The Myth of the Pied Piper: The realities of leading in today’s corporation and staying true to your values

We are all familiar with “The Pied Piper of Hamelin.” Remember – the folk tale written by the Brothers Grimm. It tells about the disaster in the town of Hamelin, Germany, back in the late 1200’s. In that year a man came to Hamelin claiming to be a rat-catcher. The people of Hamelin promised him payment for killing the rats. So the man took a pipe, attracted the rats by his music and made them follow him to the Weser River, where they all drowned. Despite this success the people reneged on their promise and did not pay the rat-catcher.

The pied piper left the town of Hamelin, after being tricked by the people. But he returned several weeks later, while the inhabitants were in the church. He played his pipe again, this time attracting the children of Hamelin. One hundred thirty boys and girls followed him out of the town, where they were lured into a cave and sealed inside. Depending on the version, at most two children survived.

Wow – and to think this was a common fairy tale when I was growing up. Grimm…indeed.

Sometimes it may feel like we, too, have been tricked into following the pied piper into a ‘cave’ lacking fulfillment, joy, and purpose. It is so easy to become mesmerized by the ‘pipe music’ and trappings of our world today. Business practices have certainly honed the game of hooks and golden handcuffs; and standing firm in your values while keeping your job is not for the faint of heart.

As leaders, which we all have the potential to be; it is our responsibility to keep the interests of our followers at the forefront of our minds. This is certainly not mutually exclusive from achieving the greatest return for our shareholders and other constituents. In fact, having alignment between the goals of ourselves, our employees, our shareholders and our customers is the key to having sustainable success – by all measures.

So how do we do this? Three strategies for those of us who want to lead by staying aligned to our values and our company’s direction:

1. Create our own vision as to where we want to go and how we want to get there – and tie it to a larger picture. We probably don’t want to end up in a cave…where do we want to end up? Mountains, hilltops….create the vision and hold it for all to see and share. How can we truly make a difference to our company’s or organization’s big picture?

2. Stand behind your convictions regardless of the consequences. Years ago, I asked a dear friend of mines’ father how he would define integrity – and that was his answer. For a successful, west Texas man – it was as simple as that. What values are simply non-negotiable? What will become the cornerstones on which we build our business? Those values – which manifest into behaviors toward our employees, our customers, and ultimately our shareholders – ultimately define our success. Values are nothing until they “become our actions, which become our habits, which become our character, which become our destiny”. Anonymous.

3. Have the courage to make the hard calls. Noel Tichy has written an excellent book entitled: Judgment: How Winning Leaders Make Great Calls. This book outlines his experiences and research of many of the world’s Fortune 100 leaders and how they handle making the ‘hard decisions’ around strategy, people, and crisis situations. The net: successful leaders do make edgy decisions – and they bank their careers, their reputation, and yes, their integrity on making more ‘good decisions’ than ‘poor ones’. Having the courage to make those calls – keeps us aligned with our own values, and with the pure strategic intentions for our companies and organizations.

Leading teams and organizations while staying authentically aligned is the key to sustainable success. Not only for the organization at large – but for ourselves, too. It is through ‘keeping it real’ and ‘staying true to ourselves’ that we foster alignment. That music sounds, and is clearer; perhaps leading us to places we thought not possible.