Social scientists are increasingly using narrative research to more accurately capture the stories of the individuals we study. For leadership researchers who strive to eventually predict outcomes such as leadership emergence, leadership effectiveness, follower satisfaction, trust, and performance, narrative research allows additional insight into the stories of potential leaders. In our earlier blog about seeing leadership moments, we discussed how small moments of leading can impact our leader identity. Narratives are a way for leaders to reflect upon past and present events, and could lead to additional leadership discoveries.
In Torrill Moen’s (2006) article on the narrative approach, she recalls how another social scientist, Edward M. Bruner, highlights how narratives can relate to one’s life.
“A life lived is what actually has happened. A life experienced consists of the images, feelings, sentiments, desires, thoughts, and meanings known to the person whose life it is. A life told is a narrative or several narratives influenced by the culture conventions of telling, by the audience, and by the social context.” (Moen, 2006; p. 63).
The leadership life told includes the social aspects of leadership – others’ reactions to you as a leader can help solidify or undermine your leader identity. But only the leader knows of the experiences that drive their behaviors. Writing a narrative helps the leader to reconcile personal thoughts and beliefs with the reactions of others.
As leadership professors, we can require our students to write their own leadership narratives and to build reflection into our coursework. The challenge for working leaders is to find time to continue this process. The active nature of reflection upon a narrative allows leaders to be more mindful about the effects of their leadership behaviors. Additionally, it may uncover additional opportunities for development or patterns of behavior that should be reviewed. Consistently taking the time to reflect ensures a closer match between the life lived, the life experienced, and the life told.
So, how do you start writing your narrative? And how do you ensure it is capturing what it should capture? A good narrative relies on the following foundation:
This spring, I have asked my students to collect narratives of leaders they observe. I encourage our readers to also start writing down your leader narratives, thinking through your experiences, including the context, and taking the extra step of capturing as many voices as possible to enhance your leadership development. I think you will all find that the time you take for reflection will result in more mindful leadership emergence.
Written by Michael Palanski
Photo by Japheth Mast
One of the most effective ways to drive to performance is to build self-efficacy, or the fundamental belief that oneself is capable to performing a particular task. But how can we build self-efficacy in ourselves and in others? Research on self-efficacy shows us that one of the best ways to do is is through enactive mastery.
Enactive mastery involves creating a situation in which people can experience a “small win” which becomes a catalyst for further performance. For example, on the very first day of my ninth-grade Latin 1 class, our teacher, Mr. Tuscano, wrote the following sentence on the board, and challenged the class to translate it:
“Roma in Italia est.”
It didn’t take a Latin expert to figure out that Rome is in Italy. So within the first two minutes of class, we had already translated an entire sentence! This exercise was the very definition of a small win and became a touchstone for the more difficult learning ahead.
As another example, my two youngest children have recently begun taking skiing lessons. I’ve noticed that one of the primary goals is to quickly get the kids into a position where they can turn and stop. With commands like “pizza!” and “cookie!”, the kids are able to ski the bunny slope by the end of their first lesson. Their burgeoning confidence leads to enjoyment and motivation to continue to improve. (And, trust me, any experience that leads to a 4-year-old wanting to put the skis on again is a win!)
So, as you are thinking about how to build your own self-efficacy, what are some ways you can set yourself for some small wins in order to achieve enactive mastery? Likewise, how can you help others create similar situations?
Written by Rachel Clapp-Smith
Image by Tyler Smith
We suggest in our research that a person’s leader identity, i.e., how one sees him- or herself as a leader, is multi-layered and stems from three different levels: individual, relational, and collective. We are not the only leadership professors to suggest this, in fact, there’s a rich area of literature and research focused on this very concept. But, if you are like most people we talk to, these academic labels don’t mean much until we explain. So, let me explain…
Think of yourself as an individual embedded in a family or group of friends, which is embedded in a community, school, or organization. You might consider an image of a small circle inside a larger circle, inside yet a larger circle. Each circle is a level or layer of identity. As an individual, you have certain personal characteristics that you bring to the table as a leader: you might be extroverted, charismatic, trustworthy, optimistic, or any other trait, value, or strength that you individually possess. That is your individual level of your leader identity.
