Strategic Narrative

Leadership Strategic Narrative Consulting

Find an authentic strategic narrative that empowers your team to greater alignment, innovation and impact.

What Is Strategic Narrative: Executive Summary

A strategic narrative is an essential leadership tool for creating alignment across a team, market or organization. Much more than a mission or vision, a strategic narrative empowers leaders to “tell the story” of where you’ve come from and where you’re wanting to go—connecting the dots in a way that engages stakeholders psychologically/emotionally.

A strategic narrative can be externally facing, like a brand positioning or purpose statement, or it could be internally facing, like a mission or vision. Leaders can use strategic narratives for an entire organization, or for an individual product, project or change initiative.

One thing to note: strategic narratives can rarely be created by following a template. They need to be “found” and “tailored”, so that audiences experience them as authentic and motivating.

In this article, I will lay out the new leadership art of strategic narrative, and provide further details on the leadership consulting services I offer to my executive clients.

Introduction to Strategic Narrative

Imagine someone paid you a healthy advance to write a book about your life. They’ve offered you a year’s sabbatical from your work and an all-expenses-paid vacation home in your favorite destination. Wahoo! What a dream!

Imagine arriving there on your very first day. You set up your desk facing out an enormous window towards a view of nature that takes your breath away. You prepare your favorite beverage, you sit down at your desk. You open your laptop. A blank screen awaits your brilliance.

So… what do you write?

Do you start from the very beginning: I was born on an autumn’s afternoon… No, wait. Is that the right place to start? Maybe you should start with the most significant moment of your life. But which moment is the most significant, and which one is just kind of significant?

This is hard. You get up from your desk to go make a coffee. Maybe you’ll try again a little later.

Now imagine that this same publisher doesn’t want a book about your life. They want you to “tell the story” about your company, product, project or team. The subject may be different, but the problems are the same:

  • Where do you start?
  • Which information do you include?
  • Who is your audience?
  • What is the essence of your message?
  • How do you get it across in a motivational, memorable way?

Whew, this is hard, too! Time to go for a walk… There’s always tomorrow!

Welcome to the wonderful world of strategic narrative.

Strategic Narrative

Defining Strategic Narrative in Business

In its simplest form, a “narrative” is a string of events that are connected by cause and effect. That’s true whether we are talking about movies, TV shows, social media posts, fairy tales… or even scientific papers. A narrative is what connects A to B to C to D.

We could even go one step further and say that narratives work on a kind of logic. Some of that narrative logic could be based on “hard” evidence, like in a police report or a legal case. But unlike formal logic, as in coding or mathematics, narratives also work with a “soft” logic—an emotional or psychological logic.

This soft logic is what makes the narrative feel “authentic”.

In business, as in life, there are many stories that anyone could tell about a product, project or company. There are many stories that are equally “true”. So strategic narrative is all about how we connect the dots. It might be considered an “art”, in that it requires a certain level of deftness in balancing hard evidence and soft logic.

By paying attention to our strategic narrative, we can improve the way our message is received. We can improve the impact we have on our stakeholders and audiences.

Strategic Narrative
A classic example of a customer-facing strategic narrative. In the Get a Mac Campaign (2005), Apple took the “hard” evidence of the differences between a PC and a Mac and transformed it into a “soft” psychological/emotional comparison between John Hodgman and Justin Long.
Strategic Narrative
A much different example of a strategic narrative. This graphic from the 2024 Edelman Trust Barometer takes raw data—or hard evidence—and transforms it into a “soft” emotional story by using an evocative headline and increasing the size of the relevant data point (59%).

Strategic Narrative is More Than a “Story”. It’s an Essential Leadership Tool.

The examples above show two very different ways that a strategic narrative can be expressed to stakeholders. Both the advertising campaign and the Powerpoint slide could be considered “stories”. But more than just a story, each of these examples demonstrate a kind of “perspective”.

This is the major difference between Strategic Narrative and Storytelling.

  • A “story” is a single communications product, like a video, a Powerpoint slide, a social media post, a movie, a book, etc.
  • A “strategic narrative” is the perspective, belief or attitude behind that storytelling product.

This difference is what makes strategic narrative such an important leadership tool. It’s not just that leaders need to know how to “tell the story” about an organization, team, change project, etc. It’s also that these leaders need to understand their own perspective on the story—while recognizing that their perspective can change.

As we said earlier, there are many different perspectives on any story. Strategic narrative teaches that leaders can choose between this vast array of changing perspectives. In the process, leaders can optimize the impact their message has on an audience.

This ability to assess, evaluate and move between various perspectives is the essence of strategic narrative. It is a monumental leadership skill that goes far beyond the ability to “tell the story” in a compelling manner.

It’s not just about telling the story. It’s about the ability to find the story. With this ability, a leader can transform any message to become more insightful, dynamic and engaging.

Strategic Narrative can apply to:

  • Entire organizations, like Missions, Visions and Values
  • Individual products
  • Internal project or transformation initatives
  • Individual leadership development journeys
  • Sales pitches and Go To Market Strategies
  • Almost every form of leadership communications!

How to Find an Authentic Strategic Narrative in 2024

Effective Strategic Narratives are more often found, rather than created.

This is one aspect of narrative that most people get wrong.

Many consultants out there propose that there is a “right” template or pattern that leaders can follow to develop their narrative. The problem with this approach is that it tries to adapt a situation to the narrative, rather than the other way around.

Let me give one very obtuse example: say all the data on leadership shows that the most effective leader is a tall man with great hair. I’m a man… but I’m 5’7 and bald, so no matter what I do, I will not be able to fit myself into this template, no matter how willingly I contort myself.

Similarly, many strategic narrative frameworks ask companies or products to fit into their structure. Even if it’s a perfect fit, the message may come off as tone-deaf or inauthentic.

A more appropriate approach is to “discover” a compelling narrative, through an active process of listening and creativity.

I like this graphic as a nice manifestation of a dynamic discovery process… and I use it much more than some of the templated strategic narrative frameworks that are out there:

Strategic Narrative

A dynamic strategic narrative process like the one above is much more likely to be seen as authentic, rather than any of the templated frameworks.

My Leadership Strategic Narrative Consulting Approach

When I help clients find their strategic narrative, I often follow a process like this:

  1. Stepping back and assessing the whole operational system to identify any hidden operational or emotional/relational challenges 
  2. Helping individuals in leadership better understand these challenges and shift to this more visionary perspective 
  3. From this new perspective, re-evaluating the whole system and identifying which dynamics need to shift 
  4. Developing a new vision/specific change intention 
  5. Re-designing operational systems and solutions 
  6. Integrating these changes 
  7. Repeating the process from Step One 

You can see how this process is more likely to generate a dynamic and authentic output, rather than the templated frameworks.

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