- “I’m a researcher/leader who craves data in order to make make decisions.”
- “I’m a first-generation financial planner/leader driven to build long-term financial security for my clients and my family.”
- “I’m a leader from pioneer stock whose even-keeled nature provides strength and support to myself, my team, and my family.”
These three succinct statements capture the essence of three complex human beings I’ve had the honor of coaching. These statements are practical examples of “identity statements” – a brief version of the leadership narrative, which appeals to short attention spans.
Both the concise identity statement and the longer leadership narrative define a person’s core – who they are, what they stand for, and how they act.
The longer leadership narrative typically includes more context – even though you may need just three minutes or less to share your narrative. You can include one story or a set of stories to convey your values, vision, and purpose. You also can talk about your successes and failures, lessons learned, and any regrets. The narrative also can highlight details about your personal background, challenges you’ve faced personally and professionally, and what you did to overcome them.
Many leaders find their narrative serves as a valuable tool for themselves and others. First, from a personal perspective, creating a leadership narrative helps an individual look into a mirror and see inside themself. To create a genuine narrative, you need to reflect on your lived experiences to date. As you consider how particular incidents in your life have shaped who you are, you gain insights into the perspectives you hold, why you’ve adopted the leadership and management style you use, and how you work on your own and with others.
As you unearth your life story and examine the elements, you get a stronger sense of what you stand for – your values, mindset, intentions, and actions – which can increase your confidence as a leader. You also are able to do a gut check about the extent to which your values and behaviors are aligned. In other words, are you walking your talk, a la your leadership narrative?
Second, assuming you are living what you believe, your leadership narrative also can play another helpful role: a compass to guide you on your future journey. In other words, a few of the leaders I’ve worked with consider their narrative when making potentially consequential life decisions that will affect them professionally and personally. Pausing to ask and answer questions like these help you stay true to yourself:
- “Does this action I’m considering move my narrative forward, or will it change the plot dramatically?”
- “And if the latter, how will the plot change affect my values and my behavior?”
- “Will I still be ’me’?”
And if you find that your current lived life doesn’t line up as well as you’d like with your values and the stories that make up your narrative, you’ve got an opportunity to figure out how to get into alignment. When a person’s values and behaviors at at odds, they often feel conflicted. And that can show up as feeling anxious, depressed, angry, and/or guilty, which over time can harm your health, hurt your work performance, and adversely affect your relationships.
By contrast, when your values are serving as your “North Star,” you feel energized. You feel like you belong. And it’s much easier to focus and get into a flow state.
Third, an accurate leadership narrative benefits your colleagues too. That’s because the narrative acts as a clear window for others to look inside and see who you are. When new and existing team members at any level learn about you through your personal stories, they get to see a more authentic side of you, which makes you come across as more open, approachable, and likeable. They also can understand you better, getting a deeper sense of what makes you tick, what you stand for, and what your priorities are. Your vulnerability in sharing this information also helps you build stronger relationships, which helps increase your credibility and trustworthiness.
And it’s also possible that others may find your narrative so inspirational that they’ll be inclined to listen more fully to you. As a result, it will be easier for you to influence them, including bringing them along on your journey. For instance, you can include them in your shared purpose and show them how they can make meaningful contributions. That makes people feel they are part of something important, a joint vision.
Are these three reasons convincing enough for you to define your leadership identity and craft your narrative? Great! Recognize that doing so requires an investment of time, energy and attention. Even if you decide to work with a coach or someone else, you’ve got to put in some heavy lifting. You need to explore your own lived experiences, your background, and other influences to determine what elements have most shaped your identity. You can’t delegate this “mirror work” to others. By thoroughly looking inside yourself, you’ll have a clearer picture about what best highlights who you are, what you value and guide how you act.
As a leadership coach, I find helping individuals define and develop their leadership statement and/or narrative to be one of the most rewarding things I do. The clarity you and others get makes navigating our noisy world easier, more enjoyable, and more fulfilling.
Connect the dots plus dot the “i”s to be more intentional, inquisitive and inclusive
How well are you tapping into the skills and wisdom you need to lead in a BANI world?
All the old playbooks are out-of-date. Instead, you need to reach inside yourself, tap into your wisdom, and connect the dots for yourself and others.
To start, you can use these 5 tips to embrace your humanity and become a better leader.