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The latest insights on narrative, storytelling and leadership in higher education.

Week Two: Hour 4

Modelling the working climate for your team

By Paul

We’re going to focus here on two aspects which are different, yet complementary. 

The first looks at how you come across: what difference the behaviour you model can have on others, at an individual level.  

The second aspect looks at how you, as a leader, are responsible for setting the tone in how colleagues work together in a team, and how you can do this by telling stories.

Your team will become all the stronger when you are prepared to show your own emotions. If you’re able to show that you’re as human as everyone else, that you’re confronting your own fear and vulnerability, you will set a role model that your colleagues will respect. They are more likely to open up themselves once they see you paving the way for this. What’s more, you will help to reduce emotional stress for everyone. 

One of the most significant factors in leaders who are perceived to be effective is their ability to show genuine concern for individuals. This means treating people with consideration and compassion. It means carving out the space for conversations in which you listen and respond to what you’re hearing.  

One of the most significant factors in leaders who are perceived to be effective is their ability to show genuine concern for individuals.

When working remotely, this takes particular effort, and means that you’ll need to set aside time for one to one calls. Try to make these a priority in your schedule. These calls don’t need to be lengthy, use 5-minute check-ins if these work well. Think of these as the equivalent of dropping by people’s desks in an office.  

In showing that you’re attending to personal relationships with all those in your team, you will be helping to nurture a working culture that will make your leadership effective.  

Show too that you’re taking care of yourself. Demonstrate a proactive approach to time for relaxation and breaks. Tell others what works for you, and be open to learning from their approaches. Be honest about what you’re finding difficult, and that you don’t always know what to do.

What else can you nurture in your team’s working culture? 

We’ll look in more detail later at how you plan and facilitate team meetings online. But it’s important to establish here that how you speak and act as the team leader is very influential. It casts a long shadow on how colleagues behave. 

Take all the opportunities you can to challenge the parts of conversations which veer into negativity. Do this by affirming your belief in everyone’s ability to succeed in the face of adversity. 

Hold onto and talk about perspectives that take into account both the immediate actions you need colleagues to take and the future you’re helping people to guide themselves towards. Recognise all the opportunities for good which will result from the current crisis. 

Perhaps most importantly of all, tell and share stories that provide hope for people. Seek out examples of courage, small successes achieved through positive actions, ways in which people connecting with one another have made a difference. 

Your activity

Think of an example of a story you would like to tell colleagues which you think would inspire positive thinking. This could be from your professional or personal life. 

Before you structure the story in your mind, write down 6 words which capture the effect or impact you’d like your story to have on colleagues.

Your words could be in a list, or they might be a single sentence, or perhaps 3 two-word phrases – it’s up to you, but please use no more and no fewer than 6 words. 

These 6 words are the first part of a brief in preparing for the story you’re about to draft. There’ll be an opportunity to share the stories in the breakout group discussions at our next online meeting.   

The next part of your brief will come through applying some creative thinking to distil the essence of what you want to tell. We’re going to ask you to use the form of a Haiku poem to express this. A Haiku is based on a Japanese short poem of 3 phrases, each written on separate lines, and containing 5, 7 and 5 syllables respectively. Here’s an example: 

No haikus tonight (5) 
I’ve run out of poetry (7) 
And the shops are shut (5) 

Take 5 minutes to write your own Haiku that crystallises what your story is about. 

Using both your Haiku and your 6 words, draft on paper an outline of your story structure, planning for: 

  • A BEGINNING – what’s the hook that draws the listener into your story? Who is it about, and why should we care about them? 
  • A MIDDLE – what’s the turning-point that leads to change for the main character in the story, and where does this lead them? 
  • AN ENDING – what does the character do to conclude the story, and how do they feel as a result? 

There’s no need to write out the story, though you may wish to practise telling it to yourself or to someone in your household or on the phone. If you can tell it to someone else, look out for the words or phrases that engage your listener most strongly. Not having a written version may help you to be more spontaneous in your telling in the breakout groups when we next meet online.


Resources

A selection to read, watch or listen to, to help find a new perspective.


Dr Paul Gentle

Paul is the Academic Director at Invisible Grail. A leadership expert, Paul has dedicated the last twelve years to creating and delivering leadership development programmes in higher education.