The Dialogue of Disciplines
New Horizons in Leadership Studies series
Edited by Michael Harvey and Ronald E. Riggio
Chapter 13: Leadership and Education: Leadership Stories
Robert J. Sternberg John Kerry’s campaign in the 2004 Presidential election was ruined by a story. Leaders have a story to tell. John Kerry’s story was of a brave and successful military veteran who would bring to the presidency the skills he had learned in the military, seasoned by his years in the Senate. Kerry had been a warrior chieftain. “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” was an organization devoted to wrecking that story. They presented a counter-story of Kerry as, basically, a liar and a coward. They cast enough doubt upon Kerry’s story that his campaign largely imploded. Stories are at the heart of leadership. In the 2008 US Presidential election, John McCain ran on the story of a heroic veteran of the Vietnam War, like Kerry, a warrior chieftain, but one who served time in the “Hanoi Hilton”. Barack Obama campaigned on a story of a turn-around specialist who would bring positive change to the country, and Hillary Clinton on a story of being a consummate organizer who would bring order from chaos and who will be ready to go her first day in office. Clinton later changed her campaign manager: the story was not working as planned. Such stories are usually oversimplifications of what a candidate stands for. But they are messages that candidates and other leaders can convey that people understand. It is no coincidence, for example, that Obama supporters kept reminding the electorate of the Camelot that existed under President John F. Kennedy. No matter that...
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