Ethics: A gravely ill child


If all of these matters fitted together perfectly, or if ethical considerations were clear in all cases, we probably wouldnt have a class addressing the matter. What is important, and what you will receive the most credit for, is your analysis of the situation and the facts surrounding it. the purposes of this, the rules, regulations, or laws of an organization or department of government dont matter. Youre the ethical boss; you have the power to make it right if it is not. What matters is what you think is the correct ethical approach, and whether or not your conclusions are supported by clear, persuasive, and convincing points and arguments in favor of one position or another. Discussing both sides of an issue will gain more credit than examining only one side of it because often, if not always, theres more than one side to a problem. The reasoning is more important than the exact conclusion, so long as your conclusion is not actually without ethical foundation. After all, you may in future have to explain your ethical conclusions to others occupying positions of higher decision-making authority, so it makes sense that your ethical analyses and conclusions have firm foundation and must be clear, persuasive, and convincing


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Officer Barry Watson is a Community Services/Crime Prevention Officer for the police department in a Hampton Roads city. Sometimes, he doubles as a School Resource Officer at the elementary school his children attend when the SRO routinely assigned there has another commitment or duty assignment in the neighborhood. He and his family live one block from the school. He has lots of contacts, and has worked in his assigned area for about five years; the family is well-regarded and popular in the neighborhood and in the school and business communities.
A couple of weeks ago, Officer Watson and his wife, Nancy, were informed by their pediatrician that Sheila, their seven-year-old daughter, has developed childhood leukemia. Sheila hasnt been feeling well for a while, and extensive tests recently completed have informed the diagnosis. There is a silver lining to this bad news, however. Her illness was discovered in its early stage, and is of a type that is very responsive to treatment. Officer Watsons health insurance coverage he has through his city employment will cover a very large portion of the medical costs, but will not pay for transportation, lodging, meals, and related expenses. Both the local Childrens Hospital of the Kings Daughters and Childrens National Medical Center in Washington, DC would require only a short commute or a days drive at most for Sheilas treatment, but doctors at both hospitals have indicated that researchers at St. Jude Childrens Research Hospital in Memphis were the first to develop a successful treatment for Sheilas type of childhood leukemia, and they have the most experience and success in treating it. St. Jude quickly accepted Sheila as a patient. Unfortunately, Memphis is hundreds of miles from Hampton Roads, and multiple trips for Sheilas many necessary treatments are extremely impractical for the Watsons. In addition, it is likely that the time that the Watsons need to spend with their daughter during her treatment will exceed by a considerable amount the family medical and other leave that Officer Watson and his wife have available through their employment. While St. Jude patients and their families are not expected to pay for hospitalization and treatment, and routinely cover incidental expenses of families, loss of family income is not covered, and the Watsons want to avoid imposing on the generosity of the hospital unless it becomes necessary.
Many organizations and members of the community have become aware of Sheilas diagnosis and of the fact that her needs will be best met in a research and clinical environment that specializes in childhood cancers. The business and residential communities have come together to raise money to assist with expenses. Yard sales, car washes, impromptu flea markets, and donation drums have appeared all over the city, and the local community newspaper has encouraged donations through its publication. The generosity of the community has overwhelmed the Watson family, and the money collected so far is projected to possibly exceed the amount that the Watsons will need for their transportation and other expenses in Memphis. Informed of this, the Watsons participated in a brief news conference in which they stated that any remaining sum of money in excess of their actual expenses would be deposited in a bank trust account for other children in the community whose parents need assistance to pay medical bills for life-saving treatment.
When Officer Watson reported for duty a couple of days ago, his supervisor advised him that the precinct commander wanted to meet with him as soon as possible. During the meeting, Captain Baines stated that the city attorney had issued a legal opinion that said that a provision of the citys human resources ordinance appeared to prohibit employees from accepting any form of benefit connected to their employment, or associated with the fact of their employment, other than their salary and leave donation from other city employees. He went on to explain that the city attorney stated that the citys comprehensive employees health insurance policy provisions were designed to eliminate the need for outside public contributions from any source for family medical expenses. Captain Baines apologized for having to deliver this bad news and said, further, that neither he nor senior police management were in agreement with the city attorneys ruling, but that it must be complied with. Captain Baines suggested that Officer Watson speak with his police union representative and the unions legal counsel, but expressed doubt that the financial assistance could be accepted, at least not in the short term. Sheilas treatment, however, cannot wait, as its success is dependent upon her condition being addressed as soon as possible.
What do you think should be the correct ethical position for the Watsons? What should the citys correct ethical position be in a situation like this, or another similar one? Why? Is this a case of unintended legal consequences, in which a provision of the citys charter that was well-intentioned to be an anti-corruption measure had an unintended result? City charters are issued by the state legislature. If its a city charter issue, and is therefore beyond the power of city leadership to fix it, where should the affected people turn to?
If you were a city official, elected or appointed, i.e., the chief of police, the city manager, the mayor, or a member of the city council, what would be your position regarding the ethically correct handling of this matter? What advice would you give regarding the citys present policy? Can something like this be realistically covered by firm policy, or should such a matter be decided on a case-by-case basis by city leadership? There are lots of very important questions here. Please discuss all aspects of this difficulty.




