A story is a gap-filler. A leadership transition (succession) is nothing more than a dynamic set of gaps. Until a gap can be strategically filled with either a concrete action step or a tangible person, your most effective means of filling it is with an intentional narrative…a purposeful story, well told.
Even decisions within the process, no matter how pivotal, do not move the story forward until some sort of action is taken or result is observed. Do you remember any story about only decisions? Important as they are, decisions are limited to being pivot points in the action. People need the pivot points but they resonate with and remember the action, the drama, the comic relief…the movement that occurs up to and after the pivot points. Without the before and after, the pivot points are experienced as almost meaningless.
Test this statement: “Every story ever told is meant to fill some sort of gap in the life and understanding of a person, a family, a tribe, an organization, a nation, or a movement.” Consider this partial list of information gaps that stories fill:
- Identity Gaps – Who are we? Where did we come from? What do we stand for?
- Gaps of Understanding – What is going on? What caused this? What is the context?
- Gaps of Meaning – What is our purpose? What difference are we making? Why?
- Imagination Gaps – The most engaging forms of entertainment and amusement involve storytelling or story-making.
It is also said that every story of value includes some sort of tension between truth and falsehood, right and wrong, or clarity and distortion.
So, in addition to thoughtful, purposeful decisions about each element of your organization’s succession plan (several are addressed in other posted and pending blogs), you must also craft a purposeful narrative that helps stakeholders fill or bridge the gaps. Technically, your plan can succeed without purposeful narrative, but without one, your organization ends up dealing with the fallout of myriad stories repeated by multiple stakeholders as they attempt to make sense and bring meaning to the few things they do hear, see, and experience.
A few story-telling basics to consider when it comes to filling or bridging gaps during a leadership transition include:
- A clearly identified, relatable Protagonist;
- A threatening form of Antagonist and Conflict;
- (Conflict is essentially the difference between what is and what is desired.)
- An actual or ideological Guide with a Map through the territory;
- A clearly understood and articulated description of Successful Resolution.
- All conveyed through language that provides mental images of what is and will be.
When it comes to successful leadership transitions that begin well and provide positive, lasting outcomes, a purposeful narrative not only addresses gaps that stakeholders share concerns about, it provides direction for those executing and adjusting the plan. As you know, a plan is only as good as its intended outcome and the congruency of the decisions made in adapting its execution as you go.