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Stories Shaping Leadership - Main

We all have stories that we carry with us wherever we go.

I’m not talking about stories that we read or the thing that happened to us last week.

The stories I’m referring to here are those that we tell ourselves. We create them, and use them to help us make sense of the world around us.

These stories are also powerful influences on our behaviour and therefore, our leadership.

I first came across this particular idea of “stories” through my coaching training, and it has been a useful way to help me process events and create a more positive and constructive mindset.

In this post, I’ll take a look at some of the common stories I find leaders telling themselves, and the influence they have on our leadership behaviour.

The Good News About Our Behaviour As Leaders

The excellent news I have for you is that we can control and are responsible for our behaviour as leaders.

However, there are lots of things about ourselves that we cannot control.

We can’t control our thoughts, feelings and emotions. Nor can we control our past experiences (they are in the past!) or how our upbringing helped to form our beliefs, biases or other ideas about how the world works.

Some leaders are on autopilot. Something bad happens and they have an explosive reaction.

What we need to do instead is take a pause. You might still be unhappy about something happening at work, but you can control how you respond to it.

Being mindful of the stories we tell ourselves is one way to help us take a step back, and reflect on what’s really going on for us.

Learn More:  How to Manage Your Emotions For Better Leadership.

Common Workplace Stories That Impact Leadership

When I’m working with leaders, they often have stories that are influencing how they think about themselves and the people around them.

The story that we tell ourselves usually comes from an observation that we have of our environment. Here are some examples.

What We Observe The Story We Tell Ourselves
A colleague didn’t communicate with you. They don’t respect me.
A team member makes a careless mistake. They don’t care about their job.
Someone comes in late to work. They’re not committed.
A colleague doesn’t greet you in the morning. They’re upset with me.
Your manager wants to see you in their office. Something bad must have happened.
A team member keeps asking you questions they should know the answers to. They’re lazy.
Someone speaks over you in a meeting. They’re rude and disrespectful.
Your manager keeps giving you work when you are overloaded. They don’t care about your wellbeing.

The problem with these stories is that when we believe them, we take action that might not be appropriate to the situation. Or, we don’t take the action that could be beneficial.

If our story is that a team member doesn’t care about their job, we’re likely to take very different actions than if we believe the team member doesn’t have the skills to achieve the quality of work we’re asking for.

In one case, we’d possibly be resentful and dismissive. In the other, we might be more supportive and try to help them learn.

Learn More:  Thoughtful Leader Podcast #158: Let’s Build a Better Leadership Mindset.

Question Your Stories to Lead Better

So what do we do with these stories?

First, we need to notice them.

Ask yourself:

“What story am I telling myself about this situation?”

Next, think of some alternative stories that could also make sense.

For example, if your team member made a careless mistake, your story might be “They don’t care about the work”.

Question Your Stories v3

Another story that might also make sense could be “They were distracted because of something happening in their personal life”.

The point of this activity is not to guess the correct story.

It’s to get you thinking in a more objective way, so that you can be more curious about what might be going on for your team member.

Now, you can approach the situation with a clearer head and a sense of curiosity, which will help you to find out more about what might really be going on. Otherwise, your emotions may run rampant and have you behaving in a way you aren’t proud of.

It’s true that your original story *might* be correct. But our stories are often based on our biases, assumptions and other factors, so they aren’t always reliable.

Believing the first story in your head may have you heading down the wrong path, or addressing the situation with a less than helpful attitude.

Have you noticed any stories that you were telling yourself that turned out to be false? Share your examples with the thoughtful leaders in the comments below!

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