What Is Your Leadership Story? — Guest Blogger

I have personally know Tim for a number of years and he is a demonstrated authority on leadership in Marriott and serves currently in a role similar to my prior Marriott experience. His book is a great read and provides a framework for each leader to strategically and tactically craft andcreate their own unique story. David

by Timothy J Tobin

Stories have power. They have the potential to energize, inspire, and motivate. They help us make an emotional connection and move people in ways that facts and figures can’t. Every leader has a story – the collection of events, perspectives, values, and behaviors that represent who you are as a leader. It evolves from your unique set of experiences. It communicates a message of identity: What you believe in, what drives you and defines you as a leader, and how you perform.

There is a funny thing that happens when you realize your story. It forces you to clarify what is most meaningful and inspirational to you. Leaders who take a proactive role in understanding and communicating their story have increased capacity, stronger connections, greater self-awareness, greater authenticity, and better preparation to make both routine and unanticipated decisions. Further, awareness of your story gives you the power of influence and authenticity by allowing you to match your words and your actions. It allows you to build trust. Trust leads to credibility.

So then, what is your leadership story? Is it what you want it to be?
By thinking about your career as a narrative – with all the elements of a story – you can increase your self-awareness and become the leader you want to be. To understand your leadership story, you must answer five questions. As with many things in life, you will only get out of this what you are willing to put in.

Question 1: WHAT IS YOUR PLOT?

Every story has a plot. With regard to your leadership story, your plot is your purpose. It is the inspiration behind your action. It addresses the question “Why do you lead?” It’s a simple question, but very few people I coach have given it much thought. This is not about an elevator speech or project management. Leadership must be about setting a vision and inspiring others to pursue it.

To be at your personal best and connect with others, you must have a clearly defined point of view around what leadership means and a clear understanding of your values. What is your personal mission? Where do you want to make a difference and have impact as a leader? If your purpose is not well defined or you are not energized by it, you cannot expect others to be inspired.


Leadership is not about telling people what to do or having them adjust to your style. Leadership is about people. Sure, it is about getting the work done, but it is also about the quality and quantity of relationships and how you go about getting the work done. And since stories are subject to interpretations, others’ perceptions play an integral role in your story. I am often asked, “Are you the primary author or does your story live in the perceptions of others?” The answer is yes to both. If you don’t take primary authorship of your story, it will be crafted exclusively through the perceptions of others.

You may be the main character in your leadership story, but there are others who play an important supporting role. You must know who your key characters are, build strong relationships with them, and work collaboratively. Are you aware of who your greatest protagonists are? Do you have any antagonists, or detractors to your leadership? What are you doing to build your cast of protagonists? Building common ground with others is a great place to start.


It is difficult to imagine a story without conflict. In stories, it presents itself as a struggle. I don’t know too many leaders who need more conflict, but it happens. How you deal with it says a lot about your leadership.

Do you address it head on? Or do you avoid it? Do you initiate it? What are the sources of conflict and how do you react or respond to conflict? Are there any unresolved conflicts – either interpersonal or within yourself? In reflecting on these questions, remember the saying that “conflict does not build character, it reveals it”.

Experience will have a lot to do with how you react versus respond to conflict. Think about various times where you have experienced conflict, how you felt, and how you dealt with it. If you are self-aware and have thought about conflict, you are much more likely to respond when some struggle presents itself. On the other hand, if you have not given any thought to conflict and how you handle it, you will be more likely to react than to respond.


Every good story has a theme. There are three things to consider with regard to your theme. First, what are you known for? And what do you want to be known for? This is often represented in three to five adjectives. If what you are known for does not align with what you want to be known for, you’ve got some work to do – either developing or clarifying your capabilities.

Second, do you have the skills required to achieve your mission? This assumes clarity of mission. This does not mean you are in it alone. It means you must have the self-awareness to know what strengths you need and the wherewithal to develop yourself or include the right people on your team.

The third aspect of theme presents a paradox – often times, you have to let go of your technical skills to truly embrace leadership. I have worked with a number of leaders who have taken on more advanced leadership responsibilities because of their technical competence at a more junior level. Some have a difficult time letting go of their expertise, but to be effective as a leader, you’ve got to delegate and involve others.


Stories take place in a setting, and your setting matters. What do you need in your setting to be at your best? And what are you doing as a leader to help people be at their best?

When I give a workshop on Leadership Story, a question that often arises from this section is “Are you saying I should quit my job?” My answer is usually, “I don’t know.” I will ask what they have done to make the most of their current environment. I ask them if they have heard the saying “the grass is greener.” And then I remind them that the grass is greener where you water it. To make the most of your setting, you should consider what you need to be at your best, how you will handle the occasional roadblock, and what in your environment you are grateful for.

The good news is that stories are dynamic. They are a snapshot in time and a work in progress. Your objective is to understand your leadership story, work to get it where you want it to be, and make sure others are aligned with it. With some reflection, self-awareness, and planning, you are more likely to understand your story and become the primary author of it.

Understanding your leadership story provides you with a starting point to continue to develop as a leader. Taking control of it enables you to more consciously shape the impact you have in the world. You’ll be better equipped to make decisions, choose actions that tell the story you want to tell, motivate and inspire others, and ensure that you become the kind of leader you want to be.

Timothy J. Tobin is the Vice President, Global Learning and Leadership Development at Marriott International and author of “Your Leadership Story: Use Your Story to Energize, Inspire, and Motivate” Connect: https://www.linkedin.com/pub/tim-tobin/9/80a/641

Originally posted on 3/31/15 on HR.com.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *