The path to becoming a leader is never clear. You may arrive at a leadership position by luck, opportunity, hard work or even because of a disaster. It is precisely because of this that many people, as they begin to transition into leadership roles, begin to search out the leadership story of others. From the stories of others we can understand our own leadership contexts and challenges — identify patterns and similarities, and determine how we can apply these lessons to our personal and professional challenges. However, as I have stated on many occasions, for the leader, learning never ends — hence the never-ending line of business and leadership books populating the shelves of airport bookstores.
Now, of course, there are some great blogs and articles that provide leadership advice. One which was recently voted as the best leadership blog is Steve Roesler’s All Things Workplace. Take a look through the archives on Steve’s blog and read through some of his posts and you will soon realize he not only brings a depth of understanding to his thinking around leadership, he also provides practical tips for how you can begin applying this to your own approach to leadership.
In this article, Steve discusses how you can boost the impact of your communication by thinking in threes — facts, emotions and symbols. It is a great read. But what he explains so well is the importance of the power of leadership stories to humanize the leader and to engage your teams. Remember, especially if you work in a large organization, many of the people you come in contact with will only know you by your announcements, “communications” or presentations (or worse, because of the box with your name in the org chart). One of the most important aspects of learning to lead is to bring a sense of authenticity to your dealings with people across your company. As Steve explains:
The word Authenticity is used frequently as a trait to be desired and valued. But you can’t possibly connect authentically without acknowledging how you feel about the situation you are describing. If you stick to the numbers or the steps in your plan, you aren’t connecting.
Perhaps a good example of this in action is background-foreground communication — where you share something that has been pre-occupying your thinking. But no matter how you decide to activate a factual, emotional and symbolic relationship with your teams, one thing is clear — the aim is to create a leadership story in which you can allow your colleagues to play a role. This perhaps, is the hardest lesson of all!
Nina Nets It Out: No matter where you are in your career, we can always learn more about the art of leadership, and Steve Roesler’s All Things Workplace blog is an excellent resource for all leaders.
This is a very kind reference and much-appreciated.
I smiled at your so-true “airport bookstore” example. The fact that business books keep on keepin’-on frequently baffles me until I realize that:
a. All of us need a voice that we can hear. Ten different people may write about the same topic; but for some reason a particular style or story may hit us harder individually than the other nine.
b. Due to a current business situation, we’re finally ready to hear a much-needed lesson.
c. Those of us who have been around for a while sometimes forget that new managers are constantly being hired or promoted around the clock, globally. Things that we take for granted may be exactly what a new manager needs to hear in order to make it through the day.
Whether it’s sharing cumulative knowledge as a result of your global role with SAP or discussing learnings from client engagements –there is an opportunity and, I would suggest, an obligation to hopefully shine a helpful light for the leaders of today and tomorrow.
It’s a treat to be connected as a part of that.
A well-deserved mention as I read [and thoroughly benefit from doing so] your writings regularly [well, as regularly as my crazy schedule permits] and greatly appreciate your insights and guidance. I agree with your assessment as to why business/leadership books just keep on truckin’. And, I also agree that we leaders have an obligation to show the way, as best as we can, to others stepping into leadership positions. Thanks for being a part of that!
Thanks for underscoring stories Nina. I hear managers in corporations speak wistfully about how influential it will be once they’ve pulled their stories together. But the words are usually spoken in a hopeful future tense.
I think you’re right that we miss the power of stories. When I worked for a computer company in the mid-80’s, part of orientation was a story about a senior manager who had been fired for taking a carton of milk from the cafeteria without paying. I didn’t hear it as threatening, but rather a clear example of the importance the company placed on integrity.
Ten years later, I worked for another tech company where the stories circulated wild like a pack of feral cats. The one I remember concerned our attempt to get a leg up in the market at the expense of one of our partners.
The stories were more effective at conveying the cultures of the companies than any employee handbook.
Thanks for your note and for sharing your personal stories from your own career. Stories do have a way of highlighting the values, culture and interests of companies and leaders must understand how best to use them to imbue these elements within their teams.