Today’s management practices have inefficient and ineffective ways of measuring the quality of individual managers and the decisions they make. Narrative Leadership supplies both a rational model and simple metrics for management, the employees, and the organization as a whole. The goal of Narrative Leadership is to create an environment that is efficient, responsive, and effective.
How much different would business be if managers knew almost immediately if they have made a good decision? What if organizations had an objective, standardized measure (hereafter called a metric) that measured their manager’s ability to increase productivity and creativity? A new model for management called Narrative Leadership gives the answers to these questions and more.
Narrative Leadership is a systematic approach to understanding and influencing the lives of people and organizations. Narrative Leadership encompasses a theory of how and why organizations work and provides fast feedback upon the efficacy of management policies and decisions. This allows for the leader to quickly adapt to the ever-present changes in the business environment while not having to spend a lot of time and energy re-surveying the environment each time there is a major change. These narratives help the leader understand the world by supplying a context and by simplifying the immense amount of data.
Managing a business or organization is a bit like trying to manage an art mobile. With every shift in the air currents it moves, twirls, and bounces up and down. Adding a little something here or taking away a little something there changes the entire balance of the structure. Like a mobile, organizations are strongly interconnected, interdependent, and delicately balanced. When one part moves, or a part is added or subtracted, the whole organization changes.
Our minds try to simplify the complex and make it simple. For organizations, our minds take this extremely complicated, interconnected, interdependent system and try to form it into a coherent archetypal story. Human minds operate upon stories. We simplify the sensory and cognitive overload by creating stories of how the world works. In business, the most common narratives revolve around metaphors from sports (e.g. “team” and “competition”) and the military (e.g. “tactics” and “strategy”). Even seemingly simple words like “control” and “winning” evoke in our minds a powerful narrative that dictates how we act and interact within the business environment.
Here is an example of how stories help simplify our life and create meaning within an organizational structure. A few years ago I was hired to manage a division that spanned three cities and two continents. I had to reconstruct many of the concepts that I held around such simple things as “going to work” or “my office.” “My office” was no longer a singular item and going to work might entail a 14 hour plane ride. My narrative had to expand quite considerably around other issues such as “cross-cultural performance reviews” and “defining project and task requirements.” “My office” narrative now revolved around my laptop and my cell phone, while “going to work” included a morning ritual around preparing for the culture in which I would be working that day.
Different cultures have different expectations about what constitutes good work performance. For example in the United States a phrase that symbolizes excellence might be “outstanding leadership.” While in India, Japan, or China being outstanding can signify not fitting in. That is, the nail that stands out is pounded down. Defining project and task requirements that are clear, complete, and concise can be very challenging when working across cultures. Translation issues can magnify the problem, even when the speakers have a common language in which they communicate.
My narrative around performance reviews now includes cultural markers that act like a signpost that points down different paths. One sign says “This way to American reviews.” Down this path are mini-stories of how an individual handles him or her self within the organization. Another sign says “This way to Indian reviews.” Down this other path are different mini-stories that are oriented around how an individual helps to move the group forward and how well they fit in and complement the group.
Narrative Leadership is a management model that not only describes the interactions within an organization but also includes measurement tools that show how well managers are doing with these interactions and how well they are moving towards (at least some) of the organizational goals. These measurement tools (metrics) are objective, easy to utilize, and intuitive to understand.
Narrative Leadership can be used at any level within an organization, from line worker to chief executive. The users of Narrative Leadership need not be trained in psychology or management. They just have to be willing to look at their world in a new way. As more people within an organization utilize Narrative Leadership the positive effects are multiplied manifold.
Unlike many other management models and tools, this is not a consultant based model. That is, the consultant is not a major part of the use and understanding of this model. Narrative Leadership is designed to be used by managers in their daily operation and decision making while taking extremely little time to maintain. This was designed by highly experienced managers for busy managers to aid them in understanding what works well within the organization and what needs their attention.