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The power of your leadership story

Leadership story
(Image credit: SmartBrief illustration)

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This post is an excerpt from “Your Leadership Story: Use Your Story to Energize, Inspire, and Motivate,” by Tim Tobin. Tobin is vice president, global learning and leadership development, at Marriott International. He is responsible for leadership development strategy, programs, curriculum and activities. His previous work includes Baker Tilly (formerly Beers + Cutler)  and Booz Allen Hamilton. Among the recognition Tobin has received is the 2014 Chief Learning Officer Global Learning Award, 2012 Chief Learning Officer Learning in Practice Innovation Award and the 2005 Future Human Capital Leader award from Human Capital Magazine. Connect with Tobin on Twitter @TobinLeadership.

Stories have power. They move people in a way that facts and figures can’t. Many leaders use stories as a tool, but most have no idea what tale their own leadership is telling. By thinking of your career as a narrative with a plot, characters, and an arc — you can increase your awareness of yourself as a leader and become more effective, insightful, and inspiring. You’ll be better equipped to make decisions, choose actions that tell the story you want to tell, make stronger connections to those you lead, and ensure that you become the kind of leader you want to be.

Understanding and communicating your leadership story can be quite powerful. It gives you the power of influence and authenticity by allowing you to match your words and your actions. It allows you to build trust. Trust leads to credibility.

Your leadership story is the collection of events, perspectives, and behaviors that represent who you are as a leader. It evolves from your unique experiences. Your leadership story is not like that of the person in the next department. Hers is different; neither story is right or wrong. Your leadership story communicates the message of identity: who you are as a leader, what you believe in, what drives you and defines you as a leader, and how you act.

Think about the elements of any great story: plot, characters, conflict, theme, and setting. Your leadership story is no different. Using these elements is not meant to encourage you to fictionalize your story. In fact, quite the opposite. For your leadership story to be authentic, you need to add details and feelings for richness around each element, and you need your perceptions to be aligned with others’ perceptions.

Your plot is why you do what you do. It focuses on what provides you with a sense of purpose. It is what inspires and motivates you. It clarifies and reinforces your values as a leader. You have to know where you are going, or no one will follow you. But knowing where you want to go and what drives you is only one part of the equation. You also have to know what is important to others, as this will shape their interpretations of your story.

You are the central character of your own leadership story, but to be effective as a leader, you need to create a connection to the other characters. The other characters in your leadership story can serve as champions, or protagonists, or they can be detractors, or antagonists. When you’re seeking to understand others’ perceptions of your story, the characters are the starting point. You must identify who the key characters of your story are, what their role is, and their perceptions of your story.

Tobin

No story would be complete without conflict. Conflict reveals the struggle. The struggle in your leadership story can internal; it can be with people or uncertainty around your plot, tasks, and resources, to name a few examples. With regard to your leadership story, leadership is not just about getting results; it is about how you do so.

In your leadership story, the theme comes through in the form of behaviors, skills, and habits. It looks at how you think you are doing in key areas of leadership, as well as how others think you are doing.

Stories take place in a setting. It can be a single setting or a variety of settings. In your leadership story, the setting can play a critical role in shaping your plot, introducing you to characters, and developing your theme. This book explores the role of setting in your leadership story. We will examine the elements that allow you to be at your best, as well as how you contribute to others’ being at their best.

So then, what is your leadership story? More important, who is the author of your leadership story, you … or someone else? Read this book to appreciate why it is important for you to be the author of your own leadership story, how to go about understanding it, and how you can best communicate its value.

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