Medium 9781626562943

Your Leadership Story

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Stories have power. They move people in a way that facts and figures can't. Many leaders use stories as a tool, but leadership development expert Tim Tobin says most have no idea what tale their own leadership is telling. He shows how, 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.

Using story as both a metaphor and a process for self-development, Tobin offers activities and questions that help you better understand your own leadership and how others perceive it. What is the plot of your leadership story—your overall goals and purpose? Who are the main characters and what roles do they play? How have the settings of your story influenced it? What are the conflicts that you need to resolve to move toward the ending you intend?

But you have to share your story to make it an effective leadership tool. Tobin gives detailed advice on framing your message, finding ways to communicate it, and understanding the role others play in furthering that message.

If you don't tell your leadership story, other people will—and it may not be the story you want told. Taking control of your leadership story enables you to more consciously shape the impact you have in the world. 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.

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5 Chapters

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Chapter I Just What Is Leadership?

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In this chapter, I want to help you understand what I call the ecology of leadership. Obviously, someone cannot be much of a leader if no one is there to be led. So it’s a delicate environment of projects, priorities, and plans as well as emotions, sensitivities, and ambitions.

President Eisenhower once commented, “Leadership is the art of getting someone to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” Ike’s approach to delegation could be called subtle. But to him, delegation was an important skill and a big deal. It surely served him well in Europe as he dealt with many big egos to lead the Allied effort in World War II.

Speaking of Ike, we typically don’t think of him as having had a big ego. Supreme Allied commander, president of Columbia University, general of the Army, president of the United States. That’s a résumé that would enable anyone’s ego to balloon. But not Eisenhower. He was awesome and not awesome at the same time.

Likewise, it is important for all of us to understand how we are perceived by others and where that is consistent with our self-perceptions. If there is misalignment between the two, it is important to understand why that is. As the introduction implies, this book’s process and steps are not intended to reaffirm to you that you are just so awesome right now. In a few paragraphs, you will meet Bob and watch his lunch mates tell him how not awesome he really is. It is a shocker for him.

 

Chapter II Understanding and Aligning Your Leadership Story

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Your leadership story is complex and dynamic. Since leadership is a journey that involves the past, present, and future, your leadership story evolves. It is the result of numerous factors over time. The good news? Your leadership story has developed and will continue to develop. This suggests that you have the ability to reflect on and learn from the past. It also suggests that you have the ability to shape the future of your leadership story. Doing so will take work and commitment on your part. It also requires that you start with a framework in which to think about your leadership story.

To understand or write a story, as we all learned in literature classes, you have to consider several elements of your story and provide details that will help it to have the desired impact.

But do not misinterpret what I am saying. By putting forth these story elements, I am not encouraging you to fictionalize your life. Rather, you are using them as tools to understand how your story might well vary from how others describe your leadership. You should not have two leadership stories contradicting each other. When that happens, you will be perceived as lacking authenticity. Over time, it will drain the energy and motivation from those you lead. What’s more, your true story, your fuller story, goes beyond your surface appearance to your more deeply held values, beliefs, and actions.

 

Chapter III The Narrative Arc

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Let’s pause for a moment here. We’ve discussed the elements common to any story, and your leadership story can’t be an interesting one unless it covers those basic elements. What’s more, it won’t be much of a story unless it has a beginning, middle, and end—a timeline. This is called a narrative arc, with rising action that reaches a big turning point, or climax, and descending action. Movies follow the same pattern, or we wouldn’t be eager to see that next film.

Your arc should lead to a high point in your career when everything comes together. Now is the time to think about where you want to go with your leadership—or your purpose—and how you are going to get there—or your path. Your arc weaves its way through all the other elements of your story. As you look across each of the elements, think about it in terms of your timeline and the influence that certain people and events have had on the way you think and act as a leader.

Confucius said, “Study the past if you wish to define the future.” The past is a foundational aspect of our leadership story, and it shows up today as our leadership mind-set. It is important to understand the past and how it shapes our leadership story—to reflect on it, to learn from it, but not to live in it. Who or what has shaped your most deeply held values as a leader?

 

Chapter IV The Art of Communicating Your Leadership Story

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Understanding and aligning your leadership story is a foundational part of the equation. How you communicate your story tells as much about you as the story itself. If not told right, at the right opportunity and with the right audience, your leadership story can backfire.

Since your leadership story lives in your actions and the hearts, minds, and perceptions of others, it is important to think about, be aware of, and plan for how you communicate your leadership story. As the title of this section suggests, there is considerable art to communicating your story. There is no single best way.

If we agree that understanding your leadership story is complex and dynamic, telling it is equally so. In fact, adding to the complexity is that you may be telling your leadership story inadvertently. Or you may not even be the one telling your leadership story. Of course, you play a critical role in communicating your leadership story. And, your audience and your leadership story itself also play a critical role as well. To communicate your leadership story, you must think about and proactively plan for your messages (what), be aware of unique opportunities and timing (when, where, and how), and also recognize the role that others play in communicating your leadership story (who). You will also see that audience matters, and others can and should play a broader role in your leadership story.

 

Conclusion

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Leadership is a gift—a gift that requires you to set a direction; motivate, inspire, and develop others; and deliver results that matter. It is also a journey. It is about your experiences and the influence you have on others. Leadership is certainly about the work that gets done, but it is much more about how the work gets done and the relationships along the way.

A great story can motivate and inspire others. It can impart a message. Think about how your leadership story imparts a message, inspires, or motivates. Remember, your leadership story lives in the hearts and minds of others, and you are constantly onstage as a leader. Sometimes you can rehearse or plan ahead. Other times, improvisation is needed. Those around you will have expectations, assumptions, interpretations, and perceptions that impact your story. For you to be at your best, others’ perceptions of you must be aligned with your story.

Consider that your leadership story has all the elements of a good story: plot, characters, conflict, theme, and setting. These are each instruments by which you can understand where you are aligned and where there is work to do on your story. No matter where you are in your journey, there is something to be gained by using the story as a framework to consider your past, present, and future. Understanding your leadership story provides a solid foundation for who you are, what you believe in, and what you value as a leader. It is a reminder of the important characters in your story, how you handle conflict, and what it takes for you to be at your best.

 

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