“The story that I’m telling myself is…”
There is power in the story. Our brains reward us when we fill in the information gaps in order to make sense of the data. But often, the stories that we tell ourselves are far from true.
If someone is giving me the stink eye, I tell myself that person is mad at me. Perhaps they even hate me. Probably, I said or did something to them that they took issue with. Maybe they are even plotting my downfall in some way. In reality, they may just have their contact lenses in backwards and the stink eye is a physical response to a foreign object being stuck in their eye.
The real problem with stories isn’t that they are powerful, it is that we usually tell the worst stories possible. There’s a term for a person who regularly fills in the information gaps with bits of story to make sense of the data; we call that person “paranoid.”
To combat this, we need to be aware of the stories that we tell ourselves. Are they really true? Are they tainted by past experiences? Are we really trying to get as much information as possible?
Here’s how our storytelling ability relates to leadership. There’s a typical format to stories: The hero is faces with a challenge. The hero tries all of the easy ways to overcome the challenge, but fails. The hero realizes that the thing to fix the problem is going to be extremely uncomfortable, but they do it anyway. The challenge is overcome.
Leaders today are faced with stories all of the time. Often, leaders find that they face uncomfortable challenges and they can respond by either denying the story (ignore it and it may go away) or they can embrace the story and write the ending. Leaders can choose courage or comfort, but they can’t choose both.