Every company has a storied past. Are you aware what yours is?
More importantly, do you know why your stories are so important?
When old timers tell the newbies stories about “the good old days,” or “how it used to be here,” or “the first time we ever did this” what are they so fondly recollecting? Why in the world do they keep talking about past events, often making the retelling far more wonderful sounding than you remember actually living the experience of them?
Is there any value in this memorable nostalgia?
When stories are told in the spirit of retelling your company history, your storytellers are often capturing the memorable parts; what they remember is largely what they want to keep alive because it felt very good to them at one time. Stories of what had been give us a look back at those things we once believed in, and want to keep believing in. They reveal the values which had bound us together and still do, and why in the aftermath of the story’s events we kept pushing upward and onward. They often chronicle successes and achievements, and tell of what people feel was a victory, because by nature we want our stories to be good ones; no one likes to recount their failures. However whether victory, mistake, or outright failure, our stories undoubtedly recount lessons-learned too important to be forgotten. We feel we can keep learning from them, and we tell the story to re-teach the lesson.
Myths however, are a different matter.
I’ve learned to be more wary of myths, finding that for some reason, those who tell myths instead of stories need to fabricate a past that didn’t really happen. They want to feel better about explaining the present, and why things are as they are. What that tells me, is that our values aren’t aligned, and I’d best discover why that is.
Myths may sound plausible, but they are far more fiction than fact, and they are often riddled with half-truths and concocted history. They can be intriguing, they can be wistful and fanciful, but because they never really happened they don’t deliver those lessons actually learned, just the what ifs that might have been. The more credibility the teller strives to give them, the more dangerous myths become, for stated plainly, myths are lies.
With stories you have a solid foundation of the values which served you well; they become predictable values you trust to keep a company centered. Myths don’t deliver this foundation. Instead, they create a slippery iciness on which you frequently lose your footing. Because a myth isn’t completely true, you can’t be certain; you can’t be sure-footed and confident.
People who tell stories are proud to own them; they claim them as part of their own history. Those who tell myths are building a case for some reason; and great managers will work to dispel those myths so they can get to the root causes of why the myth exists. What they are looking for, is why the teller feels the myth must be told.
People only lie when they feel the truth isn’t good enough for them. However the great managers among us always prefer the ugliest truth over the prettiest lie, for that way they always know exactly what they’re dealing with. They honor the truth above all else, for in doing so they honor their own integrity.
Collect stories to celebrate the values you believe in, and use those stories to help people identify with those values and claim them with you. Dispel the myths and banish any confusion so that the truth of who you really are is honored.
Rosa Say is the author of Managing with Aloha, Bringing Hawaii’s Universal Values to the Art of Business. She fervently believes that work can inspire, and that great managers and leaders can change our lives for the better. You can also visit her on www.managingwithaloha.com. Rosa writes for Lifehack.org to freely offer her coaching to those of us who aspire to be greater than we are, for she also believes in us. Writing on What Great Managers Do is one of her favorite topics.