This essay will ask you to synthesize concepts and theories from the course with a case study, personal experience, or other extended example. You will be graded on your ability to elaborate on key issues in leadership communication, demonstrate ethical and effective leadership skills in your responses, and synthesize concepts in communication with real world issues. Students will be graded on the quality of the writing, the depth of critical thinking presented in the essay, and on the overall organization of the essays main ideas. I ask that you use proper citation formatting.








John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Denning.ffirs 8/17/07 8:52 AM Page iii

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More Praise for
The Secret Language of Leadership

Out of the morass of strategies leaders are given to transform
organizations, Denning plucks a powerful onestorytelling
and shows how and why it works.

Dorothy Leonard, William J. Abernathy Professor of Business,
Emerita, Harvard Business School, and author, Deep Smarts:
How to Cultivate and Transfer Enduring Business Wisdom

The Secret Language of Leadership shows why narrative intelligence
is central to transformational leadership and how to harness its

Carol Pearson, director, James MacGregor Burns Academy of
Leadership, University of Maryland, and coauthor, The Hero and
the Outlaw

The Secret Language of Leadership is not only the best analysis I have
seen of how and why leaders succeed or fail, its highly readable, as
well as downright practical. It should be mandatory reading for
anyone interested in engaging a company with big ideas who under-
stands that leaders live and die by the quality of what they say.

Richard Stone, story analytics master, i.d.e.a.s

A primary role of leaders is to create and maintain meaning for
their organizations. Denning clearly demonstrates that meaning-
making comes from stories well told.

Thomas Davenport, Presidents Distinguished
Professor of I.T. and Management, Babson College,
and author, The Attention Economy

Steve Denning is one of the leading thinkers on the power of narra-
tive in business settings. His latest book is a smart, useful guide that
can help leaders of every kind add value to their organizations and
add meaning to their own journeys.

Daniel H. Pink, author, A Whole New Mind

Denning.ffirs 8/17/07 8:52 AM Page i

Denning.ffirs 8/17/07 8:52 AM Page ii







John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Denning.ffirs 8/17/07 8:52 AM Page iii

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Denning, Stephen.
The secret language of leadership : how leaders inspire action

through narrative / Stephen Denning.1st ed.
p. cm.

A Wiley Imprint.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-0-7879-8789-3 (cloth)

1. Leadership. 2. Communication in organizations. 3. Storytelling.
I. Title.

HD57.7.D49 2007


Printed in the United States of America
first edition
HB Printing 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Denning.ffirs 8/17/07 8:52 AM Page iv


Preface: My Leadership Journey vii

Part One: What Is Transformational Leadership? 1

Introduction: Ten Mistakes Transformational
Leaders Make 3

1 The Secret Language of Leadership 21

Part Two: The Language of Leadership: Key Enablers 51

2 Articulating a Clear, Inspiring Goal 53

3 The Leaders Own Story: Committing to the Goal 65

4 Mastering the Audiences Story 80

5 Cultivating Narrative Intelligence 92

6 Telling Truthful Stories 116

7 Leadership Presence: The Body Language of Leadership 132

Part Three: The Language of Leadership: Key Steps 147

8 Getting Peoples Attention 149

9 Stimulating Desire 166

10 Reinforcing with Reasons 187

11 Continuing the Conversation 199

12 Epilogue 211

Appendix 1: Presentation to the Change Management
Committee of the World Bank: April 1996 221

