As a consultant, I sometimes work with clients to help them create their Leadership Timeline that essentially paints a picture of their life as a leader. Linkage encourages the leaders we work with to look at the highs and lows of their life, diagram them, and look for themes and insights to emerge. The objective is to strengthen their leadership by understanding what makes them a leader (and the person) they are. This exercise helps the leaders we work with understand themselves and, by revisiting and editing key moments, it also helps them understand and adapt in the face of adversity. This exercise helps leaders develop an absolutely critical leadership skill—the ability to be resilient.
And after reading a recent and extremely popular article in The New York Times by Tara Parker-Pope titled “Writing Your Way to Happiness,” the science confirms what we’ve found with our clients:
“….We all have a personal narrative that shapes our view of the world and ourselves,” she writes. “But sometimes our inner voice doesn’t get it completely right. Some researchers believe that by writing and then editing our own stories, we can change our perceptions of ourselves and identify obstacles that stand in the way of better health.”
Where Parker-Pope ties research done at Duke University to strengthening resolve for exercise and fitness, I see major leadership implications and a way to build resolve and resiliency in the workplace. I offer you the following challenge:
1) Think of a time when an event/conversation/project at work didn’t go the way you thought it would.
2) Write about it. Be as detailed as possible and don’t over-think the story as you write it. Think of this as a free-writing exercise.
3) Go to sleep. Give your story at least 24 hours before you revisit it.
4) Pull out your red pen and edit it. Ask yourself if there were any inferences or assumptions made in the story, if there was transparency of information, and what could have been taken with a different intent or had an underlying interest.
5) Lastly, reflect on how your narrative has changed and how you might face adversity in the future.