Here’s a quick social experiment I’d like you to try at your next cocktail party or networking event. Instead of asking the ubiquitous “So, what do you do?” question of the first person you meet, ask this instead: “So, who are you?”
The first question can get you a lot of content. The second one can get you a story. Which approach tells you more about the person standing in front of you?
We spend a lot of time on content in our working worlds—what we’ll do and how we’ll do it—which requires us to focus on our strengths and capacities. Questions about who we really are and why we matter—built around our values and beliefs—often get reserved for the annual retreat or team- building session. Then we all go back to work and focus mostly on content again. Eventually, leadership starts to wonder why employee engagement scores aren’t up to par.
I’ve found that leaders can inadvertently create a lot of disengagement when they forget that it’s the dynamic combination of strengths and values that fuels motivation and contribution.
These are not discrete parts. This is why everyone loves stories so much—the characters in them use something they’re good at (their strengths) to realize something that matters to them (their values). The stories people have told since the beginning of time are always based on that dynamic, and we love to hear them because they capture the patterns of meaning and motivation that drive almost everything that goes on within us and around us.
Our cultural stories, seen in media of all types, have much more than entertainment value. All of us relate to the characters in some of these tales more than others, shaping a sense of ourselves that reflects those same strengths and values. We play out the same story arcs in our professional worlds, motivated by the very same things that drive and inspired the protagonists in stories we love.
I knew all this intuitively for much of my career, especially during my many years as a branding consultant with a focus on helping corporate clients understand what made people tick and how to motivate them. During that time, I explored a lot of tools and frameworks for getting at insights related to strengths and values.
Every framework had something to offer, but I found myself piecing together profiles of individual and group motivation using a lot of disparate input.
Then I discovered Dr. Carol S. Pearson’s breakthrough 12-archetype system for assessing key motivational drivers through the lens of storylines everyone knows. I now base almost all my work in leadership development, team/culture building and branding on her model. The resultant “story typing” model is both powerful and easy to work with because it’s based on these intuitively meaningful story lines that people immediately recognize and understand. For example, everyone knows the difference between a Healer and a Jester, without having to research a lot of psychological and sociological articles. With this easily accessible story type information, individuals and teams quickly move to using the insights the assessment delivers—and they have fun in the process!
I’m excited that we’re going to delve into this topic in the August edition of the InPower Coaching webinar series on personality assessments. I’ll be talking about the Professional Strengths, Values & Story Survey (SVSS), the tool I co-developed that measures individual and team “story types” in the workplace.
This story typing framework offers all kinds of ways to understand who you are, why you’re that way and where you could go as a result. It also helps you understand where you’ll invest your energy, focus your attention, and respond to what’s going around you. Think about these examples:
- Rulers will always focus first on effectiveness and responsible progress. They want things to run smoothly and remain stable.
- Magicians are inspired by what can be envisioned and transformed. They want results and are more likely than Rulers to take chances when it comes to realizing a vision.
- Lovers see and appreciate what’s special in the people around them. They think the best workplaces make sure people work well together and emphasize helping others belong.
These kinds of differences in meaning and motivation can come together to build a powerful workplace, and yet they often go unacknowledged, creating misunderstandings at best and open conflicts at worst. In addition, many professionals intuitively sense that who they really are (their real story) won’t be appreciated or rewarded. They end up suppressing what’s best about them to fit in better, and leave their most important gifts off the table entirely. Often, they’re encouraged to develop themselves in ways that “enhance performance” but overlook much of what they really have to offer and what motivates them most deeply.
Let’s think about this in terms of the David and Goliath story. In that biblical tale, David combines his passion for his people (his value system) with his considerable skill with a slingshot (his strength) to defeat Goliath. What would the aftermath of that be in a modern-day enterprise? Well, David might well be put in charge of sling shot development operations and expected to produce—a pretty dispassionate endeavor. Or, someone might decide to put him on the motivational speaking circuit—removing him from the trenches where he most likes to be and feels most energized. The whole David might be broken down into the parts of David. If those around him really understood the whole David and his true nature as a Hero, they would likely leave him in the field to rally those around him and skillfully lead the charge for what matters most to all of them.
It doesn’t have to be this way! Story typing is a framework that helps make unconscious patterns more tangible for everyone. When these patterns are recognized, accepted and leveraged, all kinds of great outcomes can follow—more engagement, contribution, success and fulfillment just for starters.
And all because someone asked that first simple question: “Who are you?”
What is your story? Do you think you’re a RulerHero? A Revolutionary? A Creator? Take the free SVSS survey and find out!
Cindy Atlee is a Creator type who loves to help clients understand and express who they really are in the world. She’s the principal of The Storybranding Group and co-author of the Professional Strengths, Values & Story Survey (SVSS).
Check out the resources in the InPower Coaching EQ at Work and Soft Skills Research Index.