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Integrating Your Story into Your Leadership

Updated: Oct 20, 2022

Gone are the days of living two separate lives - personal and professional. As we've all been working from home for a while now, dogs, kids and who knows what else has entered the screen just as we get ready to present. I remember early on when we all transitioned to work from home, I was sitting out on our patio. All THREE kids were home with me while I attempted to work from home. We were in the middle of our team meeting and I was expressing my gratitude for the flexibility needed to balance it all. In all reality, I was losing my mind so in some sense the flexibility helped keep me sane.

Low and behold out run my three kids (ages 5, 5, and 7), screaming, with pajamas on, and play swords chasing each other. I wasn't sure how to respond - laugh, cry, a little of both. Everyone got it and laughed it off. I was a little, or a lot, embarrassed. Or maybe the day that the doorbell rang twelve times during a call because it was May Day and friends were delivering May Day baskets. Dog barking, kids screaming, all of it. It was my normal. Perhaps you can relate to that.

Now life has settled a bit more now that kids are back in school so it's not as chaotic on calls and meetings BUT what those three months did for me and for the world was show the importance of letting people in. We all had stuff going on in our lives then, just as we do every single day. People want to know about the kids and family, just as much if not more about how a project or update is doing. So much of what we do in our personal life impacts that of our professional career, and vice versa.

Letting people in to understand more about our personal side, our story, gives an understanding of what shapes that person into who they are today, and even what underlying things might be impacting their day-to-day performance. It helps give color and texture to the dynamic nature of the personality and most importantly, is the connective tissue that allows us to connect on a human level. A deeper level. One that makes human-to-human connection and long-lasting friendship exist.

Think about a boss you had where you had that human-to-human connection with them, they let you in. When I say human-to-human connection I mean the one where you felt comfortable sharing most things with, without reservation. A boss that knows my kids names Grady, Quinton and Reece, knows that we've lived in several areas throughout Iowa and in St. Louis, that are big Hawkeye fans and enjoy the outdoors, and perhaps even keep up on family matters. The one that you felt was right there with you each step of the way. What did that leader do to make it that way? How did that person make you feel? Most importantly, how did you act differently because of their leadership style?

Two critical elements that come up over and over with clients and in my own relationships is TRUST and VULNERABILITY. I know I can think of one leader in my life where that human-to-human connection was there, and quickly after that I can think of one where it wasn't there. Often times, it was the trust and vulnerability with each of those leaders, and likewise with me, that made the difference. They openly shared about their lessons learned, where they have have shortcomings and just demonstrated how they are human, just like the rest of us. It opened me up to do the same.

I was more apt to work harder for the leader where trust was established and want to support and serve in whatever way I could. In the other example where there was no trust, it was harder to get myself motivated to want to go above and beyond for that leader, and even talk openly about how I was feeling. The leader with no trust was very structured and business-oriented without regard for what else might be going on.

So how do we get there? How do we make that more of the norm, vs. an exception? Many times when leaders aren't willing to open up and be vulnerable, it's their own past wounds or insecurities that keep them in that guarded place. They haven't done the internal work or taken responsibility for their actions and behaviors in the relationship. In my examples where trust wasn't established, I am taking a hard look in the mirror to understand what I could have done differently to help restore and build that. It takes both parties to lean into the concept so perhaps at times it's understanding yourself more and being open about you to enable your leader to do the same - managing up to some degree.

Being vulnerable with people, empowers them to share their story, be their authentic selves. Vulnerability also builds that trust with people. They know if you are sharing your story, they must trust you. Research shows that trust and vulnerability make teams more productive and efficient in what they are doing, and happier and healthier in their day-to-day lives and at work.

Some questions to reflect on as you think about the culture you are creating in your micro teams (both as a team member and as the leader):

  • How are you demonstrating vulnerability? Are you sharing both your "ups" and "downs" of your days?

  • When leaders are leaning in with vulnerability, are you reciprocating?

  • Do you struggle having team members open up to you about their life? If so, perhaps a deeper dive into what might be causing that might be advantageous. What are you doing to empower them and build the trust?

  • On professional items, are you demonstrating trust with your team to do their job and giving them flexibility to do what they feel is the best way to work?

I know even 15 minutes at the beginning of meetings to catch up on my kids, family, fun happenings, made a significant difference in knowing and understanding each other. After all, we are all human with a lot of things happening in our lives that in some instances are significantly more important than the work we are doing. That 15 minute personal check-in with genuine curiosity and caring will take the professional relationship to new levels.

Resource: The Power of Vulnerability by Brene Brown. If you don't have time to listen or read to the entire book, check out this Ted Talk.

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