Appendix 2: Templates and Exercises 229

Appendix 3: Whats Your Narrative Intelligence? 235

Notes 245

Acknowledgments 265

About the Author 267

Index 269


Denning.ftoc 8/17/07 8:53 AM Page v




Deploying body language







Telling authentically truthful stories

Using narrative intelligence

Understanding the audiences story

The leaders own story: committing to the change idea

Articulating a clear, inspiring change idea


The Secret Language of Leadership.

Denning.ftoc 8/17/07 8:53 AM Page vi


My own leadership journey began abruptly late on Monday afternoon,

February 5, 1996. That day, Id asked for a meeting with one of the man-

aging directors of the World Bankone of the three people who reported

to the president of the bank and were charged with running its opera-

tions. As the director of the Africa Region, I needed to see him because

that curious thing known as my career had just then taken a turn for the


The World Bank is an international lending organization located in

Washington, D.C., and aimed at relieving global poverty. For several

decades, I had held a number of positions and functions, including pro-

gramming and budgeting, the West Africa riverblindness program,

population, health and nutrition programs, and the quality control of

operations. In the early 1990s, I had been director of the Southern

Africa Department, where I had overseen the work of several hundred

people working in ten countries. Now, as director of the Africa Region, I

was responsible for the operations of more than a thousand staff work-

ing in forty-three countries. After that much experience as an executive,

I believed that I understood management, although I was about to dis-

cover that I had much to learn about leadership.

Large organizations may look stable, but appearances are deceptive.

In the past year, the president had unexpectedly died. Last month, my

boss had decided to retire. Now someone else had just been named to

my post.




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Preface: My Leadership Journey


The office of managing director is just two grade levels above direc-

tor. To an outsider, those two grade levels might not seem like much, but

from the inside, the difference was an abyss.

Like most organizations, the World Bank has a hierarchical manage-

ment style. Its the same look-up-and-yell-down style as in the private


At the beginning of the interview, I told the managing director that

Id heard the announcement that someone else was to fill my position.

Did they have anything in mind for me?

Not really, he replied with a smile.

I wasnt surprised. There had been inklings of trouble afoot. Just one

month before, Id been asked in the street if it was true that I was being

pushed aside. My boss had confirmed that the scene was turbulent: his

own decision to retire exposed me to the vagaries of the clan warfare that

pervades large organizations.

The managing director quickly explained to me the diminishing

range of my career options. The organization had no plans for me. There

were no specific positions available. There werent even any lists of possi-

ble positions on which I might figure.

He spoke to me dismissively, as though I had had no prior reputa-

tion, no credit for anything I had done over several decades, and no

prospects. His world was a personnel chessboard and I was no longer a

player. I had become a nobody.

When I pressed him, he said finally, Why dont you look into


Information? In February 1996, information in the World Bank had

all the prestige of the garage or the cafeteriaa wasteland from which no

traveler had ever returned. The message was unmistakable: I was being

sent to Siberia.

Although the interview was bad news, the imperial style of delivery

was something else. The managing director gazed on me as though hed

just swatted a fly.

At the time, I had no way of knowing that his own vast power was a

facade. He had been chosen precisely because he was a loyal staff officer. I

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Preface: My Leadership Journey


had no idea then that he, like all the new bank presidents close associates,

would be cast aside within a few years, when, in the inevitable custom of

authoritarian contexts, the executioner becomes the victim.

The loss of my job hit me as a grave personal setback. Yet in retro-

spect, its clear that there was nothing personal in it at all. The president,

as it emerged in due course, planned to ditch everyone at my level,

including the managing directors. He seemed to believe that if he

appointed people himself, they would be more loyal and dedicated to his

objectives. When this turned out not to be the case, he canned them with

the same indifference that he dispatched the senior managers on hand at

the time of his arrival.

