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What’s Your Leadership Origin Story?

Leadership origin stories

Research found four dominant themes of origin stories among leaders: being, engaging, performing, and accepting.

These themes act as lenses, contributing to how leaders see themselves.

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IDEA EXTRACTED FROM:

What’s Your Leadership Origin Story?

What’s Your Leadership Origin Story?

https://hbr.org/2020/08/whats-your-leadership-origin-story

hbr.org

8

Key Ideas

Telling our origin story

Stories of origin come in many forms - how we became part of an organization, or how we emerged as a new person after a crisis.

However, we seldom examine what we include and exclude in those accounts and how our choices shape our present reality.

Leadership origin stories

Research found four dominant themes of origin stories among leaders: being, engaging, performing, and accepting.

These themes act as lenses, contributing to how leaders see themselves.

The "being" leadership story

Leaders who use this lens always thought of themselves as leaders. They admit to having a natural call to leadership that started in childhood.

In current leadership, people who use this lens often note personal qualities such as confidence, optimism, and natural leadership styles.

The "engaging" leadership story

Leaders who use this lens think their leadership started when they were compelled to address an urgent need. They took it upon themselves to change unsatisfactory practices: starting a new organization, volunteering to take on a challenge, liaising between groups in conflict.

The leaders move toward a more facilitative leadership style, and they focus on engaging others and creating collective action.

The "performing" leadership story

Leaders who use this lens think their leadership rose out of the achievement of a particular position. They often feel protective and responsible for their teams.

They describe themselves as having paternalistic leadership styles, marked by the support, control, and guidance of their teams.

The "accepting" leadership story

Leaders who use this lens didn't consider themselves as leaders until they realized others were following them. People came to them for answers, guidance, and support.

This group tends to supporting or serving the needs of others above themselves, often with a low-key attitude.

Leadership stories and how they constraint us

There is a strong link between the stories people tell about becoming leaders and their current leadership. Using only one lens could limit your ability.

  • Seeing yourself only as accepting, your identity may be tied to others' perceptions, and you may hold back unless you're "asked" to by others.
  • Your current lens may limit who you seek out as role models or leadership candidates. For example, if you have always been a leader, you may not recognise a leader with a different style.

Experiment with different origin stories. It can increase your adaptability.

Leadership stories and gender differences

While both men and women feel like "they have always been leaders" (being lens) and "a leader when others see me as one" (accepting theme), women feel like leaders when they are actively 'doing' (the engaging lens). Men rely more on the performing lens, meaning they become leaders when they achieve a particular role.

Be aware that men and women may gravitate toward different lenses when viewing their leadership roles. Allow them to experiment with different narratives.

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