All stories, including leadership stories, have a plot, characters, conflict, theme, and setting. For leadership stories or for followership stories to be authentic, details need to be added to each element. We have been awarded for best research on Followership and now sharing to the world through our programs with simple steps.
Step 1: Defining the Plot
A story’s plot provides the reason why actions are taken. As the basis for a leadership story, it can also be called the mission or purpose, and it is most likely driven by what a leader values. The plot of a leader’s story can inspire both the leader and others around him or her.
To determine the plots of their stories, leaders can reflect on what has been rewarding in their careers, what has challenged and energized them, and what they would like to accomplish. Leaders can perform five activities to help them understand and develop their leadership stories:
- Define what makes an effective leader from their own points of view.
- Understand what they believe and how it drives their behaviors, learn how others perceive what they value as leaders, and develop a plan to act differently.
- Determine the things on which they will not compromise, based on their core values.
- List those parts of their career journeys that inspired or excited them, focusing on the positive to determine what energizes them.
- Write their personal leadership mission statements, being sure to include the contributions they want to make and convey the purpose behind why they lead.
Step 2: Connecting with Key Characters
Leadership is about having the emotional intelligence that fosters a strong awareness of oneself and others. In a leadership story, the role of each character (including the leader) revolves around the quality and quantity of relationships. Leaders must be able to identify and take into account their own emotions and feelings as well as those of others.
The most important step that leaders can take toward authoring their leadership stories is to understand how other people perceive their leadership skills. Various assessment tools exist to gather anonymous and candid opinions from others. Others’ perceptions can influence a leader’s story positively or negatively, without the leader knowing it.
In every story, there are protagonists and antagonists. Protagonists believe in the leaders and their potential. Antagonists are detractors, and their desire to see leaders fail can be based on any number of factors. Leaders can even be their own antagonists if they do not have faith in themselves, fail to meet commitments, never learn or grow, or do not respect others.
Leaders can mitigate the efforts and influences of antagonists by demonstrating fairness and good leadership practices. If a leader identifies an antagonist, he or she should work to repair the relationship and learn what has motivated the person, because left unchecked, the efforts of an antagonist can irreparably harm a leader’s story.
Leaders can foster good relationships by:
*Identifying nonwork-related things they have in common with others.
*Working to build trust within each relationship.
*Connecting with three to five leaders to be trusted advisors who can provide mentoring and guidance.
*Expressing gratitude and giving credit to those who have had positive influences on their lives and leadership abilities.
Step 3: Preparing for Conflict
Leaders’ characters and abilities are revealed in how they respond to conflict, struggles, and adversity. Leaders will inevitably encounter unexpected conflicts, both great and small, and they should be prepared to deal with them, learn from them, and become better prepared by them for future challenges.
Leaders may experience negative interpersonal conflicts, which can be based on differences of opinion, personalities, or motivations. Patience and good communication skills help leaders ensure that conflicts do not damage relationships or their leadership stories. However, conflicts can also be positive–for example, among team members with differing opinions, which help great ideas to emerge.
A leader needs to assess the source of conflict, determine how he or she will respond to it, and observe how the response impacts others. Sometimes, gaining this skill requires leaders to react differently than they are accustomed to responding. To build a conflict-management capability, leaders can review how they successfully responded to conflict in the past, practice better responses, and ask for additional guidance from mentors.
Sometimes leaders struggle with internal conflicts, believing they might be exposed as leadership imposters. Such leaders can learn to manage this feeling by becoming more competent with experience and becoming more self-aware. A lack of self-awareness will leave leaders unprepared for conflict and might cause them to respond in unproductive ways.
Step 4: Developing the Theme
The theme of a leadership story is built from personality characteristics, attitudes, technical skills, and interpersonal skills. For leaders to understand what they do well and where they require improvement, they must be aware of their abilities and limitations. Each leader has a different story with a different theme; such differences give a leader credibility. Therefore, a leader should never attempt to be something he or she is not.
Effective leaders are aware of which skills, characteristics, and attributes are most needed in their organizations and how well their abilities match with those needs. Good leaders recognize that each person requires a different approach to being led, which requires leaders to adapt by using different skills. Leaders can determine how others perceive their skills, characteristics, and attributes by encouraging anonymous feedback. Candid remarks can help leaders adjust their behaviors and start repairing relationships.
Self-assessments can be valuable tools if leaders are honest with themselves. Leaders can use another approach by assessing other leaders’ capabilities, negatively and positively, and comparing the results to how they themselves would respond in similar situations.
To help build their leadership stories, leaders can analyze their greatest professional or personal successes and failures and glean lessons from them. Successes show leaders what approaches and skills were used to succeed, which they can continue to use in the future. By analyzing failures, a leader can determine alternative ways to approach a situation and discover a better way to handle it next time.
Step 5: Finding the Optimal Setting
The setting of a leadership story involves the geographical location and organization in which the leader works, as well as the work itself. For many leaders, their stories have emerged from a number of different settings. Sometimes, the setting is the same, but the environment or corporate culture around the leader has changed.
Leaders need to determine how they are affected by their environments and which ones they will thrive in. Developing a plan helps leaders seek environments where they know they can be at their best. Leaders can determine where they want to be emotionally, geographically, culturally, and organizationally and make plans to guide their careers in those directions. Leaders also need to be aware of how settings affect others, and what those others need in order to be at their best. Leaders can then make the changes that are within their control to foster a better environment for others.