An old Cherokee chief is teaching his grandson about life:
“A terrible fight is going on inside me” he said to the boy. “It’s a terrible fight between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, self-doubt, and ego.
The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. This same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person too.”
The grandson thought about this for a minute and then asked his grandfather “Which wolf will win?”
The old chief simply replied, “The one you feed.”
If we accept the premise that we create ourselves through our language, then the stories we tell about ourselves, our teams, our leaders, and our organisations will determine what we and others believe to be true.
It’s so easy to get beaten down by circumstances, especially when they are not what you expected, and let setbacks dictate your thinking and feed a narrative of distrust or not enough.
Like the wolf in the story, just because certain traits are starved or buried away, doesn’t mean they are gone, but rather we must first get real about the benefits of these narratives and then be willing to let them go. Otherwise, we risk repressing something that will inevitably come back to bite us.
Because real transformation starts with telling the truth.
This means going deep into the stories that get whispered to new recruits as the unwritten rules that informs the default culture otherwise known as “the way we do things around here.”
I’ve led transformations that have been more like getting jelly up a wall and others that despite their twists and turns have been very successfully navigated, and I really believe that failing to get under the skin of what appears to be “true” in a team or organisation before embarking on a change agenda is like building a new house on a flood plain and then marvelling when the flooding inevitably occurs.
Because regardless of how ambitious the plan, or how attractive the future may appear, this default culture can be so strong, it becomes the saboteur to your future endeavours. And the uncomfortable truth is that everyone has a part to play in keeping them alive.
These stories may sound like “it was easier when we were all in the office every day” or “Teams/Zoom is so transactional, there’s no time to build deep relationships” or “Person X had the vision, and when she left, the ambition left with her” or “it’s the market/customer etc” … the list goes on!
Regardless of how they sound in your organisation, the impact of the story is the same – it keeps you stuck in the status quo.
Therefore, to truly transform culture and ways of working, investing in debunking the stories of the way things “are” so that they no longer appear to be true and the behaviour that previously enabled it is no longer acceptable is essential groundwork.
Then, they can be replaced with the story of the future you want to create and the behaviours that will enable this.
It takes courage to actively step into the advocacy, possibility and role modelling of behaviours and standards we want to see, as this is often an unfamiliar path until others are sufficiently enrolled in our vision.
The Cherokee Chief’s wise words remind us that change is possible, and that it can be achieved by focusing on the right direction. As the story concludes – only the “wolf” we feed will survive.
If you’re considering how to get the team engaged and aligned about a new strategic plan or committed to enabling a significant uplift in (team or personal) performance, here’s five questions you can ask yourself and your teams to uncover your stories and saboteurs so that you can design the future you want on solid foundations.
- Where in your organisation or team is something not working as well as you would like it?
Make a list. Think about the conversations you find yourself in about your team or firm. Keep it simple and factual and avoid assigning blame.
- Within each of those areas, what is your role in creating this?
I’ve said it before and it’s worth repeating – real transformation starts with telling the truth. It’s time to get honest about what you may be avoiding because whatever is happening in your team is a reflection of your leadership. Go deep and take radical responsibility rather than pointing the finger.
- What is the impact of this?
Consider Lencioni’s five dysfunctions of a team – absence of trust, fear of conflict, avoidance of accountability, inattention to team objectives and lack of commitment and even rate this on a scale of 1-10 to see where the critical issues are.
- Given all of this, what do you want to create?
Or another way of asking this, fast forward to three years’ time, what will you be celebrating? Get courageous. Remember that 10X change is easier to achieve than 2X.
- What do you need to let go of to deliver this?
As human beings we rarely repeat the things that do not benefit us, and very often the hard part to achieving success is letting go of our old stories and default habits that no longer serve us.
When we change our stories, we step out of a default culture or future and step into a new possibility. In my experience great leaders have an amazing ability to let go of what doesn’t serve and create a new future by stepping persistently and consistently into new ways of leading, new ways of delivering and new ways of being.
At Aziz Corporate, our coaches help teams of ambitious executives conquer workplace and group challenges to move their careers to the next level.
If you would like a conversation with any of our coaches, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01962 774766
Caroline Hughes is a former global executive who has held senior positions in Leadership Development and Change Management in CRH plc, central banking and financial services organisations. She is now an ICF accredited executive coach, facilitates leadership development, team development, executive retreats, and consults on talent strategy.