The next circle is the relational layer. The identities you have here only exist because of your relationship to another person. You may say “I am a parent,” which is an identity that is only possible because you have a child and only came into existence for you on the day your first child was born. Up until then, that particular identity did not exist for you (although it may have been a future planned identity, but that is entirely different, and worth it’s on blog post).
The third level of leader identity is the collective layer. This means we see ourselves as members of groups, and our membership to those groups are particularly important to our sense of self as a leader. For instance, I am a New Englander, and although I do not currently live in New England, this membership is nonetheless very strong in how I see myself as a leader. I know that much of how I act and think stems directly from my identification with New England. Furthermore, when the Patriots are in the Super Bowl, my identification with New England requires that I lead this particular collective in my area in a way that is representative of the collective – I connect the local collective by hosting a party with lobster rolls, clam chowder, and whoopie pies (and you are invited if you live near me and are from New England).
See how powerful these layers of leader identity can be? Each one is an important part of who we are and how we lead. Everyone is an individual, with relationships, embedded in collectives. The magic is in understanding how these many layers contribute to who we are as leaders. Take a moment to think about each layer and write down the pieces of each layer that are the most influential in how you see yourself as a leader.
Ever have a really bad day at work and find your spouse getting crabby too? What about sharing a story to your coworkers about how you were really proud of your kids and it lightened the mood?
Recent theory and empirical support has suggested this happens through a spillover-crossover model. First, spillover occurs, then it crosses-over to others in our network.
Spillover: We bring experiences, thoughts, moods and self-perceptions from work to home and vice versa. What happens at work affects me while I’m home. What happens at home affects me at work.
Crossover: The experiences, thoughts, moods and self-perceptions that spillover from one domain to another have implication and effects on other people in our networks. So my work experiences not only affect me, but also my family members. What happens in my family affects my co-workers and boss too!
How does this happen? There are three basic ways that crossover occurs:
Taking this together, it makes a lot of sense and we can easily relate to spillover and all three types of crossover. Without much thought, we know this is true because we’ve lived it. So what’s the point? I think there are a few main take-away points and ponderings.
1. Crossover effects are stronger in close relationships. So as to avoid the weight of someone else’s world, we might be tempted to distance ourselves. However, the very act of caring, listening, and responding with empathy, has benefits for ourselves and others. Remember in close relationships, we take the god with the bad. And research suggests, helping other people (called a tend-and-befriend response) has physical and psychological benefits to our own stress response, and even longevity.
2. This should create an awareness in our own management of the boundaries between work and home. Are we “kicking the dog” for our frustrations at work? What can we do to transition from one role to becoming truly present in the other role?
3. As leaders, managers, and employees, are we aware that our actions at work have implication not only for our employees, but also for their friends and family? If we were truly cognizant of this, would it change the way we lead?
I’d like to return to an earlier topic we covered, multi-domain leadership (MDL). In earlier blogs, we describe what MDL is, the benefits of it, and the value of enrichment by applying what you learn and experience in your work, social, or community domain to another. But organizations can also encourage MDL by thinking through the different “silos” that come to exist and motivating workers to look beyond their current departments.
I recently had the pleasure of facilitating a leader identity training for an organization in the midst of a restructuring. Employees who were used to dealing with procedures and stakeholders in one manner were now being asked to change their outlook and adapt to different processes, customers, and co-workers. They were being forced to integrate their identities into a new, larger domain. It reminded me that we all, at some point, need to integrate our skill sets away from one specific functional area into a larger organizational view. When we do that, we need to look up from the work in front of us and interact with co-workers from other departments. Anyone interested in upward mobility in an organization must keep an eye on how they can attain different skills sets to continue to be successful as they get promoted. Managing people or projects requires individuals to move beyond their functional or technical skills to include people skills, budgeting expertise, or general oversight of how departments interact in a larger organization.
