Storytelling is important for leaders to get alignment and performance
George Bradt and Gillian Davis are the co-authors of the book, First-Time Leader: Foundational Tools for Inspiring and Enabling Your New Team (see my book review). George Bradt is Managing Director of PrimeGenesis, and author of the books The New Job 100-Day Plan and Onboarding. He was previously at Unilever, P&G, Coca-Cola. Gillian Davis is a London-based leadership coach focused on startups.
The authors base their book on a leadership framework they describe as BRAVE: behaviours, relationships, attitude, values and environment. George and Gillian join us in this exclusive interview on storytelling by leaders, cross-cultural factors, exemplary leaders of today, industry alliances, social media strategy and the role of coaching.
YourStory: What is your current field of research in leadership?
George: I continue to focus on executive onboarding as I have for the past decade plus. But I’ve figured out that onboarding is a crucible of leadership for all involved. So there’s a close link between effective onboarding and effective leadership.
Gillian: I work with young startups as a coach and consultant. When you’re starting a business, it’s important for you to be aware of your personal leadership style. As a startup, the eco-system is so fragile and poor leadership can ruin potentially great companies.
YourStory: How was your book received? What were some of the unusual responses and reactions you got?
George: While it wasn’t really a surprise to me, I’ve been gratified by the acceptance of the ideas across all levels of leadership. It turns out that if you put together something of value for first-time leaders it’s valuable to any leader at any level trying to reconnect with the basics of leadership — as we all should do on a regular basis.
Gillian: Like George said, I’ve been overwhelmed and flattered with the positive responses from all levels of leadership. What has surprised me most is that this book really resonates with experienced leaders as they recognize it as the tool they wish they had when they started out.
Q: What are ways in which leaders can effectively use storytelling to inspire their teams? What are good examples you have come across?
George: Storytelling is important. Narration is even more important. As the TAI group explains: stories yield narrative, narrative yields meaning, meaning yields alignment and alignment yields performance. One of the best at this storytelling is Charley Shimanski.
Gillian: Be authentic, and be real. Tell stories so that people will connect with you, where you’ve come from, and where you want to go. An example of a thought leader that does this brilliantly would be Simon Sinek.
YourStory: What are your findings with respect to leadership traits in other cultures, eg. Asia?
George: The key is the first element of BRAVE: environment. All leadership is contextual. You must understand where you are playing in terms of industry, culture and geography. It is wrong to assume all leaders in other regions like Asia are different from all leaders in the West, and it is far worse to try to force Western ways of leadership on Asians. Each leader in each organization in each country must adapt his or her leadership style to the context he or she faces.
Gillian: The beauty of BRAVE is it transcends location. It’s a framework that works with leaders anywhere, any time at any level. I’ve had some clients even use the BRAVE framework to make personal decisions. It’s a very powerful resource.
YourStory: How should entrepreneurial leaders strike that delicate balance between ‘Stick to your vision’ and ‘Adapt to a changed world’?
George: The two must interact. Successful entrepreneurs are part of changing the world. So they should stick with their vision as much as they can, adapting the way they lead others to that vision in line with the world they face.
Gillian: Vision is derived from your values, and your values should never change. Your vision can be tweaked to meet demands of a changing world, but how you get there must always align with what the values are.
YourStory: Is there such a thing as the ‘ideal age’ for a leader, or can leadership opportunities strike you at any time?
George: No such thing as an ideal age. The basics apply at any age.
Gillian: From experience, leadership can strike at any time. The skills I used in corporate leadership, without knowing, had been in use since I was a child.
YourStory: Who are some of the leaders you admire the most today, and why?
George: I greatly admire the way Ajay Banga managed his transition into MasterCard. I was impressed with the way Devanshi Garg led teams of different sizes. I certainly think Jim Moffat continues to do great things with Deloitte Consulting
Gillian: Richard Branson for disrupting traditional and out-of-touch industries. Elon Musk for being very clear on his vision, and never losing sight of the dream. Sheryl Sandberg for starting some important conversations.
YourStory: What are some challenges leaders face in getting outside help, such as via coaches?
George: Coaches can only help those that want help. So the biggest challenge for leaders is being open to the help. Some say that only 20% of leaders have enough self-confidence to be open to help.
Gillian: I agree 100% with George. I can’t help someone who doesn’t want to be helped, and that is the biggest barrier to success. Someone recently asked me “How did you know you could write this book?” The truth is, I didn’t. I had never written, let alone published a book before. But I did know I had the ability to write, the passion for helping first time leaders, and most importantly people I could go to for help (including George). New leaders should never be afraid to ask for help! Seeking help is not a sign of weakness, but a signal of success.
YourStory: What are your recommendations on how business leaders should engage in coopetition or cooperating with their competitors in order to grow the whole industry?
George: Coopetition seems non-optional. Of course, you’re going to compete. And if you’re different, you’re going to succeed with the people who value what you are particularly good at. Where you don’t have a sustainable competitive advantage, you, your competitors and the world at large are better off if you work together to solve problems you can solve better together.
Gillian: Building strategic partnerships is a great way for small businesses to grow. Being clear on your strengths and recognizing your gaps will help you fill the holes and be ahead of your competition.
YourStory: What are your observations with respect to leadership in the government and public sector?
George: The BRAVE principles apply. All leaders should ask where to play, what matters and why, how to win, how to connect, and for what impact. The context is different. The goals are different. Canada’s Public Service Administration is all about improving the welfare of the people of Canada. That’s what matters and why. That’s why they are going to lead differently than do corporate leaders.
Gillian: BRAVE applies to any context. I use it for startups and the same rules apply. Being clear on who your market is, what your purpose is, how you will connect with others, etc. — this applies to any one in business.
YourStory: What is your advice to leaders of today regarding how they should use social media?
George: “Social media” is no longer a discrete item to use or not use. It’s now a fundamental channel for how messages are delivered. So leaders of today must use it — as part of their overall communication.
Gillian: Being in my early thirties, social media is mainstream for me, and my social groups. For the next generation it’s even more engrained into their daily routine. Leaders can no longer choose to ignore the social media impact. Get out there and connect with your customers. Consumers no longer want to buy from brands, they want to buy from people.
YourStory: Asking leaders to give up micromanagement is easier said than done – how should they actually tackle this challenge and focus on the big picture?
George: They need to practice the art of delegating, giving up less important things so they can focus on the most important things.
Gillian: They need to seek help. Micro-management is a sign of self doubt, lack of trust, and poor time management. Leaders trust and support their team to get things done, they don’t feel they need to control every step. They create a safe environment for mistakes and learnings. The number one job for a leader is to focus on the big picture, if they are micromanaging, then they aren’t doing their job.
YourStory: What is your next book going to be about?
George: Writing a novella, ‘The Man with the Glass Heart’ about a man’s efforts to help his son — set in Germany in the 4th century.
Gillian: Based on some feedback I’ve had recently, I’m considering writing a book on self-leadership for women, focusing on how to transform your attitude in order to reach your dreams. But for now, I’m focusing on First Time Leader.
YourStory: What is your parting message to the innovators and aspiring entrepreneurs in our audience?
George: Be BRAVE yourself and help others be BRAVE.
Gillian: Be clear on your purpose, capture that at the beginning, as it will be your guiding light as you grow. Be clear on your values, and engrain them into how you work, hire for culture fit, and always develop your talent.