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What's Your Leadership Theme?

Updated: Sep 23, 2019

This is a two-part series on the use of themes in storytelling for leaders.

Even after years of acting, playwriting and screenwriting classes, I often failed to understand the storytelling concept of theme. And then I started writing more stories and scenarios for the instructional design and e-learning work that I do. And when you are driving toward a lesson, theme becomes important because it is the point of the lesson.

For instance, if I was creating a lesson around cybersecurity, I might tell the story of a colleague who noticed something strange and bravely reported it.

Theme: Security is the responsibility of all of us.

Lesson: See something, say something.

Of course not every story has a moral or a lesson and not every story is told to impart one. Sometimes, a story is told for empathy purposes. I want to vent about the mistake I made thinking that I was supposed to catch a 6:00 ferry, but I was booked on the 5:30 ferry. There might be a lesson in it for me (always double-check the confirmation otherwise you may spend hours waiting for the next boat home!), but I’m not saying it to teach you a lesson. I want your empathy or I want to bond with you.

But does every story have a theme?

Yes. But sometimes, it just doesn’t matter.

If you are still unclear as to what theme is, the storytelling platform that solidified it for me several years ago was the NPR program: This American Life. Over any other, they do the best job of choosing a theme – “Love” for instance and then telling various stories about love – but maybe not all of the stories are about romantic love.

Often the long-running TV Show “Grey’s Anatomy” does the same thing. That is the reason for the narration by the lead character Meredith Grey at the beginning and end of the show.

So where does theme come in for leaders who need to tell stories that connect and motivate teams?

We will tackle that in the next newsletter.

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