The Answers Are In Your Stories

There’s no doubt that we all would benefit from some form of training and development, personally and professionally. Similarly, I’m confident that many of your team members would benefit from more training and development, and they certainly would benefit from having a mentor. Life and leadership is definitely a matter of constant growth, development and improvement, but this training often is limited to the acquisition of more tools and tactics. While tools and tactics are important, most of us (and most of your team) that fail to achieve desired improvements and objectives will do so for one simple reason—we have personal stories that will negate or limit the impact of the training, tools and tactics. In fact, the most critical factor for most of us in achieving our goals (personally and professionally) is to find the stories that are getting in the way.

That’s where I (or some other coach) come in—not just any coach, but a coach who can help you find your stories, debunk them and move past them. These stories are the voices in your head (often unidentified and unacknowledged) that take you off course and keep you there—the voices that almost always involve some version of “you’re not enough.” More important, many of these stories and voices are so deeply buried in your subconscious that you can’t see them or uncover them on your own. These are the stories that are dream killers, career blockers and relationship poison, but only as long as they are hidden or unknown. My role is to help my clients spot the patterns, identify the story that supports the patterns and then use this clarity to move beyond the stories—thus my role as the Story Debunker.

Recently, I was working with a client whose entire career has been spent primarily as the doer—he has worked in the trade for many years, and he is a seasoned professional in his area of expertise. We’ll call him Alan. Alan is a master in his profession, but he’s realizing that he can’t keep up the workload and pace of a technician, so he needs to transition into a management and coaching role. Naturally, Alan has the typical obstacles to this type of shift—lack of training, the new role is out of his comfort zone, as a technician he’s an expert but as a manager he’s almost starting over, etc. In addition, it’s not surprising that Alan has come to identify himself as the technician / professional, and it’s a challenge to take on a new role because he doesn’t see himself as the manager (yet).

Here’s Alan’s list of transition obstacles, which are pretty typical for many people moving into management:

Technician Manager
  • Comfortable
  • Very Confident
  • Easy / Got It
  • Simple
  • More Money (initially)
  • Known
  • Less Frustrating
  • Owns It
  • Uncomfortable
  • Uncertain
  • Challenging
  • Complicated
  • Less Money (initially)
  • Unknown
  • Frustrating
  • Not Ready

These are often seen obstacles for people moving into management, although most of us (and most organizations) don’t adequately address these challenges (if at all). These obstacles are certainly of the type and nature that require some form of coaching and personal development beyond tools and tactics. However, for Alan there was a deeper story and obstacle that was keeping him from making this transition.

In part based upon his upbringing (primarily from his father) and in part based upon the world that Alan had worked in and around for most of his career, Alan had developed some very clear stories about his role as a technician (professional) versus a manager’s role (management). After getting through the typical issues above, I took Alan on a deep dive into his core beliefs about being the master technician versus being a manager. The following are the key points that Alan identified through my questions—notice how limiting the stories became the deeper Alan went into them:

Technician Manager
  • Hard Work
  • Add Value
  • Worthy
  • Success
  • Strong
  • A Man
  • Lazy
  • No Value
  • Not Worthy
  • Failure
  • Weak
  • A P**** (you can fill it in)

What was true for Alan (at least in his head) was that his worthiness was tied up in being the technician, and if he was a manager that worthiness would evaporate.

Even more critical, Alan’s stories (from his life) told him that being a hard-working technician made him a man, but becoming a manager would make him a p**** (i.e. less than a man). For Alan (and without him even realizing it), the biggest obstacle to becoming a manager was that the transition would mean that he was no longer a man, that he was weak, that he had no value, and that he was not worthy. These are story obstacles that training and development will not fix, mentoring won’t address and traditional coaching will not solve.

What’s most important here is that Alan’s story is not unusual. Many of us and many of your team members are fighting an uphill battle towards change because of the stories that exist inside them relating to themselves and the desired change or transition. We stay stuck because of what we believe about ourselves and about what it means to be different. More often than not, these are the obstacles to growth and change that get in the way for you and your team members. Most notably, they’re almost always unknown to you or your team members, but there are certainly patterns to help lead the way.

I’d love to tell you that Alan’s awareness of his stories is all he needs. However, Alan still has to unwrap and move past these inside stories, but his awareness of them (and their sources) is a strong beginning. You can’t change something that you can’t see, and Alan now better understands why his transition into management has been so difficult. He has strong reasons to make the transition—health, physical limitations, and ability to work and make a living, among others. He’s also now aware of how these inside stories have negatively impacted his relationships (at work and at home). Alan is motivated and has motivating factors for change, but he still needs to get past the stories. Our work together is continuing to help Alan let go of the stories (they’re just stories, after all) so that he can do the work (training and development) that will allow him to succeed in management.

In whatever areas of your personal or professional life you’re looking to change and looking for answers about, it’s time to look in another place. Yes, continue to add the tactics and tools you need to succeed, but if you’re still not achieving your desires and objectives it’s time to go inside. It’s time to explore the patterns in your life and the stories that drive them. It’s time to identify the sources of the stories that are blocking your path. It’s time to look for your answers in your stories.

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