More About Great Stories vs. Facts and Reality

Not long after writing the article about the fallacious wolf story, I started listening to a new audio book in my morning workout routine. It is called “Leaders Eat Last” by Simon Sinek. It takes a look at leadership through stories taken from both the military and business worlds to emphasize his points about leadership, community, and employee engagement.

Some of the military stories took me back to my days when I was first learning leadership as a member of the US Army Reserve Officer Training Corp. I was in my second year and the commander of our battalion’s color guard. We were highly active, presenting the colors for such events as our college basketball games, local parades, our annual military ball, NASCAR’s Daytona 500 and Firecracker 400 stock car races, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers football games. This particular incident, we were getting ready to head off to present the colors at Super Bowl XIII in Miami.

It was coming up on about 1:00, as members were beginning to show up with our gear and start loading equipment into the van for our trip. As I was standing there with some of the team our major came by and called me off to the side. “Have you checked to make sure if everyone has had lunch?” he asked. Up until that point I had not even thought of that. I had just figured that everyone was old enough to stop by and grab something to eat before we started assembling.

It was at that time I realized that it wasn’t just their responsibility to look out for themselves; it was mine, too. If I wanted them to perform at their best, then I had to make sure that the basics were taken care of: they had the right equipment; they had the right training; that they had confidence; and that they weren’t hungry and could focus on putting all of that training to use.

As I thought about that incident and the specific story from the book about how in the military your soldiers eat first, and then the officers, it also brought back the story about the wolves that I mentioned in one of the previous articles. The short, simple story provided this aura of caring and compassion by the wolf pack towards its members. While we might be able to draw some parallels between wolves and leadership, it isn’t going to necessarily be that one.

In the wolf pack, the alphas eat first, and then the rest of the wolves eat, based on their hierarchy. The omega, the weakest, the most timid, and usually the smallest, always eats last. The omega, and even some of the other lesser wolves, are often picked on, pushed aside, and kept away from food. In a way, this behavior works to keep those that are the weakest in their position and status in the pack.

Contrast this with how leaders really should act.

A better lesson is from the Cherokee story of Why the Possum’s Tail is Bare, one that I often include in my speaking presentations at conferences. A story about the evolution of pompous arrogance, as Possum becomes extremely self-centered at the realization that he has the most beautiful tail of all of the animals. He then loses this once beautiful, thick, furry tail because of a trick played on him by the other animals. Upon the realization that he no longer has the most beautiful tail, he is frozen in fright, and falls over and plays dead.

While there might be many morals to this story, the one that I emphasize is that as a leader, it isn’t about looking out for your tail and having everyone else admire it; but, rather, it is about looking out for the tails of those you lead.

Yes, wolves are efficient hunting animals when working as a pack, a team of wolves. But at times that society is simply toxic for those who are the least strongest. That is not the kind of relationships that the best managers are creating, nor the kinds of cultures that the best organizations have. People cannot thrive in the kinds of environments that exists in a wolf pack; they cannot survive that long in such a toxic culture.

But at the end of the day, we need to learn that wolves are wolves and people are people. There are some things we just don’t want managers doing that wolves do, but we would only know that if we really knew what wolves really do.

This is why we need to have a good understanding of what the research says (for both wolves and people), and then craft our stories to illustrate and bring to life those lessons from the research. This helps to bring to life an understanding of the research; but it also helps others to figure out how to do things that will put that research into action for themselves as they lead others to do great things.

Make a Great Day!