So, how does one gain these other experiences? The advice is similar to how we recommend enhancing leadership skills –by looking for opportunities that allow cross-pollination of ideas and by choosing to open up the landscape to which you are exposed. Does your organization have training programs for different skills sets? Is there a mentor in a different department that you can tap to allow you to learn and experience different approaches? Are there outside resources that you can leverage to gain necessary skills? One does not become a partner in a law firm, an accounting firm, a manager in a financial institution, a founder of a start-up, or a leader in an educational institution without obtaining different skills sets such as sales, fund-raising, people management, or creating a business plan. Even within the work domain, MDL can enhance your success by encouraging you to integrate new and appropriate behaviors to enable career progress. Good luck!
Leadership training and development programs are ubiquitous, They’re also big business as part of a $14 billion industry. Despite the great interest, some companies are asking if it is even worth it?
Ironically, attempts to answer that question come from - wait for it! - the same organizations who provide the training. And the answers are usually some form of, “Not exactly...except for the way we do it!”
Fortunately, we can now provide a better answer that is grounded in scientific evidence. A recent meta-analysis published in the Journal of Applied Psychology examined results from 335 studies of leadership training. The results were surprisingly robust, and suggested that leadership training programs can lead to:
The article also suggests some best practices for a successful training program, including:
In our 3 part series on goal setting, we discussed the importance of approach goals, implementation intentions, and coping plans. Today I want to talk about the areas of your life in which you plan to implement them.
Leader development is personal development. As we grow in self-awareness, self-control, adaptability, self-confidence, and personal responsibility, we become better leaders and better people. That’s great news as the pay-offs of our hard work can be experienced in all aspects of life.
We have written on the benefits of taking a multi-domain approach to our own development and some of the ways our family life benefits our working lives. I’d like you to think for a moment about what you want to work on and how you can use the various aspects of life as a “developmental playground” in which you can practice as you progress towards your goals. As leadership is about relationships, we can often practice in other relationships.
While the payoffs can be great and our own development can be accelerated, I need to say: This isn’t easy. This is hard work and sometimes the dynamics of some areas of life make it even more challenging. Perhaps the obstacles and associated coping plans look different in different domains. We need to celebrate small wins and not let setbacks get us down.
Part 3: Coping with Obstacles
It’s the second week of January and you are back to the grind. All the hope you felt on January 1 from new “you” that would mark this year has deflated. The new goals are already forgotten, the wonderful implementation plan has not worked. So, now what?
This is a very common experience and the people who make it out of the woods in this difficult phase usually do because they have a coping plan. The coping plan is a strategy to overcome obstacles, both seen and unseen, and, it is quite similar to action plan in Part 2 in this series. If one must be intentional about practicing leadership, one must be equally deliberate about overcoming obstacles. Again, the video from Bite Size Psych can help (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zLrd9mybAXI), but first we need to do some reflecting…
Identify Potential Obstacles
Before we can determine how to cope with obstacles, we need to identify what they might be. We know ourselves better than anyone and if we take honest look at how we stand in our own way, this might be a good starting point. We are not our only enemies, but we can at least control the obstacles we create for ourselves. So, let’s start there.
If my goal is to listen more intently to my teammates, my children, and my husband, what are some of the obstacles that I could anticipate?
And the external obstacles are also helpful to anticipate:
As you can see, there any number of obstacles that can stand in the way of our best intentions. A coping strategy might be:
“IF I feel rushed and lack time to listen, THEN I will tell my colleague/child/spouse that I really do want to hear the whole story and will need to set aside a time later in the day for it AND then schedule that time.”