For those slated for elimination, the presidents technique was sim-

ple. He refrained from dismissing them outright. Instead he appointed

them to posts with lesser responsibilities or status, or left them with no

position at all. The idea was that they would resign to avoid the public

humiliation of being treated so demeaningly.

In most cases, his judgment proved correct: they left without a

protest, slipping quietly into the night. My case was different: I wasnt

quite ready to leave.

I remained optimistic. Surely, I thought, there must have been a mis-

take. Surely my record counted for something. Surely, when lines of com-

munication opened, my career would be back on track.

I set about looking into information, since I was interested in the

topic, having been an early computer enthusiast. I saw that if I combined

my knowledge of World Bank operations with my interest in computers, I

could make a unique contribution.

The issues were immediately obvioussystems that werent compat-

ible with each other so that every question had multiple answers, a huge

and growing duplication of effort, utter unresponsiveness to operations

on the ground, antiquated, paper-bound relations with clients, and inex-

cusable delays in doing even the simplest thing.

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Preface: My Leadership Journey


I began putting together a plan for what I would do if I were to be

offered a position in information. It became steadily more apparent that

cleaning up information was a necessary but largely menial task. It would

save the organization money but it wouldnt fix the fundamental strategic

issue: a lending organizationeven if it became more agilecould never

solve the problem of global poverty. Global poverty would only be solved

when people in poor countries themselves knew how to solve their own

problems. Money could facilitate the relief of poverty, but it could never

be the solution, unless combined with knowledge.

In 1996, the World Bank had a great deal of knowledge relevant to

solving the problems of global poverty. We had world-class experts in a

wide array of fieldsagriculture, banking, finance, health, education, you

name itbut access to this knowledge was problematic. If you were

involved in a lending operation with the World Bank, you might discover

some of this expertise, but otherwise you were out of luck. I began to

think: suppose we were to generate quick and easy global access to our

knowledge for everyone, wherever they were? Then we could become a

pretty interesting organization, even an exciting organization.

Why not become a knowledge-sharing organization?

I thought this was not just a good idea: once you thought about it, it

was breathtakingly obvious. There was just one problem. In the World

Bank of early 1996, no one was willing to listen.

Eventually, in April 1996, after weeks of buttonholing anyone I could

find, I managed to get a few peoples attention. As a result, I was offered

ten minutes in front of the Change Management Committee of the World

Bank to explain my ideas on sharing knowledge. This committee com-

prised the managing directors as well as a few vice presidents and some

senior advisers to the president. It had been set up to orchestrate change

in the World Bank. It wasnt obvious to anyone that this was what it was

up to, but clearly I needed its support. To be offered even a few minutes

before it was a major breakthrough.

So now I had ten minutes in which to persuade a group of skepti-

cal, change-resistant senior managers that we should embark on a new

Denning.fpref 8/17/07 8:52 AM Page x

Preface: My Leadership Journey


strategy to make sharing knowledge a central preoccupation of the


My presentation, which is included in Appendix 1, was quite simple

in structure. It talked about the problems the organization was facing in

sharing its knowledge. It included a brief anecdote from Zambia, which

suggested what the future might look like. And it gave a couple of simple

road maps as to how we might get from here to there.

After I gave my presentation, I was taken aback by the overwhelmingly

enthusiastic reaction. One of the vice presidents, Jean-Franois Rischard,

raced up to me very excitedly. Why dont we do it? he asked. Whats the

next step? Why isnt it being implemented? Whats the blockage?

At the time, my first thought was that this was a very strange conver-

sation. Until ten minutes ago, vice presidents had hardly been willing

to give me the time of day. And now it was as if I wasnt doing enough to

implement Rischards idea.

Then it dawned on me. How wonderful! The idea of sharing knowl-

edge with the world was no longer just my idea. Now it was also his idea.

And indeed it was Rischard who shortly afterward played a key role in

communicating the idea of knowledge sharing to the bank president and

sponsoring its implementation across the entire organization.

