When it comes to storytelling in business, the most commonly used story archetype is that of the hero and their quest. Essentially, these stories involve a protagonist whose normal life is disrupted by some external change and subsequently goes on a journey in an attempt to resolve or improve the situation.
As the story progresses, the hero seeks the help of a guide or mentor to help them overcome the various obstacles in their path while keeping them on track to reaching their destination. By the end of their quest, the hero not only attains an outcome which serves to improve things, but they also realize that they’ve been transformed as a result of their adventure, having gained a greater understanding of themselves and the nature of their journey.
It’s not too surprising that this particular story archetype is often used in business to communicate ideas or a new vision as it serves to reinforce our perception of leadership. Namely, how leaders address the challenges that stand in the way of their organization’s success by taking their team on a journey defined by their vision or plans for change.
Also, given the fact that it’s the decisions and choices made by those in leadership positions which ultimately determines whether an organization will be successful or not, it’s only natural that we view leaders as playing the role of the hero in an organization’s story. And yet, a closer examination of the hero’s story described above reveals that the real hero of your organization’s story are not those who man the helm.
The real hero in your organization’s story are the people you lead – your employees.
After all, it’s your employees who are affected the most by your vision or plans for change as these new measures disrupt their ‘normal’ work life. As a result, they are naturally motivated to resist the changes being put forth in order to preserve their sense of normalcy regarding ‘the way things are done around here’.
That’s why leaders have to be the champions of their cause because at this point in the story, your employees only see it as a challenge to what’s familiar and known, and not an opportunity to achieve one of their shared goals or a chance to gain new insights.
And it’s also your employees who are transformed by your vision because in the process of implementing your plans for change, they gain a new understanding of their shared purpose and the meaning derived from these new efforts. That’s why it’s critical that your idea or vision resonate with those you lead. It has to matter by creating value and meaning in others besides yourself because the journey and end result will impact them more than it will you.
Of course, that’s not to say that leaders don’t play an integral role in your organization’s story. Indeed, looking at this story archetype from this new vantage point, it becomes clear that the role leaders play in their organization’s narrative is that of the guide or mentor.
That as a leader, your function is to take advantage of your ability to see the big picture to help keep your employees on track and to provide assistance and guidance on how they can address the challenges they’ll inevitably face along the way.
And as this journey is one that you’ve laid out for your team to undertake, it’s only natural that you’d be invested in making sure that they’re successful in their endeavour, by providing them with whatever insights and guidance you can provide while still leaving it up to them to choose which path they need to take to reach their objectives.
It’s why I’ve written on numerous occasions that the goal of a true leader is not to increase their stature or power, but to empower and guide those under their care to be successful in achieving their shared goals. It’s also why those organizations which are the most successful in today’s competitive market are often directed by leaders who are more interested in understanding how they can help their employees succeed than they are in self-promotion and increasing their power base.
By recognizing that it’s your employees who are the heroes of your organization’s story, we can better appreciate how important it is for them to become the champions of your cause as it will be up to them to embark on the journey to transform your ideas into reality. It also makes it easier for us to understand how critical their collective success will be to determining whether your organization’s story will have a happy ending or not.
By Tanveer Naseer
McKinsey senior partner Mary Meaney joins IBM CEO Arvind Krishna and Unilever CHRO Leena Nair to discuss how companies can organize for the next normal.
One of the most important skills in the modern world is the ability to speak to an increasingly diverse set of people. One of the most powerful, and often overlooked, tools in accomplishing this is cultural intelligence.
Leaders don’t have to agree with their team members’ ideas. But when they don’t acknowledge and respect employees’ dignity, they start to lose people.