The heart of leadership starts with your story

I love “ah-ha” moments. We all do. We love the clarity, the sense of accomplishment, the burst of focus and energy that comes with them.

Many of the “ah-ha” moments with my clients arrive when they realize the power of their personal story in how they lead. As I said in my last post, people generally do not follow someone because of their intellect; they follow because they feel that leader’s heart — they sense, see and hear something from them that reveals their purpose, their values and the experiences that have shaped them. As an example (and all of these are real, drawn from my clients over the years), imagine how easily people would follow some of the following senior executives or business owners:

▪   a former nuclear submarine commander who is now facing a critical operational crisis in the organization;

▪   a start-up entrepreneur who fought his way out of an Appalachian coal mining town to give his family and friends a better life;

▪   a young executive who says he learned a lot about influence and responsibility when his grandfather gave him a job training horses at his farm in Virginia;

▪   a founder of a business who used his own credit card to make payroll with the small band of believers who helped him start the business years ago;

▪   an insurance executive who spent two days counseling and supporting a client who just lost their business in a fire;

▪   an executive who helped build one of the nation’s most successful regional airlines by starting in an “office” that was little more than a used trailer with a blackboard.

Sure, some hard-scrabble stories, and a few heroes, but they need not be dramatic to have impact. There are a lot more stories out there, each one unique. In fact, I believe everyone has a great story. I get it out of them every time, because it is there.

And it matters.

First to them, because when you embrace your own story, you understand yourself, what makes you tick and ticked. Stories do not end; you are playing out your story, whether you realize it or not.

Second, it matters to everyone around you. It is not indulgent to share your story. People want to know it anyway (and may even resent it if you withhold it). To hold back is to short-change one of the most powerful tools of leadership. Your story is yours alone. Unlike a business plan or strategy, it does not beg argument; it invites people in and gives them a way to connect with you and understand you.

So, what is your story?

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About paulheagen

I am an executive coach, advisor and confidant who helps leaders better understand, refresh or redirect their purpose in their business and personal lives. Over my 35-year career as a corporate executive, communications consultant and trusted advisor, I have guided executives through “defining moments” – those unique times when the decisions they make, the words they speak, and the qualities they exhibit can influence not only the destiny of their organization but also their own lives and careers. When it comes to my clients and my life work, I am ferociously passionate and restlessly inquisitive about uncovering the unique dreams, vision and purpose that lead to exceptional leadership.
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