Minimising your contribution or even putting yourself down to ensure you stay ‘part of the team’ is a misguided approach, says Diana Theodores
Almost every time I ask a client to tell me an achievement story (‘I did it!’) that they are proud of I have to stop the storyteller in their tracks, maybe three or four times, because there isn’t an ‘I’ in sight. That stealthy little ‘we’ loves grabbing the spotlight!
The generic ‘we’ is so dull. The specific ‘I’ is so compelling.
Whose story is it anyway, if not yours? Minimising your contribution or even putting yourself down to ensure you stay ‘part of the team’ is a misguided approach. You’re squandering an opportunity to get your story right for those who need to hear it.
The great news is that you can ‘claim the I’ while also acknowledging others. It’s not an either/or situation. To cross the threshold from the ‘we’ habit to the ‘I’ habit, here’s a fun exaggeration exercise to try:
Stand up (get your whole body into this ) and tell your ‘I did it!’ story ‘as if’ you are speaking to a packed auditorium of ‘fans’ who love hearing your stories. Go wild. Go over the top. Step into your world champion, your super hero or your diva persona and enjoy punctuating the word ‘I’ all the way through your story by belting out the word with your voice and bigging yourself up with your posture.
Blow your horn loud and clear. It’s just an exercise. You’re just playing. You can do it.
Playing the exaggeration game requires nothing less than total embodiment – voice, physicality, gestures and laughter. That ‘physical thinking’ helps rewire your brain, help break the habit of defaulting into ‘we’ and enjoying the warmth of the ‘I’ spotlight a bit more.
Now that you’ve gone way over the top with the ‘I’, tell your story again and see where you can acknowledge the ‘we’. Keep it relevant but sparse. Keep it gracious but keep it moving. Be sure to end on the ‘I’ note.
It’s essential to understand that claiming the ‘I’ isn’t arrogance, but valuing; not selfishness, but ownership; and shining a light so others can see themselves more clearly too. Having the gravitas, presence and integrity to be able to claim the ‘I’ and also credit and appreciate others is key to your visibility.
If you don’t claim your ‘I’, someone else will.
Communicate your vision
A visitor walks through a town in medieval Italy and happens upon a man cutting stone. The visitor asks, ‘What are you doing?’ The man says he is cutting stone. The visitor continues and sees another man cutting stone. The visitor asks the same question, and this man replies, ‘I’m building a wall.’ A while later, the visitor encounters a third man cutting stone, and when he asks this man what he’s doing, the man says, ‘I’m building a cathedral.’
Knowing your immediate job is one thing; knowing the part you play in the bigger picture, and what you want to create, is another – this is your vision. When you have a vision, you imagine a future state beyond boundaries. Identifying and communicating a clear vision is key to your visibility. The very word vision relates to seeing, and we often think of the words attributed to Aristotle, that ‘The soul never thinks without a picture.’
The realm of the visual releases in you new ways of seeing, and this surfaces fresh, out-of-the ordinary language. Images engage your senses and intuition. In the prologue to Shakespeare’s Henry V, the narrator invites the audience to use their imaginations to transform a paltry stage and a few ragtag players into the epic battlefield at Agincourt. ‘Think, when we talk of horses, that you see them printing their proud hooves in the receiving earth.” The narrator beckons and enchants the audience to share in a vision and see through their imaginations with the help of his word pictures.
Images ‘say’ things to you without your needing to analyse or overthink them. Visualising, painting pictures in words, creating a vision board and dedicating some time to consciously ‘looking’ in nature, in art galleries, and all around you will ignite your creative flow and help you access and craft your vision.
An organisation in the auto industry I worked with once launched a storytelling campaign to share their vision and get everyone in the organisation on board. Huge portraits of the employees and text that conveyed their part in the organisational story filled the gallery space and created an immersive experience. Everyone had a sense of being part of something bigger than themselves and something they could all see and feel proud of.
Your vision isn’t simply a well-crafted statement that you write down. It’s alive in you. It’s your North Star, clarifying what your achievement will look like and how to get there.
Having a vision helps you set your compass to what really matters to you and what you want to focus on. It is a living, energising story that transcends the status quo and galvanises you towards a future you want to create.
It’s critical to share your vision with others. Part of upsizing your visibility involves communicating your vision in as many ways as possible to everyone who needs to hear it. For this to happen, you need to aim for bold, big and simple.
Dr Diana Theodores is Director of Theatre 4 Business and an international women’s leadership expert. Her new book Performing As You: How to have authentic impact in every role you play is out now, priced £12.99. To find out more go to: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1781333823