the use of metaphor. How do we cultivate children and teen storytellers?

One of the most intriguing proposals in leadership theories is the idea of communicating in metaphors. Howard Gardner’s Leading Minds illustrates eleven leaders who not only excel in public speaking, but are also master storytellers. They were able to draw listeners into a more hopeful stories of the future.Gardner stresses how leaders such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, and Pope John XXIII, were able to appeal to what he calls the ‘five year old mind.’ Each of these great leaders was able to communicate and tap in to metaphors and stories that appeal to the concrete, literal and emotionally based understanding of five year olds.

George Lakoffand Mark Johnson in Metaphors We Live By, explain that metaphors structure our most basic understandings of experience, shape our perceptions, and guide our actions without being consciously called to mind.  The authors demonstrate how the metaphors that shaped our thinking in childhood guide almost every approach we take as adults in problem solving, estimating, scheduling and inferring. What metaphors do we expose our children to?  (As a side note, I point Halloween costume shopping moms of young girls to review the January Life Science interview of Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture author Peggy Orenstein  and her claim that the princess metaphor we feed to our little girls can be unhealthy).

As I opened the doors to Grow a Generation, I scoured dozens of books on business planning and startups. Almost all instructed me to create a story, or metaphor, to convey complex ideas more effectively.  And so I penned the story of Isum’taq, A Parable of Wisdom to put my understanding of the seven skills into a land and language for five year olds to play.  I was so fortunate to find an incredible artist, Vanessa Rossi, who illustrated the cover. The book is now one of the offerings on the Grow a Generation website.

I believe, though, the message of Gardner, Lakoff and Johnson is not simply to tell a story or create a metaphor, but to live a story worth telling, to create a life that is a metaphor for all that you hold dear and worthwhile and meaningful. How do I communicate that story except to live it, and what role do I play in the stories my children construct with their lives?

This Week’s Question:  If you were stuck on a deserted island, what one movie, one book, and one children’s story would you want to watch/read again and again?

Hero of the week: Steve Jobs.  I can’t help reading each of the wonderful articles on his life and contemplating how he embodied the seven Grow a Generation skills of innovation, critical thinking, collaboration, emotional intelligence, resilience, leadership and vision.

Free Resource: Story People – free e-cards for any occasion when sending a story is called for.



Permanent link to this article:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.