What is the story you tell about who you are, what you're doing in the world, and what your gifts and challenges are?
If you own or lead a company, what is the story your business is telling about what it does, the significance of its offerings, and its special gifts and challenges?
There is an answer to both of these questions, but do you know it? Or is the story that determines your personal or business level of success known only to others, but a blind spot for you?
Recently I discussed strategies for transformative leadership with Bruce Van Horn, executive coach and host of the popular "Life is a Marathon" podcast. The conversation quickly turned to a discussion of the stories we use to guide our businesses and our lives.
"Words dictate our success. Words actually equal money....The story that we tell ourselves becomes the story that we tell others, and whether we know it or not, that impacts our leadership and all of our relationships...."
If as Bruce says it is our story that shapes our destiny, then it is definitely in our best interest to identify our current guiding story and learn how to shape a better one. Yet we are all well familiar with the many businesses for whom the guiding story seems to amount to nothing more than being providers of increasing profit for shareholders. Their story is all about making something that makes more money than their competitors.
Bruce suggests that companies do best when they have a greater vision than just profit. Moreover, he challenges the employees of a company to hold themselves responsible for whether they are willing to participate in a story that is less than who they aspire to be.
"I like money.... There's nothing inherently wrong with money, but when that becomes the focus of a business, it's the duty of you and me to speak up and say 'This isn't right. These aren't the principles you started this company with, and this vision is no longer my vision. I'm no longer willing to participate.' The person willing to lose their job for that, is really marketable."
Creating a Better Story
It's one thing to acknowledge that an inspiring story is needed to create significant achievement within a business (or one's personal life), and quite another to adopt, believe and live such a story.
Many families, schools and communities raise children with a story of what they can't do, with very limited ideas about what those children can do. What happens when the story a person believes about themselves is limiting them?
I asked Bruce what we as a society might do about people who have never heard a story of their value. What about those who have been raised with a story that says they have nothing of value to contribute?
"What we have to be doing as a culture, what our school teachers have to be doing as teachers, is to set aside the standard of where we're just teaching our students how to take tests and we're not teaching them how to be creative, how to solve problems, how to dream. By the time they get to be our age, they've had dreaming domesticated out of them. It's what I had to learn how to do again."
Leader as Parent
As a business leader wanting to lead a team to greatness, the challenge can be to find a vision inspiring enough to encourage those who do not dream a big dream for themselves to be a part of the realization of a big dream for the company. Bruce sums up the challenge....
"Parenting. Leadership on any level. Whether we're in the home or whether we are in the boardroom, it's the basics of parenting," Bruce shared. "My job as a leader is to have a vision for where this organization is going, what is this company doing, what is the value that we are adding to the world and to all of us who are our team, shareholders or whatever.
"Our #1 responsibility as a leader is to... I love the way Simon Sinek says it. He says, 'Leadership is all about vision. It is having a vision that is so clear that it's as if we're talking about the past.'
"So I can talk to you about where we're going to be in 5 years as a company, or 50 years, and what our company may or may not be doing....We have to have a very compelling vision for what it is we do.
"Our second responsibility as a leader is to parent those underneath us, to instill in them a similar vision. To fuel and empower their creativity."
You can watch the full interview for more on Bruce's approach to creating more successful companies and more successful lives for the people who make up those companies.
Whether you are leading a company or leading just one life, uncovering the story that has shaped your path and demarcated the level of success available to you is a project you owe it to yourself to take on. You may well find that the secret to success is largely about the words you use to frame what you do.
Indigo Ocean Dutton, MA is a business consultant at Awaken Business Consulting and host of Conscious Business Leaders TV. She is also the author of "Being Bliss" and "Micro Habits for Major Happiness."