Sharing Stories to Show Truth

Leveraging the internal tales of leadership to reinforce positive culture and right behaviors.

I have always loved John P. Kotter’s book, “The Heart of Change,” and the significant statement he made: “People change what they do less because they are given analysis that shifts their thinking than because they are shown a truth that influences their feelings.”

Sharing stories is an amazing way to show people the truth in any organization. When stories are well publicized, they help influence people’s feelings and affect their beliefs, which, in turn, reinforces desired behavioral change and results. Think of the times you have heard of the nameless Dutch boy who saved the day by putting his finger in the dyke—a short tale highlighting one person’s heroic and simple act that saved the day.

In today’s workplace, we don’t hear of too many tales that become legends that change people. It’s difficult for C-suite leaders to both initiate connections and stay connected with all of their employees. They have a hard time being visible and available to employees. Too many of these leaders are considered the “invisible minority” in their workplaces where workers have no relationship with them and lack the trust to be fully connected.

The following true story exemplifies the life of one leader and how his actions have affected the people he works with and their organization—highlighting how these employees became exceptionally engaged and performance focused.

Let’s take a look at Tangerine (formerly ING DIRECT Canada), a newly renamed financial services organization with corporate offices in downtown Toronto. The legendary stories of its CEO, Peter Aceto, drive Tangerine’s culture to be shared by everyone, as well as produce desired results.

Peter Aceto strongly believes companies with the most engaged employees are the companies that truly perform over the long term. He also knows employee engagement is one thing he can directly control and something that needs to be high scoring in order to beat the competition.

What is not common are the practices Aceto has put in place at Tangerine to stay connected with all the employees. “I spend a fair bit of my time connecting with people at all different levels of the organization,” he says. Besides his direct team that reports to him and the typical one-on-one and team meetings, Aceto holds regular Town Halls with departments. However, in addition to the en masse meetings, Aceto takes time out during regular lunch hours to simply sit in a room or cafeteria with staff, bring his own lunch, and talk business.

People love to share information with their CEO. From these informal meetings with employees, Aceto gains a lot of insight, which becomes a natural engagement measure that doesn’t have to wait until an annual survey is conducted. It just means getting out on the front lines and mostly listening.

“I can learn an awful lot from them about what they know about the organization,” Aceto points out, “and I can judge how well their managers are doing in terms of our philosophy. We believe that every one of our employees needs to know as much about our business as possible, whether it appears relevant to his or her specific job or not.”

Getting to this level of leadership commitment requires time. When asked how much time he spends on creating relationships and getting to know people in the organization, Aceto responds, “it is slightly more than 30 percent of my day. I spend about 20 percent in meetings, maybe 30 percent of my day doing stuff that’s ‘anti-social,’ such as reading memos, writing documents, reading presentations. But almost every other interaction is relationship building.”

Dr. Robert Cialdini, author of “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion,” suggests leaders in today’s world of information overload need to “be more human” if they are to stand out. I think the accounts of Peter Aceto become the power stories employees draw upon in becoming the leaders of tomorrow.

A fundamental quality of authentic leaders has to be the ability to connect with people at all levels of the organization. Peter Aceto not only enjoys doing this and makes the time to do so, but he is aware that connecting with people is an important investment.

Find the stories of your leaders, whether with the title or not, and retell these accounts to influence the attitudes and behaviors of your employees.

Roy Saunderson is author of “GIVING the Real Recognition Way” and Chief Learning Officer of Rideau’s Recognition Management Institute, a consulting and training firm specializing in helping companies “get recognition right.” Its focus is on showing leaders how to give real recognition to create positive relationships, better workplaces, and real results. For more information, contact or visit

Roy Saunderson, MA, CRP
Roy Saunderson, MA, CRP, is author of “Practicing Recognition” and Chief Learning Officer at Rideau Recognition Solutions. His consulting and learning skills focus on helping companies “give real recognition the right way wherever they are.” For recognition insights, visit: For more information, e-mail him at: or visit: