Dwight Eisenhower, the famous World War II general who would later become president of the United States, used to say that in battle he found plans to be useless, but that planning was indispensable. I could make a similar observation about writing a blog, at least in my case. At any point in time, I find it useful to plan things out in my head, but it is more for the thought process than for the plan itself.
So, every now and then I like to sit down and plot out my direction for the weeks or months ahead, even knowing full well that there is a good chance I will not stick to it. I find this planning a healthy exercise for a simple reason: fitting my thoughts into a broader context helps me write each individual entry more coherently. But then, it seems that whenever I have a clear idea of the next few topics I would like to cover, a life event or something I read jumps into my path and causes a change of direction.
At this moment, I seem to find ongoing reasons to stay focused on the general theme of managers and their stories of purpose, and I have stayed with this question far longer than planned. In fact, when I began writing about middle managers a while back, my intention was to stay on the subject for perhaps two or three posts. And, only seven or eight days ago, I had decided that my example of the ski-lift operators in my Swiss town would close this series.
In the last week, though, two of life’s events conspired to keep me thinking along the same lines of the past few posts. First, a large consulting company I have worked with for several years in Argentina asked me to prepare a series of webinars for their clients, on a theme that fits nicely with everything I have been writing here for the past two months: “leadership issues for middle managers”.
The second event that made me think I should keep going on managers and stories of purpose was a speech I made to the Paris chapter of YPO (Young Presidents’ Organization). For those unfamiliar with this prestigious worldwide not-for-profit enterprise, YPO calls itself “the world’s premier peer network of chief executives and business leaders”. In years past, I have dealt with YPO chapters in several countries and always found them to be highly engaged and attentive audiences.
At the YPO dinner in Paris, my topic was not specifically about middle managers. Rather, I spoke about the connection between leadership and authentic storytelling, how the most effective leaders use life stories—in particular their personal stories of identity—to inspire those around them. In the Q&A following my remarks, three of the questions that came up were classic ones that I have heard again and again from my audiences.
The first of these queries was whether this sort of leadership storytelling could work in any environment. The second was: When this type of storytelling fails, what are the causes of failure? And thirdly, a member of the audience asked if I could give a few quick suggestions for managers seeking to develop this skill.
Later, when I reflected on these questions, it occurred to me that each one of them applied to leadership at any level of any organization, and thus to our discussion of middle managers and their efforts to craft stories of purpose for their groups. So, out of the questions, and out of my necessity to prepare for the upcoming webinars for middle managers, came my conclusion that these would be interesting issues to cover on this blog.
As a result, I have come up with a new plan for the coming weeks. First, I would like to write a bit about my conviction—based on 20 years of consulting and coaching experience— that one can indeed make the type of inspirational storytelling I advocate work in any type of enterprise or organization. Then, I will go on to give some general pointers about how anyone can develop the ability to inspire others with authentic personal stories of identity. Lastly, before leaving the topic of managers and personal storytelling, I would like to provide a few thoughts about what does go wrong when this method or technique does not meet with complete success.
After all of this, I would like to embark on a subject I have been busy reading about for the last several months: the role of attitude, grit and character. Much of the recent research about outstanding performance in any field has found that these attributes are far better predictors of success than talent or intelligence. How do we define these three important characteristics, and how can we all develop and use them to our benefit?
Anyway, that is my plan, at least as it stands today. Let’s see how closely I stick to it!
Image: Flickr-user Sandra Strait