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How leaders can use powerful narratives as change catalysts

Stephen Denning (Stephen Denning ( is a Senior Fellow at the James MacGregor Burns Academy of Leadership at the University of Maryland and the author of The Secret Language of Leadership: How Leaders Inspire Action Through Narrative (Jossey‐Bass, 2007).)

Strategy & Leadership

ISSN: 1087-8572

Article publication date: 7 March 2008




Modern leaders need to encourage their organizations to thrive on innovation and embrace opportunities to do things differently. Based on the author's experience training executives, the paper aims to conclude that successful leaders inspire enthusiasm for change through communication that is fundamentally differently from the traditional, abstract approach.


Effective leaders communicate by first getting attention, then stimulating desire and only then reinforcing with reasons. The paper explains the surprising method that works best in practice.


The paper finds a surprisingly effective change management skill: learn to tell simple, attention getting stories that enable audiences to recognize and choose future possibilities that they have hitherto missed.

Practical implications

An ability to spark enthusiasm for change through the use of simple but powerful narratives becomes an essential competence for all leaders in the organization.


The paper reveals that the kinds of stories that are effective for leaders in stimulating desire for change are very different from what most people expect.



Denning, S. (2008), "How leaders can use powerful narratives as change catalysts", Strategy & Leadership, Vol. 36 No. 2, pp. 11-15.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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