What Hillary’s Campaign video tells Us about Leadership

Hillary Rodham Clinton, Martin Dempsey clinton

Hilary Clinton’s 2016 Campaign Announcement Video conveyed authenticity, empathy, and confidence. But what made it especially effective was how it told her story in a way that responds to a new shift in the power dynamic between leaders and followers.

The video, housed on YouTube and announced via her Twitter account, begins with a montage of every day people in their everyday lives, sharing their hopes and dreams. While traditional campaign videos focus most of the airtime on the candidate. In her story, she didn’t appear until halfway (1:33) into the 2:27 minute video.

Leadership and Storytelling 1.0

We know storytelling is more important than ever in leading today. And why shouldn’t it be? We came from decades of a business tradition that revolved mostly around data and facts. The art of persuasion was more about cerebral rather than emotional appeal. Contrary to that, the big aha and popularity with corporate storytelling is that we need to win our followers’, consumers, investors’ and employees’ hearts before they can open up their minds to our ideas and products. We need to focus on context, authenticity, and empathy, as much as the data itself.

However, most storytelling technique has been about a person or company telling the audience about themselves. Storytelling for business 1.0, at its core, is primarily a one-way interaction. The audience is passive rather than engaging, reacting rather than driving. Currently, the corporate or political storyteller maintains complete control over the story, the message, and the outcomes. Think about all the previous campaign videos we’ve seen and how much they focus on the candidate.

What Hillary has done is jump to the next level of storytelling. She tells her story through the point of view of prospective voters. She then harnesses their hopes and dreams and frames her story in their terms. And through YouTube, Twitter, and various social media channels, engages voters in a conversation. It’s a co-shaped, dynamic way of relaying and developing a story.

Storytelling 2.0 is about story co-creation between the leader and the followers.

Storytelling 2.0 and Leadership in the Digital Age

To succeed in today’s digital age, we need to resist the urge to control and focus instead on the followers, the employees, the customers and on dynamically engaging and co-shaping.

In her book, The Social Era, my fellow LinkedIn Influencer and Silicon Guilder, Nilofer Merchant describes a power shift from centralized organizations to communities and individuals, ushered in by the digital age. Consequently, this requires a paradigm shift in how we think about and do things. Communities and individuals need to be more than followers and consumers. They need to be treated as partners in value creation.

So, in our new digitally connected world, story development, can no longer be the sole domain of the leader nor the organization. Our new protagonists and fellow storytellers are the people whom we lead and the communities of employees and consumers. As Dan Roth argues in this post, if companies don’t “embrace the idea of being chorus masters” and encourage their employees to share stories via social media, they might as well be invisible.

Hence, it’s no longer enough for leaders and companies to “tell” their stories. We need to know our people and co-create our stories with our followers and customers. Leaders can use questions to unearth the hopes and dreams of followers, and as I wrote about in a previous post ( 6 Types of Questions Great Leaders Ask), we can use questions to engage and empower. Leaders and companies can use social media to gather and amplify issues and ideas through followers.

Part of building the emotional appeal is building that rapport and trust with the audience. Leaders and companies alike, need to listen to and hear the heartsong of our followers and customers. We need to connect the disparate pieces and frame the story and vision so that followers and customers can see themselves in it and can engage with it. This isn’t just clever, it’s responding to new expectations by the generation of consumers.

Expectations of Engagement from the Next Generation

In the education sphere, the latest trend in digital humanities is to enable students to learn through role-playing and participating in historic situations or novels.

Taking this one step further, my friend and colleague, professor Eileen Cheng-Yin Chow, and co-founder of Duke University’s new StoryLab engaged her class on a collaborative game creation journey as a powerful way for her students to immerse in, debate, and understand the materials. Why?

Eileen, a media and pop culture expert, shared with me an insight on the up and coming teen generation – also our next generation consumers and workforce. This is the most well-read generation and its members have created fandoms for the novels that capture their imaginations. Fan fiction is so popular, to the point that the author of the original story is almost superfluous.

The ability to consume through participation in the creation and development process is the new norm and expectations from this next generation.

What this means is that for leaders and businesses to win over this new generation of followers and consumers, it won’t be enough just to win their hearts. We need to craft stories that the audience –whether they are prospective followers for a leader, or customers for a company – can actively participate in. We need to show how our story is relevant to them, and then enable them to write themselves into our story and co-develop the storyline with us.

Stories are here to stay. They are a part of our past, present, and future. But, to use them effectively to lead in the digital age, we should “tell” less. Instead, we should take a page from Hillary’s campaign book, and create them together with our followers, employees, customers, and communities.

What are some ways in which you or your organization have co-created stories with your constituents? Please share in the comments. I would love to learn about them.


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