The Crossover of Adaptive Leadership and Storytelling

I recently read an article by the Huntsville Business Journal about adaptive leadership, and I immediately sent it to everyone on the HPC team. I thought, “This is what we’re always talking about!! The HBJ gets it!!” We truly believe that leadership behaviors rooted in CODE have significantly higher impact, and we’re seeing this play out in a big way with one of our clients. 

Four years ago, a client asked us to explore gender equality in their organization. This included analysis of leadership demographics, a comprehensive survey to all employees, and focus group discussions. During the study, some challenges beyond the scope of gender equality emerged. As a result, we implemented a pilot Encounter Group program. Encounter groups are defined as “a group of people who meet with a trained leader to increase self-awareness and social sensitivity, and to change behavior through interpersonal confrontation, self-disclosure, and strong emotional expression.” In other words, we gather in small groups and share perspectives, life-changing events, backgrounds, and factors that affect decisions across the workforce. The end goal is to bring about mutual understanding and respect in order to address issues of polarization and awareness.   

Our Encounter Group curriculum addresses the CODE model of adaptive leadership through storytelling and conversation. 

Our very first exercise with Encounter Groups is Share Story, where the facilitator creates a safe environment for participants to share real stories about their lives and listen respectfully to others, aligning with the EQ element of the CODE model. 

Through a series of implicit bias exercises, including examining bias in workplace practices, we discuss organizational integrity in the context of DWYSYWD: do what you say you will do. If you’re going to have policies and procedures that are meant to establish fairness, it’s just as important that everyone is equally held accountable to them. In other words, if you’re going to preach fairness, you have to practice it, too. 

We also read stories of others. Business leaders, athletes, veterans, immigrants; we read stories of people that are different from our stories. This exercise stretches and develops our understanding of a diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace culture. 

The capstone session of our Encounter Groups includes a critique of stories we consume day-to-day, whether from news outlets, social media, or managers in our own organization. We talk about getting out of your filter bubble – intentionally seeking stories and information that represent people who are different from you and your “feed”. We talk about silos in workplaces, in-groups and out-groups, and how important it is to examine who or what is shaping your perspective. Is your opinion of your workplace shaped by a person or group of people you work with? You might think your workplace is fair and inclusive, but are you missing a key perspective that’s different? 

Now, four years later, the Encounter Groups are ongoing, and the organization has strengthened its support for an employee-led DEI Council. Through storytelling and adaptive leadership principles, people are becoming the focus once again.  


Jillian Miles Massey