Everyone has a story. You have one, I have one, your friends have them, your colleagues… even the people you don’t like have stories. We know that we have stories, but we don’t always recognize or acknowledge what our own story is. Examining and taking the time to write your own story can provide insight into some of the most powerful questions we ask ourselves: Who am I? Who do I want to be? What is my ideal self?
As leaders, we are constantly being questioned and examined for our actions – and are expected to be authentic. By understanding our own stories we can be more authentic as a leader. As George, Sims, McLean and Mayer (2007) pointed out, after conducting more than 125 interviews with leaders in all age groups, “Leadership emerged from their life stories. Consciously and subconsciously, they were constantly testing themselves through real-world experience and reframing their life stories to understand who they were at their core. In doing so, they discovered the purpose of their leadership and learned that being authentic made them more effective.”
Not long ago, I read an article by Marshall Ganz, a Harvard Professor and community organizer outlining the power of narrative. The article was published in 2008, and was titled, “What is Public Narrative.” In it, Ganz broke down the three different stories that go into pubic narrative and leadership: a story of self, a story of us, and a story of now.
In this blog, I am focusing on the story of self (and will focus on the other two in subsequent posts). So, why is the story of self so important? For three simple reasons:
1) By writing our story of self, it provides insight into who we are – Discovery of self.
2) Our story of self gives us the language to effectively express who we are to others – Communication of self.
3) Understanding our story, and writing and rewriting our story of self, leads to authentic leadership – Authenticity.
In his article, Ganz identifies the components of story as Challenge, Choice, and Outcome. In other words, a beginning (current situation), a middle (action), and an end (ending situation). This represents the basic components of story, as I’ve outlined before. There are two types of self-stories, our past story and our future story. When writing our story of self, we can either look at this in a past situation, what was the challenge, what actions did I take, and what was the outcome? Or, we can translate that into future self, what is my current challenge, what is the outcome I want, and what actions do I need to take to get the outcome I am looking for?
By taking time to examine and write our past story and our future story, we gain insight into who we are and what we need to do to be the most authentic version of ourselves as a leader. A powerful tool that, according to George, Sims, McLean, and Mayer, makes us more effective as leaders.
If you are interested in exploring your story of self, click here.
Ganz, M. (2008). What is public narrative. http://leadingchangenetwork.org/files/2012/05/What-is-Public-Narrative-Fall-2011.pdf
George, B.; Sims, P.; McLean, A.N.; and Mayer, D. (2007). Discovering your authentic leadership. Harvard Business Review, HBR.org.