It’s harsh. It’s humbling. Oh, and btw – it’s true.
Becoming a leader really isn’t about you.
Sorry (not sorry).
The truth is, leadership is about your team and taking them somewhere they want to go. If you’re a leader who’s all about numero uno, you could be in for a lonely old time.
At best, people will roll their eyes behind your back 🙄. At worst, they simply won’t join you on the journey.
So, how do you take yourself out of the limelight, give others a chance to shine and lead them down the right path?
It’s all in the telling
You need to create a story about the future. One that’s inspiring, crystal clear and roomy enough for other characters.
Jon Osborne, our go-to people and leadership expert, gave us his take on storytelling (without the ego) in Part 3 of our New Leaders podcast series. His interesting insights will give you everything you need to create your own engaging story that’s uniquely yours – but still keeps your team centrestage.
Your leadership story
Everyone has a story. The trick with leadership is creating a story other people want to be part of.
“The key thing here is how do you, as a leader, tell a story which has relevance to your audience?” asks Jon. “The key to relevance, of course, is talking about something people care about.”
So, where do you even start with that? According to Jon, there are 3 questions to ask yourself:
- What is your story about leadership?
Heads up: it’s self-examination time! You won’t get far if you try to be someone else (with someone else’s story). Do you need to have all the answers? Are you only about you and your development? Is your focus on serving other people?
Once you’ve (truthfully) answered those questions, you’ll have a starting point. Keep it simple and go from there.
- Is your story getting the right results?
“If there’s a big mismatch between how you’re perceived by other people and how you want to be perceived, that’s probably a good indication that maybe there are some things in your story that don’t land for other people, or don’t quite resonate,” offers Jon.
Don’t stress if you need to rework a few bits – no one ever submits their first draft!
- Do I need to redesign my story?
Story not quite right? Not a big deal. Have some frank conversations with people around you, get their feedback and consider what’s missing.
It’s your story to devise, develop and deliver.
Every story has a hero (and a mentor)
If we think about a story, they usually consist of:
🦸♀️ A main character (our ‘hero’)
🧑🏫 A secondary character (the ‘mentor’)
😰 A challenge to overcome (both external and internal)
😊 The happy ending (cue the tear-jerking tunes).
Of course, life is never that straightforward. And while that formula works for Hollywood, it doesn’t usually play out like that in the workplace (or anywhere other than a movie set 🎬).
“If your leadership’s all about you, I think your actual challenge is that people may not really care,” Jon says.
But what if we look at the ‘mentor’ in the story and their relationship with the hero? That’s the angle Jon wants us to consider.
“If the people I’m serving, if my team or even my boss is the hero, then how am I the mentor? How am I helping them achieve their mission? You can tell the story you want and you can live the story you want.”
So long as it’s not all about you.
From me to we
Yep. Telling your leadership story means making the shift from the ‘me space’ to the ‘we space’. Your job now is to take a confident, powerful step into the ‘we space’ where you essentially make your team the heroes of the story.
Recognise their differences, truly get to know them and be their platform to greater things.
Like we’ve said (ad nauseam, we get it), it’s not about you.
We all love the idea of authenticity. But what does it mean in the workplace and, more importantly, as a new leader?
“Authenticity is always a good place to be as a leader,” Jon tells us. “But you don’t just tell a story [about it]; you create a plan and make it clear what people need to do.”
Because leadership is more than simply laying your soul bare to those around you. Tell it how it is, sure, but separate yourself from the story somewhat and – crucially – empower people to take action.
The one thing that distinguishes a mentor from a hero? The mentor demonstrates empathy and authority.
Be honest, open and upfront. But remember to also give people a purpose to work for and plan to get there.
How could I be wrong?
We’ve touched on the new leader mentality of ‘I need to know everything about everything’ in other blogs. Consider this your reminder to let that go!
Jon says if you find yourself defaulting back to the ‘Oh, I know the answer, I’m going to jump in and take control’ mode, it’s time to step back and ask a few questions:
- How could my interpretation be wrong here?
- How am I reading this situation wrong?
- Are we approaching this wrong?
Switch on your growth mindset, keep asking questions and be open to feedback. You’ll learn WAY more (faster), connect better and genuinely earn your team’s respect.
The world doesn’t need another David Brent.
Stepping away from the spotlight
Your leadership story is all yours. But the journey is not (oh, and did we mention it’s not about you? 😉)
Rather, it’s your moment to be your team’s trusted mentor – to focus on them, give them the guidance they need and make them the heroes of your story.
“Many [people] who are new to leadership roles think it’s all about them,” Jon concludes. “If you’re a leader and you’re consumed with self-interest, then why would you expect anyone else to want to follow you?”
Building on that muscle of playing in the ‘we space’, asking the right questions and being aware of your own limitations will make you a stronger, more empathetic leader who gets the most from your team. Want more info, insights and intel on new leadership? Check out our podcast series here!