If you visit Dunvegan Castle on the Isle of Skye, you will see a yellow silk flag encased in glass, reputed to have originated in the Far East, possibly brought to Scotland by the Crusaders. Or, Vikings from Norway brought it. Or, it’s a saint’s relic. The Clan McLeod knows the real story.
Centuries ago, the fourth Chief of the Clan McLeod, Lain Ciar, and a beautiful fairy princess fell in love with each other. Her father allowed the marriage on the condition that she would return to the Land of the Fairies after one year. Lady McLeod gave the clan chief a beautiful baby boy, whom she agreed to leave with her husband, asking only that the baby never be left to cry alone.
The Laird grieved for months until his kinsmen decided to throw a great feast to cheer him up. The revelry did raise his spirits, but it also distracted the child’s nursemaid, who left him unattended to look in on the festivities.
The baby awakened, but no one could hear him cry-no one except his mother in the Land of the Fairies. When the Laird realized his son had been left alone, he dashed from the banquet hall to find his wife kissing the baby as she wrapped him in a yellow shawl, vanishing before their eyes.
Once grown, the boy ensured his father that the shawl held mystical powers, ones that would protect his clan in the direst of circumstances. Through the centuries the clan has relied on the flag for protection. Little remains of it, however, because during the Second World War, young McLeod RAF pilots carried small scraps of it in their wallets as they went into battle. Not one McLeod man was shot down in the entire war-not one. Did the fairy flag save them? If they believe it did, it probably did. That’s the nature of mysticism.
The story of the Fairy Flag is among many the McLeods have told through the centuries, relying on legends to help each new generation understand what it means to be a part of the clan. The McLeods also developed the motto, “Hold Fast,” derived from the story of a clan chief jumping to the rescue a friend from a bull attack.
Most modern organizations can trace their origins and legends back decades, not centuries. But many of the successful organization that have survived and continued to thrive in a tough economy embody the lessons of cultures that have endured through the ages.
Top performers want to belong to a clan they respect, one that will protect them in dire circumstances-one to whom they proudly give their allegiance. Arguably, tangible characteristics like a strong strategic focus, effective leadership, and shared values form the foundation of any successful culture, but that doesn’t explain the entire story. Something abstract plays a role too.
Many of the important aspects of culture never make their way to the policy manuals, forecasted revenues, or written summaries. Like the proud traditions of a clan, people pass the stories from generation to generation. Leaders influence them through acts of courage and bravery, but ultimately the day-to-day activities define how the tartan plaid of your organization will weave itself together.
The McLeods believe they have the fairies looking after them, but you may need a more tangible strategy-one that starts with inviting the best people to be part of your clan. When you combine the best people with a brave approach to your business, you’ll be able to hold fast, no matter what economic enemies mount a battle against you.
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