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Published: February 14, 2003


Noel M. Tichy: The Thought Leader Interview

S+B: One of the teaching methodologies you do not like is the case-study approach.

TICHY: I’ve long criticized the case method. It’s one of the ways so many of my academic colleagues become disconnected from practice. At Crotonville, where we brought in many outside teachers, most case teachers couldn’t add any value.

One story from when I was at Crotonville. They were reading a Corning Glass sourcing case. I’m sitting there watching them work the case, and I realize the faculty member doesn’t know anything about sourcing. He went out once to Corning, sent a researcher, and wrote this case. And we’re sitting here with guys from GE Power Systems who just laid off 10,000 people in Schenectady, reading a case about a company that is a popcorn stand compared to GE. And I’ve got guys in the classroom who’re living with bomb threats because they are trying to make change happen. So I figured, let’s bring the people who actually have to work the problem to class for a day and a half. We’ll wrestle with their sourcing issues, and make the decisions the next day.

S+B: You emphasize that leaders should use narrative and storytelling in teaching.

TICHY: Howard Gardner’s book Leading Minds was the big “aha” for me. It helped me understand that there are three stories the leader needs to communicate: Who am I, who are we, where are we going. That kind of narrative puts flesh on the teachable point of view, which on its own might only be a PowerPoint presentation. That’s pretty boring. But put it into a real, true narrative — that can be powerful.

Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” is an example. Where black children and white children are holding hands. Where we’re judged by the content of our character, not the color of our skin. It paints a clear picture. Nobody questions this “who am I” story. You run into problems with leaders when they pronounce something, and then they live this other life. So when I run my three-day “building the leadership engine” workshop, one of the things we do is put your teachable point of view together in a story. We make you write a journalistic story, write a Fortune article, you on the cover with what you’ve accomplished, and you’ve got to write a narrative. And then we put people on video — you have five minutes to give the business equivalent of your “I Have a Dream” speech. And then we sit down in groups of six and watch six videos and critique them. You write for an hour. That’s a very powerful exercise.

S+B: Let me ask you a very practical question about that. How could you do that without seeming pompous or overly self-confident? In a real business setting, if I were to go in front of a team or a group and do something like that, it would be very difficult.

TICHY: But not really because the mind-set we put you in is, Monday morning you’re up in front of your marketing group. Give us the five-minute vision speech, and there are three elements to it: The case for change, where we’re going, and how we’re getting there. I don’t care who you are, you’ve got to be able to do it — every day, in every setting. In the elevator. That’s what Jack Welch did for 20 years. “My God, we’re in a deflationary environment, margins are coming down. We’ve got to be a global service organization. Here’s how we’re going to get there. We’re going to start by acquisition, dah, dah, dah.” Jeff Immelt has got the same challenge. A successful leader has got to make the case for change every day. You have to get up in front of the group.

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