Native American Storyteller

Creating and sustaining culture, a story at a time

After the Chief, in Native American culture the next most important person was the Storyteller. Trusted with the history, myths and spiritual lifeblood of the tribe, they used stories to illustrate what had made them great. Lessons in leadership, honour, love and tragedy were all conveyed through these, creating and sustaining culture over centuries.

If you claim to be innovators or profess to having a no-blame culture; when reality really matches the rhetoric… it builds your culture. Stories like this that I found on mbiconcepts.com build culture…

IBM had survived The Great Depression. Gambling on a post war boom, President, Thomas J Watson Sr. had maintained IBM’s employment levels throughout increasing inventories when there was little demand. Excess machinery and parts crowded basements and filled every nook-and-cranny of the company.

Some on the board of directors, because of this, were lobbying to remove him as IBM’s President.

Thomas needed these inventories sold.

A very large government bid, approaching a million dollars, was on the table. The IBM Corporation—no, Thomas J. Watson Sr.—needed every deal. Unfortunately, the salesman failed. IBM lost the bid. That day, the sales rep showed up at Mr. Watson’s office. He sat down and rested an envelope with his resignation on the CEO’s desk. Without looking, Mr. Watson knew what it was. He was expecting it.

He asked, “What happened?”

The sales rep outlined every step of the deal. He highlighted where mistakes had been made and what he could have done differently. Finally he said, “Thank you, Mr. Watson, for giving me a chance to explain. I know we needed this deal. I know what it meant to us.” He rose to leave.

Thomas Watson met him at the door, looked him in the eye and handed the envelope back to him saying, “Why would I accept this when I have just invested one million dollars in your education?”

Stories of events or leadership action in this case, perhaps better than in any other way, build a culture. This one from IBM has gone down internally, and externally, in folklore. There’s a saying: “trust arrives on foot, leaves on horseback” and culture can be similarly moved. Leaders who ‘walk the talk’, deliver what they promise reinforce culture, a story at a time.

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