Leadership Storytelling and How ‘Nested Narratives’ helped Obama get to the White House
There are three stories that you need to weave together if you want to successfully mobilise many people to all work together with one mission in mind. As a Leader this is critically important.
Now, there’s no single, ‘most important’ strength for a leader. Leadership is a position that demands you have a dynamic mix of characteristics and skills to ensure short-term success as well as sustainable growth over time.
How do you navigate fast changes in the market? Even if you have exceptional people and great communication skills?
For me Leadership is about successfully inspiring others to make a story come true.
We can learn a lot about how to do this from Barack Obama.
Right from the beginning Obama always had this amazing power to connect to people. He had a powerful, calm voice and is always quick to tell a personal story to prove a larger political point. Storytelling has always been front and centre.
So it’s not surprising that Storytelling also played a critical role in the grassroots movement of his 2008 campaign that put him in the White House.
In the summer of 2007 Marshall Ganz was tasked with setting up the ‘Camp Obama network’ across the US. These were an intensive community organizing–style training camps in which young people would be taught to tell Obama’s story, to spread a message and generate the enthusiasm of a true grassroots movement.
Its success was remarkable, ultimately generating one of the most effective and wide ranging presidential campaigns in American history.
Marshall Ganz, is one of the greatest community organizers alive. He built his experience as a civil rights worker in Mississippi in the 1960s, then went on to organize migrant farmworkers with Cesar Chavez.
In the spring of 1966 he helped put together the fabled 300-mile march from Delano to Sacramento which highlighted the harsh conditions faced by the state’s Mexican and Filipino agricultural workers.
Ganz uses a method for organizing that centres on three nested narratives: the story of self, the story of us, and the story of now.
The idea is that you find connections across our stories of origin. Who we are. This helps to build trust and a common cause. This drifts into a story of Us, a story of shared challenges, choices and purposes. Once that narrative has been created you can connect it to the fierce urgency of NOW. A story about why we need to take action now.
The Story of Self
This is all about you. Why were you called to do what you are trying to do right now. What’s in your history? The influence of your parents or something that happened in your life. What challenges did you have, what choices did you make to deal with them?
The Story of Us
What is the agreed and joint story of all the people in your organisation? What are the shared purposes, goals and vision?
We are all part of multiple ‘Us’ stories – families, faiths, friends, communities and of course work. One way we establish an ‘us’ – a shared identity – is through telling of shared stories, through which we can talk about values we share, and things that make us ‘Us’.
The Story of Now
The challenge your organisation now faces. The choices it needs to make, and hopes to which it aspires.
The story of why now! Once you have been called to a particular mission, so what action is required of us right here, right now in this place?
A story of now is urgent. It requires people to stop other activities and focus on this. It’s rooted in your shared values or shared identity.
Leaders who only talk about the problem without action won’t succeed. You need to invite people to take a course of action.
Finally, in the end, you need to link the Story of Self, Us and Now together. Create a single narrative.