How to build your leadership narrative



When I get asked what it means to lead well, I say these two things. Firstly, what you teach, you learn. And secondly, get your story straight.

There’s no escaping change, and change requires vision. Vision requires good stories. Where do good stories come from and how do we become good story-tellers?

Our experience of ourselves and our world is governed by story-telling. It’s the ego’s job to make sense of our experiences which it does by creating stories. Stories provide substance and meaning to our lives and give us our sense of identity.

For this reason, it’s not possible to build relationships, teams, communities or organisations without stories. Change, be it our own development or across our organisation, only happens when the stories we tell change.

When I get asked what it means to lead well, I say these two things. Firstly, what you teach, you learn. And secondly, get your story straight.

What you teach, you learn. What does this mean?

We do teach by telling of course, and what you choose to say to or about other people also tells you about yourself. Your self-talk develops along the lines of what you communicate to others.

So our behaviour tells a story about how we see ourselves; our sense of identity. If you are hard on other people, the chances are you are hard on yourself. If you are compassionate and forgiving with others, you’re more likely a person who prioritises your own health and wellbeing. Judgy behaviours towards others like impatience or ignoring or favouritism are many-times a reflection of how you feel about yourself.

So, the more conscious you are of the stories you tell in how you behave and communicate with others the more opportunities you give yourself to develop your self-awareness and emotional intelligence. And we all know these are founding attributes of good leadership identity.

Developing this awareness will bring you in touch with your values. The more you behave in congruence with your true values, the more trusted you become. Know thyself. Practising choosing your own narrative will grow your confidence and clarity as a leader.

Get your story straight

This is essential in any kind of change environment, which let’s face it is pretty much all our experience of work as things stand. Engaging leaders free their teams to act on their ideas, shape what is possible and contribute to making that happen. Stories are what bind people’s focus on what should change, how it should change, and what desirable differences could be created.

A team, an organisation, a community only changes when the stories, and the intent behind them change. It’s your role as leader to tell compelling stories which chime true to your life experiences – those experiences that shape the kind of leader you are today. If it doesn’t have the ring of truth to you then it won’t to anyone else.

It’s not enough to simply repeat the stories you receive from those setting vision or designing the change. What you tell to others about organisational change needs to be imbued with your own values and perspective on what’s ahead, what’s needed and how it can be achieved before your team members will willingly follow you into change. Ultimately, a willingness to develop self-awareness is a pre-requisite to the telling of good stories and the effective leadership of change.