Are You The Kind Of Leader People Naturally Want To Follow?

Part 1 of a 3 Part Mini-Series. (Taken from a workshop I will be presenting on September 5th for the Uppercase Conference.)

Photo by  Ethan Weil  on  Unsplash

Photo by Ethan Weil on Unsplash

Human capital is the greatest resource you will ever have. If you don’t learn how to build a great relationship with yourself, you can’t build a great relationship with others.

To start, you must learn to identify and let go of the stories you tell yourself about yourself and the stories you tell about others. Our stories drive our behavior and our actions. Our stories separate us from each other. Our stories divide us.

Let me tell you a little story about me.

I grew up feeling super awkward as a kid. I was 5’7 by the 7th grade with two inch thick glasses and braces. I was Jewish and hung out with a lot of non-Jewish kids who felt it okay to make anti-Semitic statements. I was so unsure of myself I never stopped them. I never said a word. The story I told myself is that I had to be cool and try to fit. Sometimes being cool meant doing things that went against my better judgment.

Then my parents got divorced. I became rebellious and angry.  By the age of 15 I found myself on probation for stealing money from a neighbor. Me, the one with the solid midwestern middle class family had become a "juvenile delinquent."

Now the story I told myself was that I was awkward, a misfit, AND a juvenile delinquent.

I was unhappy. I was mad at the world. I was mad at myself.

Until one day I talked to a mentor, a coach, who made me realize that I wasn't awkward, or a misfit or even a "juvenile delinquent." Those were all labels—labels made up by someone else that I had adopted as real.

I made it real by buying into those stories and continuing to think the world was against me and owed me something. The truth was I was the only one keeping that story intact and by keeping that story intact, the future I saw for myself was very limited and very scary.

Each of us has a vision of who we want to be in the world and how we want to get there. Most of us die trying. Why? For one reason and one reason only—our stories.

Look maybe you can’t identify with my story.

But we all have them. Stories I mean. Opinions we have about ourselves that we think are the TRUTH : I am shy. I am unpopular. Nobody understands me. Nobody likes me. I don’t know what I’m doing.

We walk around with our stories, unspoken, like messages on a t-shirt and we never have to say a word.

It’s called non-verbal communication.

If your story were one word on a t-shirt, what would your t-shirt say? Shy? Loner? Scared? Abused?

It would be one thing if your story had no impact at all, or in a limited sense, only had an impact on you. 

But Your story doesn’t just impact how you see yourself as a leader, your story impacts how you relate to others.  Your story keeps you separate from the people you want to lead and the people who naturally would follow you.

To become a great leader, you must stop telling stories, and learn to deal only with the facts.

My story was I was a misfit, a juvenile delinquent, awkward and no one liked me.

The facts? I stole $140 from a neighbor, was caught, and had to do public service. I also had a lot of friends so it wasn't true that no one liked me.

My story impacted me until I was in my mid-30's. I walked around like a boxer with my dukes up ready to defend myself from some attack that I was sure was about to come. I kept people at a distance only allowing them to come so close. I was known as someone who got things done but was a hardass. 

On the inside? I was a ball of mush. A super sensitive person who took things personally and had a hard time holding those that worked for me to account so that they could become better at their job.

What's your story? How does your story affect the way you react to others?

How does your story affect the way you relate to your future?

Our stories are a result of what others said to us, what our parents told us or opinions we formed about ourselves at a very young age. Yet we continue to carry them with us as if they are the truth.

Those stories aren't real but the impact of your story is very real.

Your stories limit you as a leader because they limit how you see yourself, what you think is and isn’t possible and ultimately the difference you think you can make.

If you want to be the kind of leader that people naturally want to follow, you must be able to recognize and own the stories you have made up about yourself and let them go.

Once you do that you will be far more able to see the stories you have others and you can let those go too.

Once you do that, what’s left?

What’s left is a blank canvas and like a great artist you can now create a story that empowers you to be a great leader. The kind of leader people naturally want to follow.

If your new story were on a t-shirt, what would it say? How do you want to be known as a leader?

Jen Coken