My family recently held a reunion for the Toths. 32 people representing 4 generations met to boat, hike, eat, sing, and talk together. This particluar reunion included a new component: sharing family stories. At the conclusion of the first day's meal my "silent generation" parents shared stories from their heritages that capture long held family values. I remember vividly the story of my grandfather who went bankrupt in the Great Depression, yet once recovered financially, returned to all his creditors to pay every penny back. Integrity! Or, on the other side, a grandfather who bought groceries and shoveled the driveway for an elderly neighbor. Compassion! The next night the "Boomer" generation shared our stories of heritage, and the third night the "Busters"/"Millenials" their stories. Stories laden with our enduring values, our roots, our identity as a family. As you can imagine this turned out to be a powerful exercise for the Toths in galvanizing and energizing our sense of pride and commitment to our past, present, and future.
Leader, what is your organization's story? How clear and compelling is it? How often do you speak it to inject focus, meaning, and commitment with
in your people?
Steven Sample ("The Contrarian's Guide To Leadership") states: "An important asset for any leader to have as he works to inspire and motivate his followers is a credible creation story for the organization or movement he's leading." Sample goes on to state his "creation story" for USC, the university he led and developed as President. We remember stories and find inspiration for our work. Stories such as Hewlett and Packard working in a garage (work with what you have, small beginnings can have great outcomes), Washington humbly enduring the elements with his troops at Valley Forge (servant leadership, identify closely with your front-line people), Rosa Parks challenging status quo discriminatory practices on the bus in Alabama (stand for what is right, no matter the cost), Larry Page and Sergey Brin meeting on the Stanford campus to later form a company we know as Google (think creatively, act on your dreams).
Organizational Stories provide roots (where we have come from), give present meaning (why do we exist), and give inspiration for the future (we are a force for change in society). Great leaders tell, and tell again, and retell their organization's story utlizing various mediums, symbols, and testimonials to focus and inspire their workforce.
If your story is unclear I encourage the following:
1. Revisit the past: collect stories from the creators of your business (defining moments, significant breakthrough events, challenges that required incredible perseverance)
2. Draft a first version "creation story" for your organization
3. Ask key senior leaders as well as emerging leaders to provide feedback to the story: (is it compelling, does it inspire, is it relevant, is it transcendent, and does it foster pride?)
4. Commit yourself to intentionally share the story creatively and frequently
If your story is clear but obscure to your people:
1. Recognize that creation stories that reside in brochures are relatively powerless when compared to running the story through a passion-driven human messenger: YOU
2. Take steps 3 and 4 above
Your partner to inspire the world, one leader at a time,