Great Stories vs. Facts and Reality

A photo of a pack of wolves popped up on my LinkedIn feed one afternoon, and by that evening it had popped up again. Someone in my connections had commented on it, causing it to appear, and with over 1000 connections I expect that I will see the photo again soon. It caught my attention the first time, because as an American Indian, I have a bit of an affinity to the wolf and the lessons they can teach us. But the story that accompanied it was quite fanciful indeed.

The story that went along with the photo shared about how the wolves traveled. It said that the old and weak were leading the pack, with a group of stronger wolves right behind. This allowed the pack to travel at a pace that did not leave the oldest behind. Then the younger wolves came next, with a rear guard of another group of strong wolves, with the Alpha at the tail, in order to “give direction to the pack.”

The reaction to this story was great. Over 21,000 people had “liked” the photo and story. Another almost 1700 had commented. As I browsed through a hundred or so of the comments, I found them interesting. Many were commenting about how it was “Magic” or that it was a “Powerful message.” Another said “Great. I am learning something new.”

But they weren’t learning something new; they were learning something that was wrong. The oldest members of the wolf pack are always the Alpha male and female. They control the pack and make all of the decisions for it; when to travel, where to hunt, and so forth. Wolves in the wild rarely live to old age. Disease, starvation and injuries usually cause their demise long before they become ancient. The pack does not hold up for them, as sometimes a sacrifice of one ensures the survival of the pack.

There were many other inaccuracies, including who was leading the pack. It was the Alpha female, according to the site that had the original photo posted and told the real story ( As some began to point out the inaccuracies of the story that was told, many reacted negatively to those who were speaking out. We now start getting comments like “You people have ruined my day, I honestly needed this to be true,” and “don’t know whether this is true of wolves or not but it should be true for a society.” Others would say “Based on the comments, I don’t know if this is true or not. But if it is, it’s a really beautiful way to organize community.” And finally, we see “I just like the story and can relate to it. I honestly do not care if it is right or wrong!” [exclamation point was theirs, not ours]

And, of course, that is the problem. People want things to be a certain way, based on their worldview. They go about doing things in a particular way, expecting certain results. When they do not get those results, they assume that it is because they didn’t work hard enough or didn’t do something right, or that others aren’t working hard enough, and double down on doing things according to the story that they want to be true, because they don’t care if the story is right or wrong.

Managers are often guilty of this same thing. They read about or hear of some new (or a repackaged old) way of managing that fits with their beliefs of how things “should be” and latch on to it. They start doing things that they “think” fits with what they’ve read or have been told, but only get really poor results. Many training program providers also fall into the trap. They hear of something that sounds interesting and think that it should work, simply because it fits with their worldview. They come up with some nifty acronyms and put some interesting words with them, like LEAD – Love, Engagement, Action, Development, and then design a program around these. Someone has a fantastic personal story of perseverance and overcoming huge obstacles, and their way now becomes a new way for others to learn and emulate.

The problem is that these programs are not founded in the broad body of research; they are simply someone’s worldview. As I have shared in several articles and whitepapers, the research is rather clear; most management and leadership development programs provide a return that may just barely cover the expense of putting it on, if that. That is no way to design, develop and deliver a training program! It takes more than simply cobbling together some video programs and tossing in a workbook.

As one person said in reaction to the posting of the photo of the wolves and the fanciful story: “This is more of a post of a failure to validate the facts before posting them. So when can we trust you are telling the truth or have done your research?”   The answer, of course, is that we often can’t trust that everyone has done their research. If they had, then we wouldn’t be getting these poor results in most organizations. With only 63 cents of work being done for every payroll dollar, most organizations simply are not performing at their best.

No matter how unpalatable the reality is, if we want really good results, then we have to begin with really good research.

As a storyteller, I take my responsibility very seriously. I have a responsibility to tell the truth as it really is, not as I would like it to be. In American Indian culture, storytellers teach their successors to them to tell the stories exactly as they learned them from their teachers. Stories were not embellished or changed, but told to ensure the continuity of records of what had occurred in the past. And those records have proven to be highly accurate.

In keeping with this tradition, our approach has been to carefully study the vast body of research, seeking to learn what sets those exceptional organizations apart from the rest. We have then taken what we’ve learned from the body of research and then conducted our own. We’ve tested theories, we’ve tested training approaches, constantly honing what we are doing. Our goal is to provide sound theories, skills and actions that managers can take that will really increase performance that are always founded in the research.

The difference is that we begin with the research, look for patterns, devise the models, and then develop the programs. This is totally opposite from how most management and leadership development programs operate. They begin with their acronyms, models and programs, then try to find patterns, and if they are lucky, they may find some research to support what they do. They tell made up stories about the wolves because it fits with what they want, instead of trying to discover the reality of what is actually happening.

The things that make successful organizations (societies, congregations, or as we refer to them, Unadotlvhi), are known. We have researched them and we know what makes a difference between the best organizations and the rest. The problem is that what most managers are doing in their organization are not those things that bring exceptional performance. Instead, it results in them getting mediocrity, at best. They are following the stories and the myths, not the research and the reality. They simply end up chasing wishful fantasies that don’t come true.

That is not what we give our clients. No fanciful stories. No dreams. No wishful thinking. Just reality.

And Results.

Make a Great Day!