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Re-write History? You? Never

Re-write History? You? Never

Nicola Hopes

6 April 2021

There’s often a chasm greater than the Grand Canyon between how leaders describe their work history and how others see it. As evidenced by my quizzical high eyebrow raise in many a one to one (I’m famous for it!).

The story you’re telling yourself and others about your path to become a leader is your reality. And when you’re too hard on yourself it affects your focus and your energy, therefore your ability to grow.

Let me explain.

Do you tell yourself you were always destined for greatness? Perhaps evidenced by your powerful portrayal of ‘Tree in Wood’ in the school play?

Or are you that same person who thinks they were slow to learn in maths and therefore always have a point to prove?

(Hint: the latter tends to be an impossible perfectionist).

Research published in the Harvard Business Review in 2020 – from in-depth interviews with a cross section of leaders – found there’s a direct link between the story they tell of their leadership origins and their present-day role and realities.

The research clearly demonstrates that the story we tell ourselves about our working life has meaning. And power.

Who knew?

Jackanory time

Have a think about how you describe your work history – both to yourself and others, and ask yourself – does it actually help me?

As an example – the leader whose time has been stretched in lockdown with family commitments could choose to tell themselves either of these options:

Option A I face into every day for my team, despite often feeling I can’t cope. I have overcome the drains on my time and get the work done anyway.

Option B I’m distracted and erratic and can’t seem to find time for everything on the to do list. Perhaps I just need to buck up a bit?

They both feel like a version of reality, but you can see at a glance the different impact they have.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating living in denial of any failures. I’ve learned a lot from my mine – hopefully so they don’t repeat. I would also counsel against a bullet-proof shield that’s impervious to critical feedback.

I’m just suggesting something a bit, well, kind.

Something that feels like a supportive slap on the back rather than a kick up the proverbial.

Have another think about the story you tell about how you got to where you are.

  • What’s your leadership plotline? Where you started, the main events, your big decisions and today’s gripping cliff-hanger.

  • What language do you use? Is it liberally sprinkled with overly negative judgement that you could re-phrase?

  • Do you see denial? Seek out the gloss paint you may have liberally splodged over any disasters. Own those mistakes and what they taught you.

Does that now feel like a story you can live with? A story you can build on? One who’s next paragraph will be your next big success?

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