These were among the first inklings that there was something

remarkable in that simple ten-minute presentation. And yet if I had been

asked at the time why it was effective, I would have answered that the

underlying idea was a good one and people recognized a good idea for its

merits. At the time, I was only dimly aware that in most organizations

good ideas go nowhere, because they arent compellingly communicated.

I had no notion then that I had, almost by accident, stumbled on a partic-

ular form of leadership communication that could galvanize action, even

with difficult audiences. Even if I didnt yet understand what I was doing

or why, I had begun to discover the secret language of leadership.

Later in the day, I learned that my presentation had been so well

received that I was to be invited to give the same presentation to the

entire senior management, except for the president.

Denning.fpref 8/17/07 8:52 AM Page xi

Preface: My Leadership Journey


The following week, when I made the presentation to this larger

group, the effect was just as electric. A number of the vice presidents were

highly energized. One of them told me: This is the future!

I was elated. I not only had a good idea: now I had support at high

levels of the organization including vice presidents and some of the pres-

idents top advisers. I concluded: my career is back on track!

I was, alas, mistaken.

Several days later, I was summoned to the office of one of the manag-

ing directors. In walking toward his office for the meeting that evening, I

was extremely upbeat. Given the reception of my presentation to the sen-

ior management group, I anticipated that the conversation would be

about how to implement knowledge sharing.

Instead, I was told that the managing directors had considered my

idea on making knowledge a key strategic thrust for the organization and

had rejected it. I was to stop bothering the senior management any fur-

ther, since it wasnt going to happen. There would be no position or role

for me either in information or knowledge.

When I asked him what I was meant to do, he pointed to various

lower-level jobs that were being advertised.

Needless to say, I left his office feeling crushed. I was back in no-

mans land. What made the turn of events disturbing was not just the

apparent collapse of my career, but even more so, the senselessness of it

all. I knew I had a good idea. I knew the idea had strong support among a

number of vice presidents. Yet somehow it was being scotched by an odd

combination of corporate confusion and institutional politics.

I spent a dark night of the soul.

The next morning, despite little sleep, I was feeling better, even opti-

mistic, and sensing that everything could be rectified. I went to tell the

vice presidents what had happened. I was delighted to find that they were

as shocked as I was: there was no way that the idea of knowledge sharing

could be stopped in this cavalier fashion.

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Preface: My Leadership Journey


Immediately, things started to pick up: one vice president asked me

to work with him, to make knowledge sharing a reality in his vice presi-

dency. Then, other vice presidents joined in and invited me to help them

as well.

As the scale of my informal assignment steadily grew, it was becom-

ing apparent that the knowledge-sharing initiative was attaining organi-

zation-wide proportions. So the vice presidents decided to inform the

managing directors what they were up to. I helped them prepare a joint

memorandum, which they signed and sent to the managing directors.

The memorandum didnt ask for permission or resources. It simply

informed the managing directors of their plans.

A few days later, I was summoned by one of the managing directors

and told to cease and desist. I should, he said, stop bothering people

with my idea. Knowledge management wasnt going to happen.

I asked him why he was talking to me, since I wasnt even men-

tioned in the memorandum of which he was complaining. Why didnt

he speak to the vice presidents, since they were the ones who had signed

and sent it?

He replied that it was obvious that I was behind it and I should stop

causing problems. I should apply for other operational positions, perhaps

in a field office, preferably far away from headquarters.

During the ensuing summer, I attended a management program at

the International Institute for Management Development in Lausanne,

Switzerland. This gave me time to reflect on what had happened and

what I would do next.

Here I had time to ask myself, What was my life about? What were

my options?

Would it be possible to get my career back on track? Apparently,

when the new president arrived, I had been in the wrong position at the

wrong time with the wrong connections to the wrong managerial clan.

With hard work, and knuckling under the new regime, would it be possi-

ble to reestablish myself?

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Preface: My Leadership Journey


I could see now that this wasnt realistic. I had been suffering from

what is known in psychiatric circles as the delusion of a reprieve. The

condemned man, in the period after he is sentenced, suffers from the illu-

sion he might somehow be reprieved. I imagined that there had been

some mistake, that somehow the mistake would be corrected and all

would be well.

