Why the leaders story matters (especially right now)
A few years ago I was working with a leadership team in the IT space. The team was struggling to promote their services internally and their leader, Anne, wanted me to help them with their engagement and communication.
For our first session, each person was given a topic to develop a story around. This was a challenging session and the following 1-1’s weren’t that much better. The second session was around each leader creating their own story. Unfortunately, Anne couldn’t attend as she had an important management meeting. This session went incredibly well and the following 1-1’s were fantastic. After this, Anne and I had a debrief:
Anne: “I heard the session went well and the team got a lot out of it”
Mark: “Yes it was amazing. Normally the personal session is the hard one.”
Anne: “Why was this different?”
Mark: “Because you weren’t there.”
Anne: “OK…. Why did that make a difference?”
Mark: “Because your team don’t trust you.”
Anne: “But all I do is try to protect them from management. You know the meeting I was at was to try and save their jobs?”
Mark: “I know that, but they don’t because you haven’t been honest with them.”
Anne was trying to protect her team from a companywide staff reduction, and not distract them from what they had to deliver. The challenge was that her team weren’t aware of this and took her secrecy as a sign she didn’t trust them. While her intent was noble, her impact was divisive. The problem was the team didn’t know Anne’s story.
Particularly in times of crisis a leader’s story matters. There are 4 things we look for in a leader’s story:
- Be a role model first and a preacher second
We need leaders to go first and role model the behaviours they are trying to develop in their people. By being open and using personal experience, a leader is able to demonstrate how they see the world and what they expect of their people.
- Create meaning and make sense of our world
In times of great change, we look to our leaders to understand us and make sense of our world. By creating meaning out of the chaos, a leader can bring a team together and create one version of the truth.
- Share their vision and trust them to guide us
In order to lead effectively, it is critical that a leader create a vision and plan that the team can share. By doing this, a leader can engage the team and make them a critical part of delivering that vision.
- To inspire hope and show us what’s possible
During uncertain times, fear can become a dominant emotion. Fortunately, hope trumps fear, so it is critical that a leader creates hope for their team and gets the team to focus on what is possible.
Following our meeting, I worked with Anne on her story where we focused on these four principles. I then got her to share her story with the team at the start of our next team session and acknowledge that there was an issue of trust in her leadership. By telling her story openly and honestly, she was able to shift the dynamic within the team and immediately regain the trust of her people. More importantly, in that moment she shifted from being a preacher to a trusted role model for her team.