Last year IBM released their Global CEO Study 2012, which involved more than 1,700 CEOs, general managers and senior public sector leaders from around the globe. It makes for fascinating reading.
One of the things that really stood out for me was the finding that most CEOs largely think alike, (their views differed on less than 20 percent of the questions). However, the real difference between those CEOs who are out-performers and those they are under-performers is in "their ability to engage the C-suite in evoking significant change across their organisation".
A shared understanding of the company's strategy is key to building a highly engaged leadership team.
Typically, the C-suite is made up of really smart people who are at the top of their game and if you were to ask them about their company strategy, they'd be able to repeat it, or at the very least articulate it well. They'd most likely talk in abstractions, concepts and 'corporate speak'.
However well-intentioned, these abstractions often get in the way of real understanding and action. On many occasions we've worked with organisations who's executive team thought that they had alignment and agreement on their strategy, only to discover that once we pushed them a little and started to tease out their story, they discovered misunderstandings and disagreements.
Often these are not major differences of opinion, but even the slightest deviation can make a big difference to the outcome.
Consider this analogy. An angle of one degree is difficult to draw on paper because it is too small. However, if a flight from New York to Los Angeles is off course by just one degree, the plane will arrive closer to Tijuana, Mexico, than Los Angeles.  Small differences can make a big difference in the long-term.
Stories can help reduce this gap.
One of the things we've discovered when working with companies to make their strategies stick, is that stories have a unique way of uniting people around an idea. Stories provide them with concrete examples and models. In turn they highlight subtle differences in understanding, which helps to reach agreement and build strong alignment around their strategic story.
As we often say, you don't really understand something until you can tell a story about it.
: Turkel, L. and Turkel, S. 2004. Small Change: It's the Little Things in Life That Make a Big Difference! New York. Tarcher/Penguin.