Fairy Tales for Executives: Story Telling as a Catalyst for Change

16 Pages Posted: 8 Mar 2015

See all articles by Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries

Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries

INSEAD - Entrepreneurship and Family Enterprise

Date Written: March 6, 2015


It is suggested that fairy tales provide insights to the reader as they deal with moral, social or existential dilemmas. Similarly, these tales may be used to illustrate how executives deal with the challenges they face in their leadership roles. Archetypal in nature, these tales, with their immediately recognizable dramatics, characters and fundamental moral truths, are embedded in our ancestral human history and serve as the rootstock of most world fiction and drama. As these stories involve the reader or listener imaginatively, they also appeal to our secret selves. And from an existential point of view, fairy tales suggest that the ‘happy ever after’ is achievable. Virtue will be rewarded, vice and foolishness will be punished, and the weak become strong. This article imparts the idea that fairy tales are a shortcut to moral lessons, providing insights into human behavior. When applied to the realm of executive leadership, they illustrate the dangers of leadership and various ways in which executives can derail. It is also suggested that the psychological healing process at the heart of fairy tales can be a source of inspiration for its reader. In this context, fairy tales can take on a basic therapeutic function, touching on humankind’s deepest fears and desires and helping them integrate these two drivers into a healthy personality. Furthermore, in the article the argument is put forth that the models of the hero or heroine in fairy tales, who struggles and eventually succeeds by taking resolute action, may stimulate executives to do the same. By identifying with the characters in these stories, executives come to better understand their own internal struggles and turn into more self-aware leaders.

Keywords: Fairy Tale, Story Telling, The Heroes’ Journey, Psychotherapy, Dreams, Symbolism, Change, The Darker Side of Leadership

Suggested Citation

Kets de Vries, Manfred F.R., Fairy Tales for Executives: Story Telling as a Catalyst for Change (March 6, 2015). INSEAD Working Paper No. 2015/22/EFE. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2574751 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2574751

Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries (Contact Author)

INSEAD - Entrepreneurship and Family Enterprise ( email )

Fontainebleau Cedex, F-77305

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