Now, clearly, there was no mistake. There was no failure of commu-

nication. On several occasions, the managing directors had had opportu-

nities to allow me to proceed, and they had actively blocked forward

progress. Now it was clear: there would be no reprieve.

What to do? One option was to leave the World Bank and pursue my

career elsewhere. Thats what other senior managers who were being

treated this way were doing. They resented being dealt with so demean-

ingly, and for the most part, they opted to depart. Why persevere in such

an environment?

The question I pondered was, What was my life about? Was it about

advancing up the managerial ladder in a large organization? I had to

admit to myself that this had always been important to mepride, ego,

ambition were all part of the mix. Was my life really about a career?

Or was it about accomplishing something significant?

Based on my discussions in Lausanne, I knew I had a big, bold,

promising idea for an organization whose mission was unquestionably

noblerelieving global poverty.1

I knew the idea had generated enthusiasm among working-level staff

on the front lines of the World Bank, who could see that both they and

the organization would be more effective if it was implemented.

And a significant coalition of senior managersperhaps one-third of

the totalwas now in place. They also believed that the future of the

organization lay in sharing our knowledge to the world, to complement

the provision of financial resources.

It was also well known that the president of the World Bank was open

to big, bold ideas, was indeed searching for them. True, he had sur-

rounded himself with managing directors who were acting as centurion

guards to prevent any big, bold ideas ever reaching him. I calculated that

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Preface: My Leadership Journey


if only I could get directly to the president, then the success of the idea

would be inevitable. Even without that, surely it would be possible to

launch a pilot scheme in one or more of the vice presidencies? Once that

was implemented, then the idea could spread to the whole organization.

Now I had to choose.

Spend time resurrecting my career, either here or elsewhere? Or go

flat out for change?

Coming back from Lausanne in September 1996, I made my deci-

sion. I opted to set aside any idea of career advancement and commit

myself wholeheartedly to making change happen, accepting whatever

indignities I might have to suffer. I would do whatever it took, even if the

effort were to take a decade.

As it happened, an opportunity appeared within just a few days. And

it was grander than anything I could have anticipated.2

Late on Wednesday afternoon, September 18, 1996, I was sitting in

Jean-Franois Rischards office. Wed been discussing how to move the

knowledge-sharing initiative forward. We both thought that if we only

could get to the president, given his stance and his personality, he was

bound to support the idea. The timing was ideal, since the World Banks

annual meeting was just days away: the presidents speech was a perfect

opportunity to announce a bold new initiative. The problem was how to

get to the president: he was surrounded by those pesky centurion guards.

After discussing the ways of getting the idea to the president, we

finally decided that it was too risky. At the time, the centurion guards

were on high alert, indeed expecting people to be submitting risky new

ideas to the president. If we tried to get to him then, without their bless-

ing, there would be terrible punishments and taxes.

So we decided the timing wasnt right. Instead we would wait until

after the annual meeting. Then in the dark of night, when no one was

watching, we would meet quietly with the president and sell the idea to

him and we would be off to the races.

Just then, at the very moment we were concluding our conversation

and deciding to lie low for the moment, Rischard got a phone call.

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Preface: My Leadership Journey


It was the president.

Apparently he was in a taxicab in a traffic jam in New York, reading a

draft of the speech that he was to give in a matter of days to the annual

meeting of the World Bank. He was calling on his cell phone to say that

the draft speech was pablum, pure pablumnot a single new idea in it.

Surely, he said, there was at least one good idea in the whole goddamn


Rischard said that, as a matter of fact, there was, and began sketching

the idea of knowledge management: how the Bank should pool its

expertise on everything from civil service reform to electricity generation

in central databases, massively expanding the reach of its ideas in the

global struggle against poverty. He spoke for five minutes, then five more

minutes, and presently he hit the fifteen-minute mark. The president was

saying it was intriguing, actually quite good, and maybe he would think

about it.3

That night, the president went to dinner and tried out the idea on his

dinner guests. They said it was excellent.

