Imagine you’re an exhausted, overwhelmed CEO struggling to present your leadership in a manner that seems authentic, empathetic, and engaging, setting you apart from the crowd to provide an innovative founder-led USP for your business. Wait…what’s that? You are an exhausted, overwhelmed CEO struggling to present your leadership in a manner that seems authentic, empathetic, and engaging, setting you apart from the crowd to provide an innovative founder-led USP for your business? What are the chances of that!? Safe in the knowledge that you are either a hardworking exec or a slightly weird Stanislavski devotee, you might be wondering if there is indeed a way to feel a little less out of your depth when it comes to managing a business as dynamic as you are.
(Copyright: Jakob Owens)
So, we’ll let you in on a little secret: want to stay ahead of the corporate curve?
Own your story.
Heard that one before? Yeah, thought so. You might say it’s our favourite platitude, a sorry, saccharine little utterance to be trotted out whenever the conversation goes stale and the will to live runs dry. Tongue-tied at a funeral? Own your story! Unwittingly found yourself in a hostage situation? Sure, own your story, why not? The folks at Harthcommunications do it all the time.
Now, hear us out. In this post-knowledge era, navigating the arcane world of corporate authenticity can be traumatic enough to make you want to give it all up and become a tenement farmer in some remote village without electricity. Imagine it: no LinkedIn. No skype. Emails delivered by carrier pigeon. “Can’t Zoom tonight,” you’ll tell your former industry associates, “We’re not expecting WIFI until 2046.” Whilst this remains the dream for those of us frazzled by the thought of yet another manic day at the office, owning your story might just be the key to creating a gentler, more compassionate form of business that is kinder on both employees and the CEOs who strive to make their working lives less agonising.
As you may have noticed, we say it a lot. And while ‘Own your Story’ ad nauseum might sound like a pretty uninteresting prospect, knowing what it means and how to do it might just make your day a little more bearable. That’s why we’re going to take it back to basics for the ultimate corporate communication crash-course in all things ‘Own your Story’. Got any questions? Here we go…
So, what does it mean to Own your Story?
Simply put, to own your story is to re-evaluate the way you do work. It’s about asking yourself what it is that you want to communicate, no matter where you sit on the corporate ladder. To own your story is to take responsibility for who you are and where you’ve come from; accept the rough with the smooth, the wins and the losses, the successes as just as valuable as the failures. The post-knowledge era is an ugly time to do business; a little ‘selective living’ means that you can broadcast what you’d like people to see and disregard the parts of your day-to-day existence that don’t quite fit the bill. And whilst ‘Own your Story‘ isn’t simply letting it all hang out, it does allow us a little more honesty when it comes to talking about why you’re different from the rest, why it should be you who gets that contract or deserves that promotion.
Here’s an example: years ago, it just wasn’t the done thing to be a woman in business. God forbid you happened to be a mother in business. Only naturally, it became standard practice for a corporate woman to proclaim herself invincible, a veritable titan of maternal ferocity. “So what I balance my work and my children?” she’d ask. And rightly so. Nowadays, however, this proclamation has become diluted; it no longer makes you stand out. What’s more, it’s painfully cliché; it suggests that female execs must appear glacially brilliant, multitasking beacons of trouser-suit-clad femininity, and even the slightest trouble wrangling their brood proves them weak. Where, then, does ‘Own your Story’ come in?
(Copyright: Vitolda Klein)
Well, the decision to own your story is to cut away from the dominant narrative. It’s about renouncing one-upmanship; it means women no longer need to strive for perfection- they can live their lives as flawed, wonderful people who know that they won’t be lambasted if they try to ask for help. Admitting you’re struggling is taking back control of how you present yourself; owning your story is the ability to do this and know that you’re unique, that you’re refreshingly authentic and that your voice is an honest break from those who think they need to boast in order to survive in business. This means telling the truth about what you find difficult about being a mother and a CEO, that, yes, it’s damn hard to hold a zoom meeting whilst the kids are crying in the next room, and that no, it doesn’t make you any less innovative as a professional, or compromise your leadership. In a word? To own your story is liberation.
Why should you own your story?
As seen above, Owning your Story is crucial if you want to get ahead of the pack and attract the clients who count; in our LinkedIn-lite world, there’s a lot to be said for someone who’s authentic enough to play it warts and all. Sure, Own your Story sounds a little weepy; in less capable hands, admitting to struggles is indeed a sign of weakness and the vultures will begin to circle overhead. In that case, it is, indeed, all over for you. But used correctly, Own your Story can be the most worthwhile weapon in your industry arsenal; the trick is knowing when it’s time to bring out the big guns.
