When it comes to movies, TV shows, and novels, it’s usually pretty obvious who the hero of the story is. But what about in your organization’s story? Do you recognize who plays the role of the hero for your organization? That was the focus of my previous piece, which I’m grateful to see received a lot of attention and enthusiasm from the readers of this blog.
As I read the comments and responses to this piece, I began to wonder about something. If we understand that our employees are the heroes of our organization’s story, why then do so many employees feel disengaged at work? Why is there a persisting lack of meaning or purpose connected to the efforts and contributions made by those we lead?
Of course, the easy answer to such a question is to simply cast blame on an aloof or uncaring leadership; of organizations being run simply to cater to the whims and self-interests of those on top at the expense of those on the lower rungs. Certainly, the public revelations made about how Goldman Sachs has devolved from a focus of serving their clients to a more self-serving one would seem to support this.
And yet, a more realistic view of today’s organizations reveals that such leadership and cultural attitudes tend to be more the exception than the norm. When it comes to demonstrating that your employees are the heroes in your organization’s story, the disconnect we’re seeing here stems more from how we communicate that message than our lack of understanding of this concept.
That amid the sea of distractions and increasing demands for their attention, leaders are not ensuring that their message and actions communicate in a meaningful fashion their role as the guide/mentor in their organization’s story who will help their employees overcome the challenges before them in order to achieve their shared goals.
After all, most leaders understand soon after taking on this role that it’s their employees who have the real power of deciding whether their idea remains just that – an idea – or whether it becomes something more because they embrace it and help to transform it into your collective new reality.
With this in mind, here are three questions to help you assess how effective you are in reinforcing the key role your employees play towards your organization’s success:
1. How familiar are you with the challenges your employees will face?
As I described in my piece “Identifying The Real Hero In Your Organization’s Story”, the role guides/mentors play in helping the story’s protagonist succeed in their quest is to use both their understanding of the bigger picture as well as their awareness of how the journey’s challenges will impact the hero to help them arrive at their destination.
While most leaders are rather adept at communicating their strategies or vision to their team, what they tend to overlook or not make more time in their day for is understanding what concerns, doubts and even challenges their employees will face going from where they are to where they’re expected to be.
Granted, some of these will be more an expression of fear than a genuine challenge, but even fear of change is an obstacle that needs to be overcome and something you need to show your employees you will help them to accomplish in order to reach their shared goals.
2. What are you doing to help facilitate this change/execution of your new plans?
Most times, the reason why people roll their eyes when they hear their leaders talking about some new strategy or vision is because often times that’s all it seems to be – talk.
Remember, that regardless of the size or scope of your plans, it’s your employees who will not only end up doing the heavy lifting, but who will also undergo the greatest change as a result of the story you’ve communicated of where you want your organization to go.
As such, it’s critical that – in keeping with your role as the guide/mentor in your organization’s story – you provide your team with the necessary resources and support to fulfill the objectives of your plan.
3. Are you setting the stage for your employees to feel triumphant at the end?
No matter what type of story it is, the ones that are the most uplifting and inspiring are those where we get to see the hero overcoming the obstacles they faced and celebrating how the journey not only made them stronger, but made them who they were meant to be.
Following through in this analogy, it’s equally important that as the leader, you ensure that there are specific milestones or guide posts where you can gather your employees to celebrate their accomplishments. Of course, these celebrations should not simply be about what the organization has gained. Rather, they should also serve as a revelation of how your employees have benefited from their collective efforts.
Certainly, there’s been much written and discussed about how the best leaders are those who celebrate the accomplishments of their team and not just their own personal achievements. When looked through the lens of this story structure, it becomes even more apparent why this gesture is so important and valued by those you’re meant to serve.
In their book “Encouraging the Heart: A Leader’s Guide to Rewarding and Recognizing Others”, James Kouzes and Barry Posner write:
Stories put a human face on success. They put the behavior in a real context and make standards more than statistics.”
In looking at the stories leaders create to communicate not only what they’d like their employees to accomplish, but where they’d like their organization to go, we can also appreciate how the act of creating these stories can serve to remind us about our roles as the heroes and guides/mentors of our organization’s story, and the interdependence we have with one another to ensure a successful outcome from our collective endeavours.