One of my favorite training sessions this past year was called “Why Should Anyone Be Led By You?”
One of our exercises was to figure out our unique differentiators by looking at our life experiences.
In other words, what unique skills or experiences do we bring to the table, that are relevant for this particular situation?
Everybody Has a Story
Everybody has a story–hopes, dreams, wins, losses, and lessons learned. We write our stories a page at a time.
Ultimately, it’s not how the stories end, but what we carry forward that matters.
To Be a Better Leader, Find Your Unique Skills and Experiences
By looking to the past, you can find your unique skills in the present. We used the following categories to identify and reflect on experiences:
- Accomplishments and Disappointments
- Activities / Sports
- Career / Personal Life
- Education / Schooling
By looking back and reflecting on stories, we gained insight into why we lead the way we do and what really shaped us.
The big idea was that to inspire, arouse, excite, or motivate people, you need to show them who you are, what you stand for, what you can and cannot do. It’s about sharing yourself with skill.
To Be a Better Leader, Share Stories to Share Yourself with Skill
While I have some interesting experiences in the “Activities / Sports” bucket, such as Kickboxing and Bulgarian workout routines, I shared some of my “Career” experiences:
- Writing books. Something unique that I do at Microsoft is writing books. Given that I’ve written several books, you might say it’s more like “book building.” I really think of it as information engineering. These aren’t just ordinary technical books. These books change how people do things and think about things in the software space. They also get used for anything from competitive assessments to changing products and tools. Working on the books led to filing 8 patents in the security and performance space. It also led to influencing analysts and presenting at a variety of conferences and giving talks over the years. Most significantly, my approach to building books is similar to building software. In fact, I call it “Agile Guidance.” One of my favorite practices is using Test-Driven Design (TDD) for writing prescriptive guidance. Prescriptive guidance is our pet name for the guides we write on our patterns & practices team.
- Leading project teams. The unique experience I have here is pitching projects, building teams from scratch and driving projects from cradle to grave. I’ve had the experience of running distributed teams (US, India, Argentina, UK … etc.), managing million dollar budgets, working with some of the best folks in the industry, and changing the game for some big challenges. I’ve regularly spun teams up and down over the past several years. I’ve used Agile and Scrum long before they came into fashion.
I chose these particular examples because they differentiate me inside of Microsoft. People write books, but not as part of their day job and not using software engineering techniques.
People lead project teams all the time, but not usually the same scope or same budget or same project context. Context and approach are the real distinctions.
Light Up Your Stories with Relevant Details
Once you have the heart of your stories, you can decorate them with detail. Now, it’s one thing to say you have project management experience.
It’s another to light it up with a story.
The point is that the better you are at sharing relevant experiences that make you stand out, the more successful you will be as a leader.
People need to trust that you’re the right person for the job. They also want to know you are human, flaws and all. It’s your unique experiences that become your calling card when people are looking for someone to lead them.
Lead Yourself First
Whether you lead teams or lead others in some way shape or form, the key is to remember that you lead yourself first.
By looking at your own stories and experience you gain self-knowledge.
If you don’t like the way you lead yourself, start rewriting your stories today and be the self-leader you’d like yourself to be, one day at a time.
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Photo by lumaxart.