Leadership Stories we Tell Ourselves and Teach Others

Often we’ve written a script in our heads that may or may not be true. But this script can be limiting us from attaining our full potential. In this linked post (Is Your “Story” Holding You Back? Six Ways to Rewrite It—and Supercharge Your Power by Nancy D. O’Reilly, PsyD) we discover ways our stories are limiting our leadership potential and how to write new stories.

Think of these stories as a complete glossary of all of the lessons we have learned from those who have led us in the past. It is unfortunate that most of these stories are based upon someone’s perceptions about us that may not always be true and upon our interpretation of those lessons that my not be accurate.

Most of these stories are written from situations that did not go well or where mistakes were made. As leaders we have a responsibility to make certain the lessons we teach those who follow us are based upon truth and not a perception of what we think was the reason and motivation for the lesson. Then we need to be very careful and purposeful in how we communicate those lessons so they are interpreted correctly.

So how do we do this?

The formula is a 5-step process:

  1. Start with taking the time to clearly understand the motivation and goal of an action. This is done through conversations that are not judgmental but honest two-way communications. Be very clean on what you, the leader, think you know and ask for confirmation or disagreement about the purpose or cause of an action.
  2. Ask the person to clearly communicate what they were thinking and how they came to the decision or action that is of concern. Understanding the source of bad training, bad direction, poor judgment or accidents is critical. To do this, we need to make sure we are creating a safe zone for this conversation but also that we are entering this conversation with the attitude that this person didn’t make a mistake or a bad judgment on purpose. The underlying cause is all we want to understand.
  3. Allow the person to self diagnose what happed and why. It is often easy for us to do this for them, but their growth will come from this practice of self-diagnosis.
  4. Allow the person to recommend how they are going to fix the issue and to commit to how they will prevent this situation from reoccurring. Again, it is often hard for us to do this step, we probably know how to fix it but this is where personal growth and learning come from and it is a way to apply real consequences to their actions; the process of fixing the mistake.
  5. After the situation has been fixed and things “return to normal”, set up a time to debrief on this situation and allow the person to identify what they learned and how they have become a better employee because of this learning experience.

This I know to be true more often than not:

  • Your staff sincerely wants to do the best they can, they are not trying to undermine you, the project or the department.
  • Your staff can be critical thinkers and solve the problems that occur if given the support and empowerment to do so.
  • Your staff are adult learners that more effectively at learning when they are doing.
  • Your staff will be inspired to do better when they know they are being asked to learn, stretch and grow every day.

If those who follow you are going to take these stories into their future, we owe them the honest and truthful story…

About Rich Jones

Strategic consultant and Keynote Speaker, Rich brings a deep experience in the disciplines of Strategic Planning, Marketing, Business Development, Digital Transformation, Data Utilization, Leadership Development and Cultural Alignment. A husband, father, runner, cyclist, beer drinker with a passion for life.

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