Leadership and ManagementThe Right QuestionsWhat (Mission)Why (Values and Priorities)

The Importance of Inspiring Stories to Values and Achieving Goals

The Right Questions - Inspiring Stories for values, embedding strategy and achieving goals
The defence of Rorke’s Drift – Wikicommons

How stories give life to our principles and motivate us towards achieving our mission

Logic and emotion are both of great importance to being effective. Sharing inspiring stories that demonstrate our values and highlight success help us to engage with both the logical and emotional sides of what we need to do.

The Psychological Requirement to Connect Logic and Emotions

“Humans are creatures with a two-sided brain: On the left side, there’s nothing right and on the right side, there’s nothing left.” Anon

Scientists have long explored the dual functions of the brain and many people have heard of the idea that the left hemisphere of the brain is for logical functions whereas the right side is more for creative thinking.

The Right Questions - inspiring stories for values and achieving goals
Cerebral lobes – Wikicommons

Although this lateralisation is an over simplification it does contribute to our understanding of thought processes and personality types. We all have some sort of preference to being either more rational or intuitive in our approach to challenges and psychologists have used this and other measures to help explain personality types.

For example in the ‘Big 5’ personality traits model a preference for being more creative, intuitive and creative in approach would lead someone to have a high ‘openness’ score. Equally, within the same system, someone with a more logical, ordered and detailed approach to life is likely to have a higher ‘conscientiousness’ ranking.

Once again these measures are generalisations but they demonstrate that we all have certain preferences and that any preference to one side or another has certain strengths and weaknesses and therefore we need a balance of the logical and emotional in our approach.

How to Get the Balance and Make the Connection

One way we can achieve that balance is through developing a good team and having people who can fulfil different roles and play to their strengths. But even with a well balanced team there are certain functions in an organisation – such as customer service and brand awareness – that everyone has an influence on and therefore, whatever their preference, they need a way to be connected to both the logical and emotional drivers in the business.

It has been demonstrated that one of the most powerful ways of connecting between the logical and emotional is the use of stories. For most people it is shared experiences, the conversations we have, and the life illustrations we hear, that are the lessons we tend to remember.  These things become the threads that tie together the logical and emotional aspects of what we do.

This knowledge is very important to organisations, as any team needs to engage their people at the logical level, through things such as goals and measurements, to more emotional issues such as values and purpose. Really successful institutions have ways of capturing and sharing stories that naturally spread through the group; encouraging people and embedding the right strategies and attitudes in people whatever level, role or function they operate in.

The Successful Military Model

Having had a military background I can share a way that the Armed Forces has created a process that enables the sharing of stories that demonstrated the values of the organisation and inspire people to achieve their tasks with the right attitudes.

Even though the values of the British Army are regularly taught to soldiers, if you asked the average private what those values were they would probably struggle to give you more than two of the six core values. The core values of the British Army are:

  • Courage
  • Discipline
  • Respect for others
  • Integrity
  • Loyalty
  • Selfless commitment

These values are the most important aspect of the emotional connection within the Army. The critical issue on the logical side is the concept of mission. The military operates within an approach called ‘mission command’ and the importance of achieving the mission is drummed into every service man and woman.

Because a mission in the Army frequently requires hardship or threat to life it is vital that the values are effectively understood and adhered to. Otherwise the deeper purpose and motivation would be lost. How then is this done when the average soldier cannot recall what the values are? The answer is that they all know stories that link the achievement of a mission with the values that underpin that success.

The Right Questions - inspiring stories for values and achieving goals
Victoria Cross – Wikicommons

Stories that Inspire: Medal Citations

Many stories are passed on informally in the bars and barrack rooms of the military but there is also a formal process for capturing and celebrating the best of these stories. This is done through citations and the awarding of medals.

In the British Commonwealth the most famous medal of all is the Victoria Cross; the highest commendation that can be awarded for valour in the face of the enemy. Introduced by Queen Victoria in 1856 the Victoria Cross (VC) has only been awarded 1356 times, and only 13 times since the Second World War.

The stories that surround VC winners are legendary; VC winners are the heroes of the Armed Forces and the stories permeate the culture of the organisation. Their history is taught during training, pictures of their heroic deeds hang on the walls of offices and messes; teams and places are even named after them.

Lieutenant John Chard – A Hero of Rorke’s Drift

The Right Questions - inspiring stories for values and achieving goals
Lieutenant John Chard – Wikicommons

For me, being a Royal Engineer Officer, one story I have been steeped in is that of Lieutenant John Chard, the Royal Engineer Officer who led the defence of Rorke’s Drift during the Zulu War in 1878.

Chard was sent to Rorke’s Drift (a small garrison at a mission station) to build a bridge but the location became the site of a decisive battle.

A Zulu impi (an Army of 3000-4000 men) descended upon Rorke’s Drift fresh from subjecting the British to a terrible defeat at Isandlwana where they had annihilated 1350 British and Native troops.

There were only 139 soldiers (including 30 sick and wounded) and a handful of local and colonial troops (making about 150 in total) at Rorke’s Drift but John Chard led the successful defence of the station. The desperate fighting, often fought hand to hand, went on through an afternoon and an entire night but the defence held. The battle cost 17 of the defenders lives. The Zulus suffered several hundred mortalities and withdrew from the attack the following morning.

The incredible valour by the defenders led to the awarding on 11 VCs and 4 DCMs (Distinguished Conduct Medals). The story is particularly well known as it was made famous by the film ‘Zulu’ where John Chard was played by Stanley Baker and Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead – his fellow officer and VC recipient – was played by Michael Caine.

John Chard’s actions demonstrated his deep commitment to his mission and an exemplary illustration of the values of the Army. The leadership that Chard demonstrated at Rorke’s Drift has inspired generations of young officers, such as myself, and this is just one of many incredible stories that could be told of brave service men and women.

Inspiring Stories for Making the Connection

A recipient of the Victoria Cross is an extreme example of a story, and certainly not an everyday occurrence, but shows the power of stories to inspire people. Stories have the power to connect people to the logical and emotional requirements that an organisation expects of them and it is important that any team or business looks at ways of capturing and spreading stories that equip, inspire and release employees to take new levels of ownership in their work.

So the question is, what are the success stories, big or small, that you can celebrate and share within your organisation today? If you have a great story why not share it in the comments.

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