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Know the Stories Others Tell About You

by | Jan 9, 2023 | KLC Framework

Here are some examples (adapted from Your Leadership Edge by Ed O’Malley and Amanda Cebula) of people who might be more effective if they paid more attention to the leadership competency of Manage Self. What do you think? Could these three have more impact if they realized the range of stories others tell about them?

  1. A politician thinks he’s great at relating to everyone on the political spectrum. He calls himself a bridge builder. A few like-minded people agree. Others view him more skeptically as coming from an extreme point of view.
  2. A newly hired CEO assumes, based on her past successes, that she has been brought in to listen to key stakeholders and turn the company around. A few people on the hiring committee share that assumption and trust her to balance change with maintaining a strong company culture. But a much larger percentage of employees view her as a hatchet-wielding menace preparing to slash their jobs. Several have adopted an attitude of “I’m going to keep my head down and mouth shut and hope she doesn’t notice me.”
  3. A teacher thinks of himself as a gifted educator. His students get top marks and the most successful sing his praises. His alma mater has recognized his teaching excellence. The school district has assigned him to chair an important committee. But some colleagues see him as a ladder climber, caring more about his resume than collaborating with other teachers. And every year a handful of students grumble about how they’ve been overlooked and marginalized.

Knowing how others perceive you helps you be more effective. Knowing the stories others tell about you requires self-awareness and social awareness, both key aspects of emotional intelligence. Knowing the stories others tell about you requires imagination and humility. The more astute your recognition of the range of stories people tell about you, the more options you’ll discover for wise leadership experiments. Going back to the three examples above:

  1. Say our politician wants to exercise leadership to address water issues in his state. If he embraces the KLC leadership framework and understands the need to work across factions to create lasting change, he may also realize how useful it would be to admit to himself that the story many people are telling is different than the one he tells himself. Leadership may require him to find new ways to engage those who say, “Whatever the issue, his position is probably to be the opposite of mine.” 
  2. Imagine our CEO pauses to manage herself by getting curious about the stories people at different levels of the organization are telling about her. When she does, she’ll recognize that for some she’s a savior, for others a demon. Slowing down for self-management may help her see that leadership requires her to start where they are.
  3. What if our teacher decides he wants to leave a legacy that’s more meaningful than words on a resume? What if he started his career wanting to make a big difference in the lives of his most vulnerable students? A pause to understand the full range of stories being told about him could be painful at first. But in the long run, it would be worthwhile if the new knowledge contributes to his ability to lead and make progress where it matters most. 

When we set out to exercise leadership on an important challenge, we each have choices to make about how best to intervene. Every time we attempt to lead, there are a range of possible roles we could play, moves we could make and approaches we could take. Knowing how people see you, so you can choose which stories to pay most attention to, is an important dimension of Manage Self and an early step in every effort to make progress on something you care about.


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