getting the story straight

Klems blog,
Jack Dorsey says “every CEO is an editor.”

I like that. I’m not just saying that because I enjoy editing (but feel free to hire me to run your company if you want to.)

I’m saying it because he makes a good point, that editors and CEOs have similar functions. The CEO “edits” the company’s vision and performance down to one cohesive story, and he or she edits teams and resources in a way that the story becomes clearer and more compelling.

At least that’s what makes a good CEO who has a good company. There are bad editors and bad CEOs of course. But the comparison is still an instructive metaphor.

Dorsey, who cofounded Twitter, is right about the “one cohesive story,” although it should also be an honest one. When this happens our story is not only cohesive, but coherent. It hangs together. It rings true.

Richard Bailey has a new book, Coherence: How Telling the Truth Will Advance Your Cause (and Save the World).He describes how important it is to “co-hear”—that is to listen so we can know who we are, who we say we are and who others say we are.

Bailey says this is more than branding, which is as far as many leaders ever get. They have a way they want things to be, they have a story to tell; but it lacks integrity.

Integrity is in fact what an editor wants. And should be what we want. Every company, cause or church should want this. What we say about ourselves is what other people would say about us. And is also who we really are.

To return to the editing metaphor, this integrity is necessary because that’s what the leader is “editing” the organization to say, even if he or she has to fix it first. Sure, there is always some difference between who we want to be—our best vision of ourselves—and who we are.

And certainly every great story has conflict and resolution. But telling the story in ways that don’t mislead or defraud is essential. Unfortunately, the story is often oversold and over sanitized. That always reflects bad leadership.

Emily Dickenson said “tell all the truth/but tell it slant.” But she was a poet, not an editor. The editor functions as a first reader, one who knows the audience (customer, client, etc.) and serves it with a passion for details, a willing to check the facts, and a need to get it right and get it done.

Editors also make the story shorter and stronger, thus more memorable and meaningful. It’s good work they do, provided they have the wisdom and the skill to do it well.

Finding the purpose, eliminating the clutter, framing the story line, creating the connections—this sounds like a job description for an editor.

Or a CEO.

4 thoughts on “getting the story straight”

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