In movies and books, the back-story is a story behind the story that tells us what led up to the main story or plot. In the third Indiana Jones movie, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the movie begins with a scene set during Indiana’s childhood, explaining where he acquired his hat, his whip, the scar on his chin, and his fear of snakes.
Leadership is storytelling in its purest form. Stories are a powerful form of communication that uplift, inspire, and create energy to accomplish the extraordinary. Leaders have stories too. There are stories they tell themselves about their leadership, stories they tell their teams about what’s important, and stories that inadvertently sabotage their influence and credibility. That’s where the leadership back-story comes in.
A leaders back-story is that part of their history that speaks so loudly people can’t hear the current story. The back-story overrides the current story of growth, innovation and transformation and scripts the performance of a leaders organization in subtle yet profound ways. Integrating all aspects of a leaders story is essential to having people willingly follow them.
What’s your story?
Leaders have an easy time telling the story about who and what they want to become. What they find difficult is telling the story of who they have been, and what part of their life experience is getting in their way of being the leader they aspire to. One of the ways I coach executives to understand their story and to build their leadership brand is with the following questions:
1. Who are you?
2. What’s your purpose for being on this plant?
3. What are you doing on a daily basis to achieve number two?
These three questions require time and commitment and form the basis of writing a personalized leadership script. The questions are designed to cultivate a purpose driven leadership – one that compliments corporate America’s focus on profit driven leadership.
In the movie Jaws, Richard Dreyfus played a marine biologist committed to and fascinated by sharks. But his fascination turned to terror the closer he got to the shark in the movie. The closer he got the more he said, “We need a bigger boat”. Leaders do the same. The closer they get to that part of their leadership that has for years remained hidden to them they can be heard repeating “I’m too busy and I’m slammed at work”.
If you think that by answering these three questions that it’s safe to go outside and start leading again, then you need a bigger boat. There is a fourth and fifth question; questions that require a marine biologists curiosity and Richard Dreyfus’s enthusiasm for sharks.
• What part of my back-story is getting in the way of me being the leader I aspire to become?
• What needs to be jettisoned, eschewed, or thrown from the train to more effectively be who I am and lead my organization effectively?
Repeating “we need a bigger boat” will not help here. What will help is repeating, “I need a bigger yes”.
A bigger yes, that part of us that aspires to living a life of meaning, requires turning back the pages of time and rewriting your leadership story. It is a courageous act, and one that pays huge dividends both personally and professionally.
So, what’s your story?