You want to see and hear narrative in its purest form? I’ve been saying for a couple of years now, “narrative is leadership.” Oprah just gave a textbook demonstration of this last night at the Golden Globes. Here’s my analysis. This is what leadership sounds like.
THE ABT AT WORK. Oprah’s speech was a case study of how to deliver narrative structure.
THE 3 FORCES OF NARRATIVE
Narrative consists of 3 forces: Agreement, Contradiction, Consequence. The art of leadership is using them in the right measures, in the right places, and for the right durations. The ability to do this comes from having narrative intuition. Have a look at Oprah’s instant classic speech from last night at the Golden Globes.
Look at how she opens with A STORY that is full of SPECIFICS. It’s a solid ABT (the And, But, Therefore narrative template) as she sets up her minor problem of not being able to find the words to articulate her experience. You know who hit on this same problem of not being capable of conveying the enormity of an experience? Abraham Lincoln in the Gettysburg Address when he said, “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here,”
They both hit on the point that “these events are much greater than anything I can convey.”
The entire speech is solid “problem-solution” dynamics. No wallowing in accomplishments, no excessive congratulations, no silliness.
And look how it finishes — with the dream for “that new day” — completely reminiscent of Martin Luther King, Jr’s “I Have A Dream” speech in which he outlined the journey we are on, proclaiming progress, but saying we’re not yet there — finishing by describing the dream for the future.
This was a landmark speech, Oprah has deep narrative intuition, and the leadership skills — at least in communication dynamics — that our system selects for.
OPRAH’S GOLDEN GLOBES SPEECH, COLOR CODED
To break it down I color code the three elements throughout the speech using BLUE (agreement), RED (contradiction) and GREEN (consequence).
Thank you, Reese. In 1964, I was a little girl sitting on the linoleum floor of my mother’s house in Milwaukee watching Anne Bancroft present the Oscar for best actor at the 36th Academy Awards. She opened the envelope and said five words that literally made history:” The winner is Sidney Poitier.” Up to the stage came the most elegant man I ever remembered. His tie was white, his skin was black—and he was being celebrated. I’d never seen a black man being celebrated like that. I tried many, many times to explain what a moment like that means to a little girl, a kid watching from the cheap seats as my mom came through the door bone tired from cleaning other people’s houses. But all I can do is quote and say that the explanation is in Sidney‘s performance in Lilies of the Field: “Amen, amen, amen, amen.”
In 1982, Sidney received the Cecil B. DeMille award right here at the Golden Globes and it is not lost on me that at this moment, there are some little girls watching as I become the first black woman to be given this same award. It is an honor—it is an honor and it is a privilege to share the evening with all of them and also with the incredible men and women who have inspired me, who challenged me, who sustained me and made my journey to this stage possible. Dennis Swanson who took a chance on me for A.M. Chicago. Saw me on the show and said to Steven Spielberg, she’s Sophia in ‘The Color Purple.’ Gayle who’s been a friend and Stedman who’s been my rock.
I want to thank the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. We know the press is under siege these days. We also know it’s the insatiable dedication to uncovering the absolute truth that keeps us from turning a blind eye to corruption and to injustice. To—to tyrants and victims, and secrets and lies. I want to say that I value the press more than ever before as we try to navigate these complicated times, which brings me to this: what I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have. And I’m especially proud and inspired by all the women who have felt strong enough and empowered enough to speak up and share their personal stories. Each of us in this room are celebrated because of the stories that we tell, and this year we became the story.
But it’s not just a story affecting the entertainment industry. It’s one that transcends any culture, geography, race, religion, politics, or workplace. So I want tonight to express gratitude to all the women who have endured years of abuse and assault because they, like my mother, had children to feed and bills to pay and dreams to pursue. They’re the women whose names we’ll never know. They are domestic workers and farm workers. They are working in factories and they work in restaurants and they’re in academia, engineering, medicine, and science. They’re part of the world of tech and politics and business. They’re our athletes in the Olympics and they’re our soldiers in the military.
And there’s someone else, Recy Taylor, a name I know and I think you should know, too. In 1944, Recy Taylor was a young wife and mother walking home from a church service she’d attended in Abbeville, Alabama, when she was abducted by six armed white men, raped, and left blindfolded by the side of the road coming home from church. They threatened to kill her if she ever told anyone, but her story was reported to the NAACP where a young worker by the name of Rosa Parks became the lead investigator on her case and together they sought justice. But justice wasn’t an option in the era of Jim Crow. The men who tried to destroy her were never persecuted. Recy Taylor died ten days ago, just shy of her 98th birthday. She lived as we all have lived, too many years in a culture broken by brutally powerful men. For too long, women have not been heard or believed if they dare speak the truth to the power of those men. But their time is up. Their time is up.
Their time is up. And I just hope—I just hope that Recy Taylor died knowing that her truth, like the truth of so many other women who were tormented in those years, and even now tormented, goes marching on. It was somewhere in Rosa Parks’ heart almost 11 years later, when she made the decision to stay seated on that bus in Montgomery, and it’s here with every woman who chooses to say, “Me too.” And every man—every man who chooses to listen.
In my career, what I’ve always tried my best to do, whether on television or through film, is to say something about how men and women really behave. To say how we experience shame, how we love and how we rage, how we fail, how we retreat, persevere, and how we overcome. I’ve interviewed and portrayed people who’ve withstood some of the ugliest things life can throw at you, but the one quality all of them seem to share is an ability to maintain hope for a brighter morning, even during our darkest nights. So I want all the girls watching here, now, to know that a new day is on the horizon! And when that new day finally dawns, it will be because of a lot of magnificent women, many of whom are right here in this room tonight, and some pretty phenomenal men, fighting hard to make sure that they become the leaders who take us to the time when nobody ever has to say ‘Me too’ again.”