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“The leader of the past knew how to tell. The leader of the future knows how to ask.” 

Peter Drucker 

Storytelling for the past decades has been haloed by just about every marketing and creative voice worldwide. Disney had an entire company dedicated to storytelling that they applied to not only their marketing but for other clients as well. Storytelling is terrific, fun, exciting, rewarding, profitable, and so much more. But it’s useless if you don’t know how to ask the foundational strategic questions that will lead your organization to a strategy that aligns it under one successful story. 

Looking back to find solutions for the future is equally useless. I realize conventional wisdom says that we all can learn from our past mistakes, and of course that’s true, but it’s also true that history tends to repeat itself if you don’t find new strategies for the future. Rethinking — or thinking forward — begins with the ability and freedom to ask tough questions that might get you fired in a rigid and overly bureaucratic organization. 

During the past several years, I have observed hundreds of leaders and team members as they participated in our online SmartPlan360™ organizational software that delivers spot-on strategic next steps to help them overcome their challenges. This has been fascinating to experience first-hand what causes some leaders to immediately charge forward after finding new results compared to others who shrink back from making changes or in some extreme cases, express disbelief in the results. 

Many leaders resist change because they are focused on the past, on what they already know to be true, versus the new realities and opportunities that could happen in the future.

On the other hand, innovative leaders provide their team with new suggestions for the future and help them achieve it as much as possible. They are far less concerned about how the data has been crunched than how they can leverage the newly-minted insights into actionable strategies. 

They accomplish this by listening to those around them, their stakeholders, and their customers, who they have asked searching questions with an open mind to learn new things that will bring about positive change. 

A simple listening excise you can conduct:

  • Determine one strategy you’d like to change.
  • Write one short paragraph describing what the current strategy is and how it works.
  • Describe this to people on your team and ask them for two suggestions on how they would change it for the future.
  • Carefully consider all the advice you have gathered and pick the one new idea or strategy that was continuously identified.
  • Keep repeating this process with customers and other stakeholders until you whittle down what you think is the winner.
  • Communicate a “Thank you” to all who participated and let them know what your decision.

This process works well with successful people and teams who enjoy being productive and finding winning solutions. We have found that people accept change more readily and easily when it is explained well in advance of its implementation. Communicating the “Why” we’re doing this along with the “How” we’re going to do it lowers people’s resistance to change. 

This set of communications needs to happen throughout an organization on all levels with the understanding that what will hold the strategy in place and make it a success occurs when everyone knows and plays their part.