This post is a distillation from Chapter IV of Steve’s upcoming book: Unleashing the Power of Your Story
Smash Words, Fall/Winter, 2013.
Your Story at Play in your Leadership
Have you ever been in the middle of a leadership situation and felt, “I’ve been here before”? The content of the situation may be new, but nonetheless, the territory seems very familiar. Have you experienced a tough, high-pressure challenge that was important for you to deal with effectively, but you felt stuck? You may have experienced yourself trying the same things over and over again, each time trying a little harder, and each time feeling more stuck. Conversely, you have probably experienced leadership challenges that came out wonderfully despite huge problems; you performed to the max, your energy flowed naturally, and you were successful. You may or may not have known why things went so well, but you knew that they did, and you knew you felt great.
Experiences like those above are reflections of your deep systemic story at play in your leadership.
One of the most powerful ways to understand your leadership, to learn why you behave and lead as you do, and to discover ways of significantly increasing your effectiveness as a leader, is to understand your systemic story.
What is a Systemic Story?
Your systemic story is the story you have told yourself about your experience in systems, particularly the first system of which you were a part. It reflects how you learned to survive and operate in systems; for example, your story reflects how you learned to:
Relate to key players in your life system
Get noticed, or avoid being noticed
Protect yourself and take risks
Respond to authority, and exert your own authority
Give and receive love
At its core, your systemic story is the internal narrative you have created about your experience of the human condition. As such, it is central to who you are as a human being, as a leader, as a coach, and as a consultant.
Seeing your Story
Sometimes, trying to see your own story without someone to reflect with is akin to trying to see your own face without a mirror. Working with your story requires the capacity to parallel process—to watch yourself doing what you are doing, the ability to reflect deeply and learn from that reflection, a great measure of patience, and practice, practice, practice. It also requires a framework to help you think about and understand your story. Hopefully, this material will provide you with the kind of framework and mirror that you need. Having a useful framework, deep self-reflection, and lots of practice can lead to powerful breakthroughs.
In the journey of learning to see your own systemic story, start observing yourself. “Stand on your own shoulder”, “on the balcony”, and watch yourself in interactions.
Pay particular attention to how you handle challenging situations—what you think about them, how you feel about them, and what you do about them. Thinking, Feeling, and Acting (meaning, affect, and power) are the three fundamental components of your story.
After doing the above a few times, continue practicing. Observe yourself doing what you are doing, particularly in important, high stakes situations. As David Kantor says, “learn to save 15% of your mind to observe yourself and let the other 85% deal with content.” Learn to pay attention to your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in these situations.
To see your story even more clearly, ask yourself “What is my self talk about this situation? What am I telling myself about it?” Start to think about your self-talk, what you are telling yourself, as a story. Answer this question: “What is the story I am telling myself about this situation?”
Ask yourself “is this way of thinking, behaving, and feeling new for me, or have I done them before? Many people respond to this question with an answer like, “Oh, I’ve always done that; I’ve always been this way.” If something like that is your answer, you can be almost certain that you are beginning to see the plotline of your deep story.
As you practice observing and reflecting, you will find that your thoughts, feelings and behaviors do indeed fit into a storyline that reflects how you have learned to survive and succeed in systems.
Next: Creating a New Story
For many, seeing their story is a breakthrough. As Peter Block once said, “The first step to getting out of the cage you are in is to see the cage you are in.” People often feel a sense of release and start spontaneously thinking, feeling, and behaving differently; they start creating a new story. There are also specific things you can do to create and refine a new leadership story for yourself. Those steps will be the topic of my next post.
Steve is a senior executive coach and consultant. He has developed and successfully uses a powerful approach to leadership coaching, Creating your Leadership Story, which enables leaders to make deep, lasting improvements in their leadership effectiveness in short periods of time. He and a group of partners created a breakthrough educational program, Coaching from a Systems Perspective, in which you can significantly enhance your abilities as a systemic leadership coach.
If you would like to learn more about systemic approaches to leadership or story work, feel free to call or email Steve:
Steven P. Ober EdD
President: Chrysalis Executive Coaching & Consulting
Affiliate: Systems Perspectives, LLC
Office: PO Box 278, Oakham, MA 01068
Home: 278 Crocker Nye Rd., Oakham, MA 01068
O: 508.882.1025 M: 978.590.4219
Leadership Blog: https://management.org/blogs/leadership