or “Ew, I just stepped in something.”
by Katie K. Snapp
So, what’s your story?
Sounds like a pickup line. To a degree it is. It should engage you in some thought, some level of interaction with the crowd at hand.
But this isn’t Match.com so let’s put that in context – what is your leadership story? Did you map it out or did you just “step in something?” C’mon, you HAVE thought about what your autobiography would look like. But have you thought about your leadership journey as a story?
The problem is this – when we each answer the question “What is your Story?”, we give a rendition of a past that has happened TO us, a few Ziggy-like instances that threw us into a leadership position, combined with some lucky breaks and a few painful instances that still leave a blip on our radar screen.
Is that “your story?”
The Story that Takes on a Life of its Own
The sad thing is, if you do not write it, it writes itself for you.
“Yikes! I was just volunteered for the leadership development program.”
“Whew, the company needed me to take that promotion. Have you seen the other people that were up for it?.”
“They were shorthanded in that department so they asked me to step in as a supervisor.” Yeah, “step in” as in “stepped in it.”
So back to the question: “What is your leadership story?”
I will set the scene for the answer. A trendy, cozy bar.
(By the way, the business environments of the future that I envision all have lobby bars on the first floor, so now we can make this a business situation.)
Back to the setting … overstuffed chairs, a swooning baritone in the corner with a pianist and a burly bass player, and a well-dressed yet overeager bachelor swooping in on an attractive woman, alone yet composed, relaxing by the fireplace with a dirty martini. And who does not like just like saying “dirty martini.”
And here comes the pickup line.
“So, I think I know you from the gun club.”
No, that’s the wrong line.
“So, what’s your story?” And her answer may surprise you.
It will surprise you, but it shouldn’t, because we all should have a story that WE define. Here we go – throwing around those “should”s again.
“Well, I started out in my major field of study, pursued two rewarding internships followed by a host of job offers. I carefully plotted out what I was learning, what I liked and needed, and where I should go with that information. That led to a job change within 3 years, into a situation with a better fit for my aspirations. I positioned myself to apply for the leadership track at that company by taking a few leadership classes as well as every certification that I could get. I also carefully studied the promotion process, both the published one as well as the “underground” rules. It worked, I was promoted and went on from there. Here I am at the next chapter of that story. Still defining the future and still looking forward. What about you?”
This is where our male protagonist either wins her over or blabbers incoherently.
But on to your story. Is yours that intentional? How do you write yours? More importantly, where did it take on a life of its own, and where did you control it? And if you had a handle on it at any certain times, shouldn’t you want to replicate that in the future, to map out your intentional path?
YES. Show me how. (I am from the Show-Me State after all …)
The Role of Self-Awareness and Self-Examination
Our lives are born out of abundantly different variables. Right place at the right time. While some of that may be true, it is comparative to paddling a canoe downstream. You may not be able to stop and change directions, but you can certainly keep from hitting the banks, and you can remain afloat while handling the rapids. Small adjustments while focusing on the horizon. For big adjustments, you can change streams.
A friend of mine says,” whatever remains unconscious is attributed to fate.” This leads us to a great first step. Examine your posture about change. Are you a victim or an agent? Does it happen to you or do you command it, if even minor adjustments of the canoe down the stream? Statements like “I have to be in Denver to oversee a meeting” or “I ran out of time so I did not get to my list of monthly goals” typify the language of a leader controlled by his story writing itself.
The Key Steps
A critical step in mastering your storyline is the understanding of personal ideals and needs. These are earnestly mapped into each day’s intention. Easily said, I know. When you break down each piece of your day, does your leadership story come through as an intentional activity? Finding the time for personal development or physical activity may be a prioritized need that gets stepped on because of a concession to something else. Every yes must be replaced with a no, and that is often where we stray.
Then examine your image as a leader. You stand for what you tolerate. If your list of tolerances is not conscious, then the plot is happening without you as the author. Your boundaries will be pushed because they are ill-defined.
And lastly, envision what it looks like. Live it in your mind. I have always been an advocate of replication. Why create something from scratch when you can imitate something already existing? If I see a landscape design that I like, I am apt to re-invent it in my yard. Hey, I like it! Same goes for leaders you admire and role modeling is a remarkable way to experience it quickly. Once your ideals and needs are clear, consider someone who is a living those ideals in a way that you admire. When you see it in action, it becomes an illustration of the virtue working. Then mold it to your personal style. As an example – a great communicator. A leader with a talent for delivering candid feedback diplomatically can be observed and styled after.
And finally, schedule an appointment with yourself to begin telling your story. If you put yourself to sleep, you may need some creative imagination.