The next day when he came in to the office, Rischard and I were

asked to draft a speech that the president would give to the board of

directors. Just over a week after that, on the morning of October 1, 1996,

the president was giving the speech to the annual meeting of the gover-

nors of the World Bank, a huge public occasionmore than 170 finance

ministers and all their entouragesexplaining the new strategy of

becoming a knowledge-sharing organization. We were going to become

the knowledge bank.

Its an understatement to say I was elated. In just a few days, the idea

of knowledge sharing had gone from something undiscussable to some-

thing that was a central organizational strategy for the future. Visions of

success and accomplishment danced before my eyes. The possibility of

implementing the new strategy was now within my grasp.

What I didnt realize was that winning the support of the president

wasnt the end of the war of innovation. It was simply the beginning.

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Preface: My Leadership Journey


It was not just that we were starting the long, hard slog of turning the

vision of a knowledge organization into a reality.

The biggest shock was my discovery that the opposition from the

managing directors didnt disappear with the presidents endorsement.

On the contrary, it intensified.

Obviously the support of the president was a hugely positive ele-

ment. Jim Wolfensohn was mercurial, quick, able to see the promise in a

bold new idea and decisive about endorsing it. His instant acceptance of

knowledge sharing, his announcement of the knowledge bank at the

annual meeting in 1996, his subsequent sponsorship of a formal strategy

paper embracing external knowledge sharing in 1997, his adoption in

1999 of a formal mission statement for the World Bank that assigned

knowledge sharing the same level of importance as providing financial

resourcesthese were all crucial steps in launching and implementing

knowledge management at the World Bank. Without them, we could

never have achieved what was achieved.

The managing directors were a very different story. Up to that point,

theyd permitted me to wander the corridors and buttonhole anyone who

would listen to the idea of becoming a knowledge-sharing organization,

because the possibility of that fantastic dream ever becoming a reality was

nonexistent. They believed that I would tire of my quixotic mission and

either find something more conventional to do or leave. They thought that

their adversary was a person, albeit a determined one. They hadnt grasped

that they were fighting an idea.

Now, with the president having unexpectedly endorsed the idea in the

most public, formal forum available to him, it was obvious that they had

underestimated the threat. Even if they couldnt see that the idea made sense

or believe that it would ever become a reality, they now had to deal with the

fact that the president had made a major commitment in the most public

way to implement it. Now they couldnt oppose the idea outright, but as wily

bureaucrats, they could and did find subtle ways to undermine or sideline it.4

Four years later, by 2000, despite the well-intended efforts of the

managing directors to preserve the World Bank as a lending organization,

Denning.fpref 8/17/07 8:52 AM Page xvii

Preface: My Leadership Journey


substantial progress had been made. Knowledge sharing was in the mis-

sion statement of the organization, on a par with the provision of finan-

cial resources. It was in the organizational chart. It was in the personnel

system. It was in the budget, albeit still underfunded in terms of real

resources. And over a hundred knowledge communities were in place,

most of them energetically sharing their knowledge. There were measure-

ments of the effectiveness of the communities of practice. And there was

external recognition: we were benchmarked several times as a world

leader in knowledge management and as one of the worlds most admired

knowledge enterprises.5

Obviously, much remained to be done. Budgets needed to be sorted

out. The less effective knowledge communities and vice presidencies

needed to be dealt with. The blemishes in technology had to be rectified.

But these challenges were largely those of management. It was a matter of

strengthening, refining, and reinforcing what was already mainly in place.

By contrast, the work of leadership in knowledge management at the

World Bank was by then largely complete. The DNA of the organization

had been changed. Thereafter the specifics of the knowledge-sharing pro-

gram might wax or wane, but the notion of external knowledge sharing

had been ingrained in the World Banks genetic code. Once people had

seen the vision and realized that it could be implemented, it became an

ideal the organization had no choice but to aspire to.6

Looking back on the experience, I can see that the World Bank in the

period from 1996 to 2000 was an extraordinarily difficult environment,

though probably not too different from what many change agents face in

other large organizations today when they pursue transformational


In fact, the difficult environment at the World Bank was ideal for

observing what it means to be a leader: the organization became a giant

leadership laboratory.

One tremendous source of strength was the team of people that I had

to help implement the vision. Roberto Chavez, Carole Evangelista, Adnan



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