Dealing with Unanticipated Obstacles
It would be nice if we could anticipate all obstacles, but, of course, that is unrealistic. The coping plan might need to happen in retrospect for unanticipated obstacles, but we also need to be mindful enough to see these obstacles and know we need to devise a work-around.
What obstacles have you already ran into? How can you create coping plans to work through obstacles when they inevitably arise?
Part 2: It’s About Being Intentional
Part 1 of this series was about setting leadership development goals in the New Year for successful implementation. First, the goal needs to be framed appropriately – an approach goal that is specific, time-bound, and measurable. But goals don’t magically occur once set, they need an action plan, an implementation intention.
One great way to get the gist of this is from a 4-minute video by Bite Size Psych (There’s a link in our Resources page under Implementation Intentions. But to investigate it even more, look into the research on deliberate practice by K. Anders Ericsson .
What this research tells us that we can gain expertise in just about anything by being very deliberate, or intentional, about how we practice it. So, setting specific goals is a starting point to identifying what to practice when comes to leadership development, and with this post we will explore how to deliberately practice leadership behaviors. We need an action plan and one that cues us to utilize a new behavior. The easiest way to do this, is to create some If/Then statements: “if it is 8am on Monday, then I will send three emails to colleagues with positive feedback.” The IF provides the cue, the THEN makes very clear what will happen.
The most interesting piece about this process is that it focuses on small changes, rather than grandiose, yet insurmountable changes. Deliberate practice is about incremental change, not the big bang of suddenly being a completely different person (which is quite unrealistic), rather, taking an incremental and intentional approach to changing the way one leads, or, perhaps more accurately, aligning one’s leader behaviors with one’s leader identity narrative. In other words, become the leader we want to be is not a rapid change from one day to the next, but when we are deliberate and intentional about making incremental changes, we evolve into our ideal over time.
What small change will you make in your leading behaviors that gets you closer to your leadership goals?
Part 1: Make it an Approach Goal
It’s now that time of year when we anticipate a new beginning, a new year to start fresh on the things that we know we should or want to do or be, but up until now we just haven’t had the time, energy, or motivation. A new beginning gives us hope because it seems like a natural starting point for making a change. The only problem is that most good intentions remain intentions and very rarely sustained action – proverbial New Year’s resolution that works for about a week and the rest of the year is back to same old habits.
As you are thinking about the changes you want to make in the New Year, we encourage you to think about the type of leader you want to be and what small changes you can intentionally practice to reach that goal. Changes are easiest when goals have certain characteristics, there is an action plan for achieving goals, and a coping plan for overcoming anticipated obstacles.
Frame Goals as Approach Goals
Most people I know have heard about SMART goals and when I mention the word, they usually say “yeah, yeah, SMART goals,” in a very knowing and “don’t bother me with something basic” tone. And yet, when they set their goals, they are anything but SMART – vague, unclear, not time-bound, and doomed to fail. So, step one is to set a goal that is specific enough that you know what you are trying to accomplish, you know how it look when it is completed, and you know when it will be accomplished. When it comes to leadership development goals, this can be tricky because leadership is a life-long journey, so you never truly reach a destination per se and measuring, therefore, is similarly tricky. But, you can put in horizons for yourself, that give you evidence that you are making progress. An example might be: “to effectively use inspirational motivation tactics once a week for the next 6 months, measured by feedback from teammates and mentors.”
See how that is time-bound, a specific behavior, and a measurable? Now, the other key to setting a good goal, which is often glossed over, is how the goal is framed. Usually we have an implicit idea of what we want to change, but articulating it into an actionable goal is challenging. The hardest goal to reach is one that avoids a particular behavior: quit smoking, stop being negative, stop interrupting people. Avoidance goals are impossible to reach, because at what point have you successfully stopped being negative, for example? When you go one day without a negative comment? What if something negative creeps in the next day? Therefore, it is much easier to approach new and positive behaviors: make 3 positive comments each day. That’s a behavior a that is easy to accomplish, and we can celebrate it when we do.