Think about it like adding value to you as a product; in this post-knowledge era, we have the ability to transmute our own experiences into cold, hard cash, and that, if nothing else, is a testament to the society in which we live. Education might make you more valuable. Experience makes you costlier still; perhaps you worked for a top law firm, or you were the best seller in your area. All of these things make you both desirable and investable as a product to be fought over and utilised by business superiors. The rarest, most bankable quality of all, however, is having something that nobody else possesses, something unique. And who’s got that? You do. And whilst you may think you’re not all too special and that there’s nothing in the world that will distinguish you from the next well-meaning exec, that je ne sais quois is alive and well in the form of your experiences. Because, in its most basic form, that’s all ‘Own your Story’ is: the ability to take your individual set of life events, deduce what you learned from them and offer them as a kind of morality-smorgasbord in demonstrating that adversity doesn’t define you. Or that perhaps it does; it’s your capacity to understand personal issues and struggles that make you interesting, not to mention the fact that there is automatic kudos with higher-ups simply for being brave enough to admit that sometimes, not everything is a breeze.
How can you own your story?
That’s an easy one: brace yourself. The answer is to tell the truth. Tellthetruth. Tell the truth? Wait, really?
Disgusting, isn’t it? That’s how simple it is to Own your Story. Of course, you need to build yourself up to that. It doesn’t come naturally to as many people as you might think. That’s why Harthcommunications has developed our unique three-step programme to let you Own your Story the right way.
Step One is getting out of your comfort zone: reconciling yourself with the things you usually wouldn’t dare put out on LinkedIn. We’re talking the soft, squishy bits beneath the armour; the bloodshot eyes that come with juggling work and kids, that time you were passed over for a promotion even though you deserved it. Getting it all out there can be uncomfortable, but it’s a fantastically demystifying process that serves to make you real and attractive to clients who want to work with someone they can trust to tell the truth, someone with all the grit to back their big plans to the hilt. They want someone with the audacity to commit to propositions that can range from crazy to untenable; they know someone with the guts to air their clean -and slightly less clean- laundry in public will have the gall to pull it off.
Step Two is decluttering your narratives. This is a question of what makes you tick. It’s all about authenticity, your most deep-rooted passions and how to exhibit them in a way that opens up the conversation, not closes it down. Owning your Story is a question of innovation, of inspiration; we want you to find whatever it may be that gives you the impetus to carry on, and use it as a stimulant to reveal who you are behind the glossy façade of the consummate professional. After all, there are no prizes for dining out on your highs; the raw honesty of admitting to any moment less than brilliant, however, is refreshingly frank- it proves to employees, clients, and superiors that you won’t flake like old wallpaper when the going gets tough.
After the soul-cleanse of the first two steps, the closing chapter of the Own your Story journey is relatively simple; Step Three is building your (new and improved) internal communication strategy. This means it’s time to take a look at how you present yourself and commit to a more authentic, visionary version of you; it’s this honesty that gets heads turning from those early morning LinkedIn sessions all the way to the boardroom.
Of course, sometimes you need a little help with unlearning the habits of a lifetime: the corporate need to protect yourself by showing no weakness, and even less soul. We want to change that; owning your story is all about liberating yourself from the pressures of business elitism to create a kinder working atmosphere for everyone involved. And whilst you might think that our Three Step programme is where Own your Story starts and ends, we can assure you there’s much more in store. Still curious? Drop us a line to find out!
Last of all, where can you own your story?
You can Own your Story anywhere: If you take ownership of who you are and what you stand for, you’re halfway there. Of course, Owning your Story is a corporate tool to be used in a business setting, but that’s not to say that life generally wouldn’t benefit from a little bit of authenticity and honest communication. After all, the primary goal of the Own your Story programme is to make you and those around you stronger by creating a mutually encouraging, innovative atmosphere in which it’s ok to ask for help, and it’s even better to receive it. Because when you’re more open about your struggles and successes, others will be too. And whilst this won’t eradicate the pernicious industry elitism that keeps so many brilliant execs up at night, it’s a first step on the ladder to kinder corporate relations and altogether better business.
So, you can Own your Story anywhere, and what’s more, you should. But if you need a little help on the road to implementing lasting, meaningful changes in your working practises on both the private and the professional front, we’ll be here. And if you, too, are asking where you can Own your Story, perhaps -just maybe- you should start here with us.
(Authors: Caroline Harth and Anna Hanlon)