What happens when your vision of what someone else’s life should look like doesn’t match theirs?

I’ve seen this result in wonderful, deep, rich dialogues, and I’ve seen it result in alienation. It helps to remember that it is not your story to write. Knowing this doesn’t make it easier when you care about the person and “want the best for them.” Who are we to say what is best for another human being?

One example of this is family traditions. This includes things like “My mom was an X. Her mom was an X. So, it’s expected that I’ll be an X.” Or, “My dad went to Y college. His dad went to Y college. Everyone assumes I’ll go to Y college.”

This is not confined to family relationships. Think about the organizations that have defined career paths. The individual gets hired right out of college and is slotted into a career ladder based on their position. Or the high-potential manager whose sponsor has mapped out the chess moves that will see this person attaining some pre-determined leadership position the sponsor has envisioned for them.

As you can see, none of these visions are malicious or ill-intentioned. In fact, if you were to speak to these folks, they would likely share that they are trying to be helpful. The issue isn’t intent, it’s impact. The impact is that they have taken authorship away from the protagonist. In effect saying, “I know better for you than you do for yourself.” The truth is, though, that each of us has our own unique story to write.

As a leader, our role is to leave the pen in the individual’s hand, using open-ended, positively biased, questions that help them think about how their story is unfolding, and how we might best support them on their journey. They are the protagonist and as a leader, we aspire to be a key supporting character in their story — if only for a chapter.

After all, it is not our story to write.