Most leaders are so overwhelmed by the present and consumed with the future that they fail to leverage the learning of the past. In his work on the subject of authentic leadership Bill George from Harvard interviewed hundreds of leaders. They ranged from their 20’s through their 80’s and had held leadership roles in for-profit and non-profit organizations.
George tracked their successes and failures by capturing and mining their stories. The results are captured in True North, one of the tools I use when coaching strategic leaders. Bill begins with the same process that I begin with – digging into a leaders leadership journey. Using some of Bill’s guidelines and adding a few components from my experience with leaders, the process looks like this.
- Identify defining moments in your life, one in each of these eras: early childhood, high school years, college years and work life. Write at least a half page describing the defining moment, why it impacted your life, and how it affects your leadership today.
- Look for themes in the stories. How do you react to failure or success? What issues from the past have you ignored or failed to process? What was the key learning from each experience?
- How has your current leadership role and style been affected by your story, and how does your story impact the way you lead and make decisions today?
Though this is only part of the process, you can already see how helpful it can be in moving ahead as a leader. For example, here is what 2 leaders have said
“Mining my story helped me discover a pattern – conflict avoidance under stress. It started in high school and has been evident in two leadership roles. I tend to withdraw and hesitate when making key decisions as a result.”
“Overseeing staff has been a strength and a weakness in my leadership. I soon realized the strength was my ability to create a sense of team and community among these key leaders. But the weakness I discovered was an inability to share authority and power. I lost some key people along the way.”
So what can you mine from your story? Who is giving you feedback and helping you process your leadership experiences? What is the best next step for your growth?