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"Another parable He put forth to them, saying: 'The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, which indeed is the least of all the seeds; but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.'" -- Matthew 13:31-32 (NKJV)
If I could only give a leader one book, it would be this one. Why? You can have the best ideas in the world, but if no one is interested, they won't go anywhere.
How do I know? Consider that most of the effective ideas that are broadly applied were first conceived over 400 years ago. Why? No one knew how to explain the ideas using stories in the right way.
Is that a problem in your organization? Sure, it is.
I know people who have built major career successes out of telling one story, over and over again. Yes, I know that sounds silly, but it's true.
When I first started working at the Boston Consulting Group, all my colleagues marveled at the brilliance of the strategy concepts. I was amazed instead by the power of the stories and started memorizing them. Within six months, CEOs of major organizations were hanging onto my words as though I had 20 years of experience even though I was only 24 years old. All I did was master telling those stories.
I have long been convinced that story telling (something you can see done brilliantly in the Bible by Jesus) is the key to effective leadership. Until I found Stephen Denning, however, I never found anyone who could explain the process. I just knew when I had heard a good story . . . and would use the story whenever it was appropriate. Now, as a result of studying Denning's books, I can craft my own stories.
If you have read Stephen Denning's earlier books, such as The Springboard, Squirrel Inc, and The Leader's Guide to Storytelling, I think you'll find this book to be the best of the bunch. If you haven't read any of them, just read The Secret Language of Leadership.
Filled with examples, this book captures the essence of how you overcome the bias not to pay any attention to what people tell you. Denning recounts his now-famous experience in energizing the World Bank to share knowledge and analyzes why it worked to put the lessons in perspective.
Most leaders make lots of mistakes. Denning helps clarify the problem by introducing the ten common communication errors that leaders make. He goes on explain six enablers of communication language (a clear, inspiring goal; a story about the leader's commitment to the goal; mastering the audience's story; developing narrative intelligence; telling truthful stories; and employing powerful body language while telling a story) and the key steps of narrative (get attention; stimulate desire; reinforce with reasons; and continue the conversation). You'll also find templates and exercises in the appendices. If those items don't make sense to you (and they probably don't), read and apply the book.
Why do stories work so well? We find ourselves in the middle of the stories and feel their truth. Having connected in that way, we start to look for an answer. When the story continues to present an answer, we can tell it makes sense. At that point, we want to know how to connect the dots and get the right results. It's now "my" idea. Get it?