The inner game of leadership starts with understanding who you are as a person and as a leader. It is all about becoming self-aware. Without self-awareness it is easy to choose external symbols of success rather than becoming the person you want to be. Without self-awareness, it is difficult to regulate your emotions and feelings and see how your behaviors and actions affect others.
Self-awareness starts with reflecting on your story. That’s right…YOUR story! Your life experiences that have shaped you as a person. Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks, uses his life story to define who he is as a person and a leader.
Schultz grew up in the Brooklyn projects. His dad was a blue collar worker. One day, while he was playing in the courtyard his mother yelled at him, “Your father just had an accident.” What followed shaped him for the rest of his life.
His dad broke his ankle and lost his job as a driver. Losing his job also meant losing their health insurance benefits. His mom could not work because she was 7 months pregnant. It was a dire situation for the family. The family had little, with no financial reserves. They had to make do with borrowed money. Schultz recalls many arguments his parents would have about money and what the family needed.
This profound experience shaped Schultz and he vowed he would do things differently when he had the opportunity. He dreamed of building a company that treated its employees like family. Memories of his father losing his employment and health insurance led Schultz to start Starbucks and become the first American company to provide full health insurance to full and part-time employees.
Brooklyn defined Schultz. What experience(s) define you?
All of us have stories that shape us. The key is to take the time to tell your story, and reflect on it. What were the key markers in your life that shaped you? Who had the greatest impact on you as a person and why? This is extremely important work and it is why I spend time upfront with leaders I work with to have them share their story and reflect on how it has shaped them.
What is your story?
If you are not sure how to start, I would suggest drawing your life on a piece of paper. Similar to the game of LIFE. Start when you were born and draw a winding path to the present. Be creative and have fun with this. Use pictures, colors, identify key experiences and people who have impacted you and why. I suggest doing this over a few days’ period. This will allow you to reflect on what you have drawn. Refine it. As you do, ask yourself these questions:
- What people have had the greatest impact on my life and why?
- What events impacted me and how?
- What life experiences shaped me as a person and what I believe?
Your story will help you better understand yourself and why you behave the way you do. Learning and reflecting on our experiences holds the key to our development as a person and leader. To learn best from your story, step away from the hero or victim view of your story and just be an objective observer. Be honest with yourself here. If you can’t, get someone you trust to listen to your story and help you be objective.
Take action now. Take the time to share your story. Reflect on what you are noticing, what themes and patterns you are seeing. How has your story shaped you? How has your story impacted who you are as a person and leader?
The inner game of leadership starts with self-awareness. Self-awareness starts with your story. Everyone has a story. What’s yours?