Many parents look forward to story time with their children at the end of the day. More than simply an opportunity to connect, storytelling is deeply embedded in the human psyche. It offers us a way to join together, empathise and make meaning in our lives.
In the workplace – too – leaders are often encouraged to tell inspiring, visionary stories that will motivate their people. And, as Brené Brown says in her most recent book – Rising Strong – we’re all very good at making up stories. Unfortunately they often hook us into the negative meaning we’re making about events and circumstances in our lives.
As we walk the Balanced Leader journey we’re likely to face three types of stories.
First are the stories that define our employer’s corporate culture. The ones that talk about “the way we do things around here” and the organisational heroes. About what will bring rewards, what’s needed to succeed and what’s not possible here. Stories like: “the best managers are the ones that work long hours – that’s how they show commitment.” These stories are often so deeply embedded in the corporate psyche they become the water in which we swim. We need to remain alert to our stories of limitation. In an earlier blog I wrote about Appreciative Inquiry which is a powerful tool for delving into stories.
Secondly, there are the stories we make up about the people around us. Stories like: “my manager is unsympathetic to my need for a flexible arrangement so there’s no point in asking.” “My employer doesn’t value my skills and won’t accommodate me – I either put up with the pressure or leave” and “if I work flexibly my co-workers will resent me”.
Finally there are the stories we make up about ourselves. “I’m happy to take a demotion to work flexibly while my kids are small. It keeps me on the career ladder and I want to be a good mother.” “I’m powerless to negotiate a more flexible arrangement in my current job.” “I don’t want others to judge me as a typical working mother – not committed to her job and struggling to manage her childcare.”
Many of the stories we buy into disempower us. They’re often based on untested assumptions, fear and outmoded thinking. The thing is: until we take a bold step we cannot be sure which of these stories are true. And just as the stories we read to our children grow and develop with them so our corporate stories need to do the same. Sometimes it comes down to us as Balanced Leaders to rewrite the story.
For our own benefit and that of our children let’s own our stories, recognising them for what they are. Let’s explore new possibilities for living more balanced lives. And let’s turn our existing stories of limitation into what Brené Brown calls:
“a story of great possibility, of what could be if our best selves showed up”.