We won’t follow you as a leader until we know you as a person.
So if you aspire to lead, you first need to inspire us with your story.
Talk about your moral compass, what you believe in and which values you’ll never compromise.
Talk about your greatest hit, your darkest day and the lessons learned.
Talk about who and what inspires and motivates you.
And talk about the reason you chose to lead, the difference you intend to make and the legacy you hope to leave.
“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,” says Timothy Tobin, author of Your Leadership Story and vice president of global learning and leadership at Marriott International.
“Unfortunately, too often, leaders do not spend time thinking about or planning their story. It is given little thought or attention and it is left to chance. If you don’t tell your leadership story, other people will – and it may not be the story you want told.”
There are two compelling reasons why a leadership story deserves your time and attention.
Knowing your story will make you more self-aware of your strengths, weaknesses and areas for improvement. You stand a greater chance of steering clear of blind spots that can derail your career, ruin your reputation and drive your organization into the ditch.
A leadership story also gives you a better shot at making an emotional connection with us and then winning our trust and support. You can’t be an effective leader if we’re unwilling or uninterested in following you.
“If I don’t know about you as a person, then I don’t know about you as a leader,” says Tobin. “Leadership is about people. Your ability to connect with people can make the difference between great and poor leadership.”
Tobin cautions against telling a leadership story that’s more fiction than fact. Your credibility will take a hit if what you say doesn’t align with what you do and what we see.
“You cannot fake leadership,” says Tobin. “It must be sincere and real and reflect who you are. You must search your soul for what you truly believe and not just massage what you want others to see or hear.”
Understanding your leadership story is just part of the equation. You also need to tell it. “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.”
All good storytellers understand their audience. What do we want to hear from you and what do we need to know? What’s on our minds and what concerns us? If you don’t know, ask us and we’ll tell you.
“To effectively communicate your leadership story to your audience, you need to show empathy and establish relevance,” says Tobin. “You need to be able to put yourself in their shoes.”
The best time to tell us your story is when the stakes are high and there’s something significant to be won or lost for you and our organization. Tobin says you need to maximize these planned and unanticipated make-or-break moments of truth. “Moments of truth are distinct opportunities to share or reinforce your leadership story. It is these events that make your leadership story memorable.”
If you don’t yet have a clear and compelling leadership story, Tobin will help you draft it with a series of questions, activities and tips. He also shows why you won’t be a great leader if you choose to remain a closed book or continue to spin a story made up of alternative facts.
@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College and lives in Hamilton.