Your success stories are the times throughout your life when you rose to face the demands of a specific life challenge. By calling on your resources, both external and internal, you developed a process to move towards a solution for a positive outcome. Simply said, you did what needed to be done.
When you look back on how and what you did to overcome these challenges, your key abilities emerge. Your stories of success are your reflection of your natural strengths or hardwired abilities.
Why are success stories so important?
Few people develop their success stories, and even fewer practice telling them. Why should you? Because they reveal so much more about you than a list of adjectives or skills. Plus, stories are inherently interesting, so they capture the listener’s attention more readily than anything else.
When you are preparing for an interview, be it for college admissions, an internship, your first job, a new work or leadership role, or even when you are on the elevator with your boss, you should always be ready to pull out your stories.
Many companies go beyond hiring new employees based on skills only. They ask themselves questions such as, “Who is this person and how will he fit into and contribute to our company?” Hiring managers try to get past the “tip of the iceberg” to the more hidden aspects of you, your motives, what drives you, and yes, your hard-wired nature. The standard practice to accomplish this is through a variation of what is called Behavioral Event Interviewing (historically known as, Critical Incident Technique) in which they use prompts such as, “Tell me a time when you solved a work problem or successfully worked on a team project,” or “Tell me a time when you led a team through a tough time.” The stories that you tell in response to these questions reveal what you are capable of. Your stories are your link to what is invisible to others—your natural abilities and strengths.
Take 30-year old Jennifer, a recent participant in our career development workshop, called Invest In Yourself, offered by her employer, an engineering company. Like many others, Jennifer focused on her skills while not recognizing the recurrent themes that underlie her successes. Two of the stories shared during the workshop told how she worked with team members from different departments to successfully complete a major project, highlighting her hard-wired abilities to think strategically and to focus on the overall goals of the group. Another success story revealed that she was a patient and careful listener, a person who could pick up on the strengths of others, which is the hallmark of a person who problem solves and makes decisions from a pragmatic perspective. As she told her stories, others were able to gain insight to the “hidden parts of her iceberg.”
“Someone will notice…”
Jennifer was hesitant to tell her success stories because she saw it as bragging. She assumed, as many do, that if you do your work well that someone “will notice.” However, her assumption was wrong. Perhaps it isn’t that our leaders don’t see our successes, it is that they have much on their radar screen and you can fall off pretty quickly. Jennifer later reported that she shared her expanded understanding of her own hardwired abilities with her boss, who was then able to expand her work role. No longer dreading being pigeon-holed, Jennifer has found increased energy and success. The company is thrilled with her performance.
Being able to articulate how you best contribute from your hardwired abilities and being able to ask for more tasks that align with those articulated abilities, are exactly what we aim to teach and help others through our career development programs.
So how do I start building success stories?
Follow these steps to remember a time when you performed at your very best and with great success. (I also describe this in my book Hardwired).
Step 1. Take 20 minutes to list ten stories of you at your best.
Step 2. Select one to write about in depth from beginning to end, include a description of each of the following:
a. What did you do?
b. What was your role?
c. How did you feel during this experience?
d. What major lessons did you learn from this experience?
Step 3. Share this story with friends or colleagues and ask others to describe what themes they hear?
Step 4. Connect the themes to your abilities, skills and values (this is the hardest part!).
Step 5. Trim the “fat” from the story so that it runs around 2 minutes long and has a beginning, (what was the Situation), a middle (what Action did you take), and an ending (what was the Result).
Step 6. Practice, practice, practice telling your story.
Step 7. Repeat with another story.
Share your Successes
It is important for all of us to cultivate our success stories! They are our pathway to understanding our own hard-wired strengths. It is when we understand and own our strengths and our talents that we can be at our best as a person, a student, a worker, a leader and a contributor to society.
Dr. Tom N. Tavantzis is an organizational development and leadership psychologist, Co-Founder, Innovative Management Development (IMD), Adjunct Prof, Saint Joseph University, Graduate program Leadership and Organizational Development. Martha T. Tavantzis, ACSW, a licensed social worker, Co-Founder and President of IMD.
Tom and Martha are certified Highlands’ consultants, working with the Highlands Ability Battery and related consulting services for over 25 years. Practicing what is commonly known as “positive organizational psychology”, emphasizing natural strengths, optimism and values, Dr. Tavantzis has extended his reach by helping others obtain their fullest potential through his career development book Hardwired: Taking the Road to Delphi and Uncovering Your Talents. This in-depth analysis is based on actual case studies and offers a unique way to think deeply about one’s own natural aptitudes – and how they influence career and role choices.