The way leaders react in times of high stress is a good measure of their character. And it is in these times of strain everyone is taking note of what the leader is doing. The leader’s reaction creates new stories that make the organisation’s culture. You can’t underestimate how important these moments are.
Our story today is one of these moments. It happened in a law firm.
So why do the stories of our senior leaders’ actions get retold? It turns out that we are very mindful of the actions of anyone with power because powerful people can affect our lives. Power can come in many forms, there is hierarchy power, money power, expertise power, beauty power, celebrity power, and the power that comes from knowing powerful people. If you want to tell a story people will sit up and take notice then share one featuring a powerful person.
Most people think that stories are merely about events that have happened in the past. When people share stories of their leaders it is also an indicator of how they might respond in the future. If they have behaved well in the past it’s likely they will do so in the future. Each story retold becomes a data point that helps factor the organisation’s psychological safety.
And as Google discovered, psychological safety makes for the most productive teams.
A relatively junior lawyer is working on a solvency matter in the morning keen to get to a firm lunch.
He gets the paperwork off to the regulator to put a company into insolvency on behalf of a bank.
He races off to lunch but when he walks into the restaurant the senior partner says he needs to get back to the office right away. There’s a big problem with the insolvency he had just done.
As he’s getting back to his office he hears what the problem is. They got the paperwork back to front and was putting the bank into insolvency. The regulators had already sent the information to the bank’s board which just happened to be meeting that lunchtime.
As he walks into his office the elevator door opens at the other end of the corridor and there was the managing partner looking straight at him.
The partner strides down the corridor and when he gets right up to the junior lawyer he puts his hands on the junior lawyer’s shoulders and says “Are you OK? It’s going to be alright. We will get this all fixed …”
That was 20 years ago. He joined back then just to get some experience and would probably have moved to his next firm. But now that junior lawyer is one of the senior leaders of that law firm.
About Shawn Callahan
Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on:
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