This is Why Good Leaders Tell Stories

Before you start reading, I want to ask you a question.

What is the percentage of employees who know what their organization stands for?

Now, hold on to your answer. We’re going to revisit this further down in the post.

If you’re familiar with employee engagement statistics than you may have an idea buzzing in your brain about the correct answer to my question. If you’re like me and have no idea, you’re probably scanning the surrounding text to see if I gave any clues about employee engagement before or after the question.

When a new concept is introduced, or consumers do not have a lot of information or prior knowledge from which to draw, people feel much more comfortable comparing something to a baseline.

In psychology, this is called the Anchor Bias. It’s most notably discussed in sales or merchandising where the original price is listed above the sales price for customers to see what a great deal they are getting. The original price may just be a made up number for people to feel like they are getting a steal, but the result is a point of reference for them to judge the worth of the item.

In leadership, this bias works the same way. Why do leaders tell stories of past failures and experiences? Not only is it a way for people to learn and avoid making those mistakes, but it is a mental cue of the baseline for good leadership behaviors.

As leaders, when we tell stories of our past experiences, we are giving our followers an anchor. We are giving them information to store in their brains for future reference on how leaders should act, the types of responsibilities leaders take on, the way a good leader serves.

Now, let me tell you a story.

I once worked at a small nonprofit that was struggling. We had a fantastic staff, great products, and were energetically doing our work, but something was still missing. Our leadership brought in a consultant to help us figure out ways we could improve our performance as a team.

The consultant sat with each team member and asked a few questions. The very first question he asked us was, “What is the vision of the organization?”. It was a bit surprising, but we each gave our answer, and he moved to the next question.

In the report, the consultant found that our company’s biggest issue was a lack of cohesiveness. More than half of the staff didn’t know the organizational vision and mission! We were all giving different answers. Most of the basic principles were the same, but the responses were definitely not verbatim. Because there were so many differing beliefs about vision, our goals were not fully aligned, and as a result, we were all focusing on different tasks. Our objectives were close. But not what the organization said its vision was, and that’s where we were running into our problems.

After that report, we had a meeting to realign our organizational goals to line up with the company’s vision and our productivity sky-rocketed. It’s amazing what can be accomplished when people are singular in their focus and working together.

Let’s go back to our question at the beginning of the post. What is the percentage of employees who know what their organization stands for?

I told you a story about my experience with employees knowing company vision and values.

We now have something to compare our answer to and can make (what we believe to be) a more educated guess. Now, whether we estimate a number that is close or even if we guess way off, we have something as a baseline.

The answer to the question is 41%.

Were you closer before you heard my story or after?

People search for information to help them make wise decisions. It’s human nature. The better informed they are, the more educated a choice they can make. Good leaders understand this need for helpful data and know the importance of creating a positive anchor for their team. Great leaders can provide that baseline of good leadership by sharing past experiences and storytelling.  

Leave a Reply