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The latest insights on narrative, storytelling and leadership in higher education.

What’s your story?

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What are the stories you’ve adopted that shape your professional journey?

Helen Teague explores how we create our own narratives and how these can be used to help or hinder our professional growth. She asks: What chapter are you on? Are you tuning into the narrative you’re telling yourself and others? And offers some tips and questions to help guide you along the way.

Home truths

Stories are a part of how we develop our sense of self and make meaning of events around us.

“The only person that’s pigeon-holing you is you Helen!” were the words of an insightful boss in my early career. If I’m honest, I didn’t appreciate them at the time – the professional growth opportunity in question just seemed too overwhelming – not something I was good enough for surely?

This feedback made me stop and think, and lead me to confront the personal narratives I had authored over the years – creating stories which quite frankly I’d outgrown and were simply holding back my personal and professional growth. As Carole Pemberton says in her practical guide for coaches – “We live by the stories we create”. Stories are a part of how we develop our sense of self and make meaning of events around us. They serve a purpose at the time but need updating from time to time too. This early career experience paved the way for me to try things I thought I couldn’t and shouldn’t do, to put myself forward for things that felt beyond my reach and also to recover from setbacks at work and in life along the way.

What chapter are you on?

Are you holding on to old narratives that are suppressing your personal and professional growth?

I wonder what stories you have created from your personal narratives, and whether they are serving you and your leadership well? Particularly as you navigate through unprecedented levels of change and ambiguity in Higher Education. Or are you holding on to old narratives that are suppressing your personal and professional growth?

Martin Buber, in his classic “Between Man and Man” says “Each of us is encased in an armour which we soon, out of familiarity, no longer notice”. I certainly hadn’t noticed that I was wearing this “armour”; it had become such an integral part of me. Perhaps the armour had been useful at some point, but when I took a good look at it I knew I’d outgrown it. Narratives infused with self-limiting beliefs can weave their way into compelling stories we create for ourselves that result in us getting “stuck”, preventing us from stepping into the next and best chapter even. So what’s your story and how is it evolving – who are you being in it and is it serving you and your leadership role well?

Perhaps you are ready for your next chapter?

Tuning-in

It takes intentional effort and desire to develop our self-awareness for the benefit of personal and professional growth.

Do you remember tuning into radio stations years ago before digital radio? It took time and patience to keep twiddling the dial until the cacophony of discordant sounds were replaced by a coherent voice or pleasant harmony. Tuning into your own stories can feel a bit like that. It takes intentional effort and desire to develop our self-awareness for the benefit of personal and professional growth. It takes courage too – as you may not like, or agree, with the story you find and you may feel a bit uncomfortable with it – but that’s part of personal growth I guess.

Some people have honed their ability to tune into their personal narratives and the stories they tell as part of their reflective practice, and others have either not consciously listened out for them or dismissed what they have heard as nonsense. I encourage you to build the habit of intentionally noticing what you are saying to yourself within your personal narrative – it’s a powerful way of enhancing personal resilience and sustaining performance. Perhaps seek out a trusted colleague, coach or mentor so that you can sense-make with their insights and feedback in the mix.

Some tips and questions that may be useful:

  • Notice your personal narrative in meetings, during conflict or ahead of a challenging event –get into the habit of tuning into it. Does it help or hinder you?
  • Jot down the narrative you become aware of as this can aid you in sense making of it before reinforcing, archiving, confronting or replacing it.
  • What patterns/themes do you notice?
  • Is it helpful to you now? If not now then when?
  • What objective evidence do you have that reinforces or challenges the narrative you hear?
  • Who is the ‘me’ in it?
  • Do you like what you hear? Why? Why not? What do you want to be different? So what will you do next?

Delving Deeper

The following recommended reading is listed below:

Resilience: A Practical Guide For Coaches by Carole Pemberton

Time to Think by Nancy Kline

Between Man and Man by Martin Buber

Learning From Burnout by Tim Casserley and David Megginson

By Helen Teague

Helen is an Organisational Development expert and executive coach bringing 20 years of experience to her work with Invisible Grail. Her career to date includes 12 years as a senior leader in a Higher Education institution responsible for multi-discipline teams grappling with organisational and leadership development and change.

If you enjoyed this, you might also like:

A professional narrative: who we are and what we do

What is a professional narrative? How do we know when we have one? And do we even need one?

Louise Clifton explores how values, voice and purpose shape our individual and collective narratives, and how these reflect who we are and what we do.

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