I love a good, uplifting story. I call these “rooftop stories,” because they raise everyone up with their messages of hope and support. Leaders who use rooftop stories make the team they work with stronger and better by incorporating the heart of the team in their inspirational messages.
The opposite of rooftop stories are “cellar stories. ” These are the stories shared by unhealthy leaders who can slowly destroy the teams around them.
I recently read a story about a POW camp found during the Korean War that had the highest death rate. Investigators looked into the camp to determine what caused the high mortality.
Surprisingly, their investigation found that these POW’s were well fed, had decent cells and received little if any physical torture.
When interviewing the POW’s, however, they discovered the use of cellar stories. The Koreans would bring in POW’s and bribe them with cigarettes and other perks if they would turn on their military leaders. They used doubt creating questions such as:
Soldiers would eventually become convinced that their leaders and fellow soldiers had turned on them. They lost trust in each other, and no longer believed that they had each others’ backs. The distrust created by cellar stories disconnected them from their friends. Some of them died while physically healthy, literally curling up in their cells and giving up.
Cellar stories are dangerous, and those people that use them strategically are destructive to teams and companies. Cellar story tellers are:
The sad thing about leaders who tell cellar stories is that they could use the talent for good and become the best of the rooftop story tellers. Instead, they stay focused on destruction without realizing that cellar stories are terrifying boomerangs, because eventually they turn on the teller.
A good friend of mine recently sent me this sign for my office:
Great minds discuss ideas; Average minds discuss events; Small minds discuss people.
Find your rooftop stories and share them. Remember that stories reflect the leader, so choose each word carefully, because all stories come back to the teller.