Tuesday, November 4, 2014

How Leaders Remove Fables from Corporate Culture

Fables are part of US culture. They can even be bedtime stories for children. As a result, we live with fables as though they are an essential part of life. To clarify, a fable is not storytelling, even though there is a story being told. It is not gossip, even though it may be the source of gossip. A fable is a false or inaccurate account of something. When you distinguish it in someone’s conversation, it becomes clear that a fable is an account of an occurrence with an addition that represents the speaker’s inaccurate interpretation of the event or encounter with another. If I say it another way, it happens when we add our version of the story. That version will almost always represent
our past experiences. 

Therefore, the fable is different for each person because no 2 people have the same perspective of the world. The fable is a representation of how the world occurs for the individual. If the person has a negative past or outlook on life, they will find something negative in a person or situation. If they have a complex outlook, they will find the complexity. If they have an empowering outlook, they will find empowerment, and so on. If you listen to a person’s language/words, you may be able to determine what kind of outlook they have.

With that said, the use of fables in conversation will most likely cause miscommunication. In other cases, it can be the source of resentment.

As you can imagine, miscommunication and resentment seem to find their way into most organizations. It can cause poor performance, mistakes with clients, silos, politics, etc. Unfortunately, we accept these conditions as part of corporate culture. And we believe there is nothing we can do about it.

As a leader, you can take a stand for the kind of culture you want to see in your enterprise, department or team. And it starts with you. Train yourself to listen to your own language. Are your conversations empowering? How do you handle the complexity or difficulty you encounter? Do you avoid it? Your answers to those questions and many more will help you understand the culture you are creating and leading.

Once you are sure you are a clear communicator who takes responsibility, you can address the people under you. Often times, your people will tell you about an incident. If you listen carefully, you will hear the fable. For example, if a project is late, the employee may say the following: ‘I completed my end on time. I handed it off to the other department and they arrogantly took it and said they will get back to me. I don’t think they cared about it as much as I did. When they got back to me, it was almost late and there were several steps remaining.’

If you are the leader, you can manage this conversation. The first is to ask what actually happened. The employee adds his interpretation when he says “they arrogantly took it” and “they don’t care”. His interpretation may have created a self-fulfilling prophecy. His past experiences may have tainted his view of the people in the other department. As the leader, ask the employee to leave out his opinion of the other department and focus on the events that occurred. In addition, you can ask if he communicated the remaining steps for the project and asked if he could receive it by a specific date and time. If he did ask, what was the response? Was there a clear agreement?

As you can see, the fable may have caused resentment on both sides. And people speak to one another as if the fable, in this case arrogance and uncaring, really existed. Those perceptions were only a judgment. When this happens, leaderships’ job is to keep his people focused on what actually happened. Furthermore, leaders are responsible for constantly developing their people to be clear and effective communicators. When the leader hears the fable creeping into the enterprise, he can remind them that they are talking about something that never happened. They are adding a fable based on the experiences of their past.

When fables are removed, the culture becomes workable for everyone. Regardless of race, gender, religion, etc., people learn to honor one another and trust what is being communicated to them. What can your company accomplish without fables?        

What do you think? I’m open to ideas. Or if you want to write me about a specific topic, let me know.


  1. I think true leaders should not try to use fables, because, fables resists the person to talk directly!

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