A big topic in leadership development circles today is the importance of storytelling. Whether you are an executive who is communicating a major change or important initiative to your organization, or a manager who is communicating stretch goals with your team, research has found that telling stories is much more effective at communicating than simply sharing facts and figures1. Beyond the stories you use to inspire your team, there’s another “story” that plays a pivotal role in gaining opportunities at work — your Personal Leadership Brand Story.
What is a Personal Leadership Brand Story?
No matter where you are in your organizational structure, the most important story you “tell” is your leadership brand story. Your Personal Leadership Brand is the implicit and explicit narrative others tell themselves about you.
This story affects how others value, respect, and respond to you and your work. Even more importantly — it is the story you tell yourself about your value, your capabilities, and your worth. It is important to understand how your leadership brand story is told — for yourself, for your team, and for your organization.
You’ll Be Surprised When You Realize Who’s Talking Most About You
If you are like most of our clients, you may be surprised how much your brand is being “told” without you realizing it. As a result, your leadership brand story may not be perceived in the way you think it is.
It may not be what others are saying that causes them to have negative perceptions about you. It may actually be what you are saying about yourself — the words coming out of your own mouth — that is causing the problem.
Make no mistake, your Personal Leadership Brand story is being told! This is why it’s imperative you become the master of your story.
Three Ways You Tell Your Personal Leadership Brand Story
Not surprisingly, it is told in essentially three ways:
- What you do and how you do it.
- What you say and how you say it.
- What you cause others to feel about what you do and what you say.
What You Do and How You Do It
The adage, “Actions speak louder than words.” is true unless your words discredit your actions.
Even if you meet your deadlines, have a good attitude, and otherwise communicate positively, you may be self-sabotaging your Personal Leadership Brand with your own favorite self-sabotaging throw-away lines.
Self-Narrating Your Personal Leadership Brand Story
Self-Narration — the way you talk about yourself to yourself and others — has a powerful influence on how others perceive your Personal Leadership Brand.
This self-narration can (often inadvertently) cause you to self-sabotage much of the credibility you’ve established for yourself — hard-won credibility you’ve earned as you’ve delivered stellar results and fostered meaningful relationships at work.
For example, in response to a simple question, such as “How are you doing?” or “What have you been up to lately?” you might catch yourself saying something like:
- “I just don’t know what I’m going to do…” (and begin moaning about the problem.)
- “Wow, I’m pretty stressed right now…” (and start complaining about the workload.)
- “Oh, nothing much…” (then trailing off without adding much to the conversation.)
The self-sabotaging impression you create through this variation of self-narration is that you are:
- Over your head,
- May not be able to cope, or
- You aren’t on the ball.
This is not the impression you want to be leaving! Don’t tell a story that pollutes the perception others have about you.
Are You Opening or Closing Doors of Opportunity?
As a high performer, your leader may not feel comfortable advocating for your promotion. Why? Although you demonstrate proficiency in your work, the way you speak about yourself and your work is off-putting.
Perhaps your leader has witnessed your use of self-sabotaging language as you’ve interacted with other teams. This behavior reflects poorly on your own capabilities and the capabilities of your leader and your leader’s entire team.
Although internal self-talk is thought to be private, its effects on a team are profound!
So, Why Do You (and Others) Self-Sabotage?
In our experience of working with thousands of clients, the reason you self-sabotage is because you are either letting insecurity or fear slip out. Or you want to seem approachable and authentic.
So, what is the solution?
Do you just pretend you have it all together?
What if you really are struggling, are stressed, or are having a difficult time?
If you are overwhelmed, DON’T “fake it until you make it”! Don’t put up a wall if you need support. Reach out! Nothing burns trust faster than making people believe you have things handled when you need some help.
And as a leader, you want your people to be able to communicate clearly, speak up on important issues and, when needed, ask for help. You want to have confidence in them and not have to worry that they are overwhelmed or over their heads.
The Key to Ending Self-Sabotaging Your Personal Leadership Brand Story
How do you stop undermining your success?
To avoid leaking insecurity, putting on a facade, or hiding your fear, there is a question you should answer. It’s the key to stopping self-sabotage, and authoring a confident and competent Personal Leadership Brand:
How can I communicate what is true about this situation while also conveying that I’m up to the challenge and responsibility?
Being mindful of this question, let’s return to the examples from earlier. Here’s how you could rephrase responses to the question: “What have you been up to lately?”:
- Instead of saying: “I just don’t know what I’m going to do…” (and moaning about the problem), you say: “You know, I’m in the middle of XYZ and there’s a lot of things coming at me. But I’m confident that we’ll get through it just fine. However, I’d love to run a few things past you…” (and then ask for their help.)
- Instead of saying: “Wow, I’m pretty stressed right now…” (and complaining about the workload), you say: “I have my hands pretty full right now, but I’m learning a lot and I really appreciate the support I’m getting.” or “I’m reaching out to Sally for some insights on how to navigate this particular aspect of the project.”.
- Instead of saying: “Oh, nothing much…” (and trailing off without adding much too the conversation), you say: “I’m between projects right now, so if there is anything I can work with you on I’d love to help out.”
In each of these possible responses, you’ve communicated authentically how you are doing, AND you haven’t raised any cause for concern that you aren’t able to fulfill your responsibilities.
Authoring a Confident Personal Leadership Brand Story
As you can see, self-narration plays an important role in telling your Personal Leadership Brand story. To maintain credibility and positive work relationships, be mindful of how you speak to yourself and about yourself. By self-narrating authentically and truthfully, you make it easier for others to value, respect, and positively respond to you and your work. This is true for you and for those you lead.
Equipped with what you know now, you’re ready to better: unlock leadership potential, become known for providing even higher value, and deliver stellar results!
We’re here to help you, your team, and your organization succeed. We have a number of leadership development solutions tailored to suit individual and organizational needs and investment levels. Simply Book a Consult to discuss your situation and determine the next best steps for you or others in your organization.
- Boris, Vanessa. “What Makes Storytelling so Effective for Learning?” Harvard Business Publishing, 20 Dec 2017, https://www.harvardbusiness.org/what-makes-storytelling-so-effective-for-learning/