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  • Writer's pictureAdil Malia

Learn to Break-through the Stories

You can't learn from Stories....unless you learn how to break-through the stories.

This forever has intrigued me. Despite decades of listening to winning stories from iconic leaders, Managements have yet failed to throw up highly effective leaders who can create 'the best places to work' despite the plethora of literature they have liberally been exposed to, until now. This piece attempts to explore the reasons for this failure or rather a very low rate of transfer of learning from these great stories told.

We love listening to stories. From the time we were children we heard stories. Stories from grand parents, moms , aunts and favourite teachers. Stories of heroes, of their valour, of successes and victories. We grew up in life, loving stories. Whilst these stories engaged our imagination with vivid descriptions and acts of heroism, we unfortunately ended up hero worshipping but never waited to stand and evaluate the truth that lead to success, in these stories and fables.

As we grew up and moved into our Corporate roles, we extended our love for stories into this domain, as well. And like we did earlier, we continued to keep looking out for 'heroic break-throughs' more than practical transferability of truths in these stories....particularly, when these stories dealt with leaders, leadership styles and leadership best practices.

In a world where communications has become a fine art and story-telling on public forums an integral part of brand management, we have heard all kinds of winning stories. Corporate heroes tell storied based on their acts of valour and management...stories of business turn-around in challenging contexts, stories of culture transformations and management of diversities and adversities. The more implausible the story, greater the desire to believe it without verification of ground level truths,operating realities and facts !! Most stories, when singularly heard, clearly seem to defy the critical faculties of the listeners. But yet we prefer to believe, unverified.

This clarifies and explains why, despite scrolls of literature being written on the theme of leadership over a long period of time and volumes of documented case studies and other material being made available on these themes, practical lessons seem to have escaped and not learnt by real time Corporate Managers. Corporates keep floundering with the same issues, problems and concerns.

So much is the search and focus on leadership heroics even in these corporate stories that we tend to seek & sniff-out episodes of 'magical' inspiration in these stories to tell, rather than seeking to pursue insights which could be transferable to the listeners of these stories. We do not clinically confront logic and evidence and therefore practical transferability of these inspirational lessons is rather low. We get mesmerized by the charisma and at times celebrate the traits and persona of the protagonist rather than appreciating the context, the insights and the strategy of the 'hero'.

How do we therefore need to listen to these stories...? What do we decipher...? How do we disintegrate the drama and pick out quintessence of the transferable lessons to be learnt ? The 5 things I would suggest are :

☝Firstly, remove the clutter of protagonist traits from the storyline. Study them separately for personality development courses, should you like. Unless you do that, charismatic traits overpower and takes over focus and attention from the real transferable learnings. You keep searching for magical shortcuts for imitation in their traits and fail.

☝☝Confront and examine the logic and evidence that backs the stories of these leaders. First hand experiences of people who worked at that time and in the place where that script was played-out in real time, is something totally different than what the listeners are expected to believe. Get to the quintessence. Sometimes the unspoken factors of success never really get focussed in the stories and the listeners in absence may keep floundering around the bush, pushing wrong levers without success. Story of Alexander and his exploits as recorded in Persian history is totally different from that as recorded in Greek history though the action was played out in the same arena. Jack Welch, Lee Iococa and such other heroic stories as played out, not far different.

👌Try to un-reveal the real link between the prevailing situation, the insights available to the 'hero' and how he developed the strategy. Lessons of transferable success often lie here in this link and not so much in the seven habits of the leader !!!

☝👌Thereafter, seek and understand the helpful state of play as it prevailed with contributions of the other supporting players to the theme. We agree on criticality of effective teams to success of the group but when it comes to stories, we study only the leader's contributions in isolation of and ignoring the many sacrifices and contributions of the supporting teams.

👌☝👍Understand the enabling environment. In absence of that, large scale group interventions fail. In most of the stories, these never get recalled and celebrated. In fact, often times in stories, the environment is shown diametrically different to heighten the drama effect and drum-up impact of the hero.

We try to imitate lessons learnt from great protagonists of inspiring stories. And fail...for we do not really learn what we need to from these stories but get carried away by the thrill and drama of the context and style & charisma of the leader.

Thus stories become stories and legends get never recreated due to learnings that failed. Stories are stories...real life is different, isn't it ?

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