Are you moving beyond your history?

Faye’s career has defied all expectations. She started out in the health sector, moved into IT and then into general management. Now she is on the board of the hospital where she started work. If she had allowed her story about herself to define her leadership journey, she would not have achieved such success. There were several defining points in her career where she confronted her personal narrative about what she could reasonably expect to achieve given her history, i.e. her education, gender, work experience, family background and so on.

When she reviewed the story that she told herself about her successes and failures, Faye realised that it would have a profound impact on her career if she did not move beyond it. She had plenty of examples to support the failure version of her story. On the other hand, there was no lack of evidence of her wins, to support an alternative view as a success narrative. People around her also influenced her story if she allowed them to do so. Her health sector colleagues were convinced that they could not move up. Her co-workers in IT believed that their experience was too narrow for general management. Her business colleagues assumed that they were not experienced enough for board roles.

Faye consciously surrounded herself with people who believed in her, had big expectations of her and were themselves up to big things. Meanwhile, she had to deal with her own little voice of doubt, asking her who she was kidding, as she aspired to game-changing leadership roles. She created a bigger narrative for her future, free of her self-imposed limitations. The process was a bit like pruning rose bushes to encourage new growth. She set objectives for herself that compelled her to find new depths to her leadership and defy her history. Interestingly, much of her energy and focus these days is on paying it forward, by supporting people around her to be as great as they can be.

In his book, What You’re Really Meant to Do, Robert Steven Kaplan suggests writing down our success and failure narratives as a way of gaining some insight into how these stories drive our behaviour and our expectations about what’s possible for us. He believes that having done that, you can author a story of your future; you know the one you would like to tell ten or twenty years from now.

Are you moving beyond your history?

Best regards, Brian

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