Philip Whiteley's Blog

June 9, 2014

Tales of world leaders come to Ampthill

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 12:52 pm

The most successful leaders in business and politics, you would think, have the best strategy and the most intelligent analysis. Well, they may be good at either, but what really causes them to stand out is their ability at story-telling. That is the conclusion of experienced author and BBC journalist Gavin Esler, headline speaker at the inaugural Ampthill Literary Festival, taking place on the afternoon of Saturday 5th July. He will be talking about his 2012 publication Lessons from the Top, as well as his works of fiction.

“During my years of travelling around the world, when I met Bill Clinton or Jimmy Carter, prime ministers and presidents, even monarchs like Queen Elizabeth II and King Abdullah II of Jordan, people would always ask me the same question: what is he, or she, really like? Generally they would not be asking about policies or ideas. Instead, they wanted to hear stories that captured the ‘real’ leader; his or her ‘character’.”

He has found that the most effective leaders have a compelling story in answer to three core questions that is demanded of them: Who am I? Who are we? And Where will my leadership take us?

Quite disturbingly, he notes that the story does not have to be true; it just has to be convincing. We human beings are less sophisticated than we think! We cannot help but think in stories – it’s how we make sense of the world. I’ve come to the same conclusion in 15 years of writing about business and business leaders. Gavin Esler concludes:

“We are all storytellers, all followers, and often we are leaders in some way, or we aspire to lead.”

And he offers fascinating details of the little stories, as well as the big narratives, the most effective leaders tell. He tells us how, in one example, President Reagan made a point of going over to a relatively junior media employee, a cameraman, because he had heard that he also liked dogs. They bonded over their pets and the President handed over a signed photograph of his own. Now, you could be admiring of President Reagan’s personal touch, or you could be cynical, arguing that this gesture was made precisely so that it would create a positive story that would spread on the grapevine to boost a politician’s image. Gavin Esler makes the more fundamental point: President Reagan understood the power of the story.

  • Tickets are still available for the main session at the Ampthill Literary Festival, which takes place 13.00-17.00 on Saturday 5th July. They can be purchased via this link.
    Gavin Esler will be speaking approximately between 15.30 and 16.15 (see schedule below).
  • Blogs highlighting the work of other speakers: Nadine Dorries, Andrew Crofts and Brian Clemens, will be featured between now and the event.
  • For those who live in or near central Bedfordshire, tickets can also be purchased at the Waitrose store, Bedford Street. I will be giving a talk at the first ‘Beer and Books’ free event at The Albion pub, Dunstable Street, 8pm on Thursday 12th June.


13.00 – 13.10 Opening remarks by Philip Whiteley

13.10 – 13.15 Literary Festival formally opened by Nadine Dorries

13.15 – 13.45 Nadine reads from and speaks about her first novel The Four Streets, a tale of growing up in a Catholic family in post-war Liverpool.

13.45 – 14.30 Andrew Crofts – Reads from his political thriller Secrets of the Italian Gardener, and his forthcoming Confessions of a Ghostwriter

14.30 – 14,45 Tea/coffee break

14.45 – 15.30 Brian Clemens, writer of the world-famous Avengers and Professionals series in conversation. Brian talks about his life as a screen writer.

15.30 – 16.15 Gavin Esler – BBC news-reader reads from his non-fiction works and political thrillers.

16.15 – 17.00 Panel Discussion

Gavin Esler, Andrew Crofts, Nadine Dorries and Judi Sutherland


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