Controlling your narrative means purposefully reinforcing your positive and unique traits in a way that communicates your value. When it comes to your personal brand narrative, you can LET it happen or you can MAKE it happen. Andrea shares many inspiring examples of real-life success stories, actionable tips, and explores the consequences of neglecting your narrative. Intentionally controlling your narrative is like having the steering wheel of your career in your own hands.

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Transcript

I have a story for you. About a year and a half ago I was hosting a live question and answer period focused on communication skills and personal branding. A brave woman raised her hand and I called on her. She introduced herself and she told us that she was a lawyer in Manhattan. Then she said, “As you can all tell from my accent, I’m from India. When it comes to my personal brand, I feel like I’m always going to be the foreigner. I’m certainly not ashamed of my background, but I wish my identity was more than this.” Then she paused and I jumped in. 

“So let me make sure I’ve got this right. You were born and raised in India, is that right?”

Yes. 

And you immigrated to the United States? And you passed the bar exam in the state of New York? 

Again, yes. 

And what kind of law do you practice? 

Corporate, she said.

OK. It’s time for you to take control of your narrative. 

You’re not a foreigner. You’re a corporate lawyer with a global perspective. Stop using the word foreigner. You need to control your narrative.

She raised her eyebrows and nodded. But I wasn’t done. “And by the way,” I said. “Your English is excellent. Yes, of course we can all perceive an Indian accent, but really, that’s just a reminder of your global experience.”

I’ll never forget the look on her face. She looked as if a huge weight had been lifted off her and she had a massive smile.

Then I turned to the audience to clarify this point about controlling our narrative. It’s not about being manipulative. It’s definitely not about being deceptive or sharing falsehoods. It’s about consistently reinforcing something about yourself that’s true and that’s aligned with your goals.

And that’s what we’re talking about in this episode – controlling your narrative.

Greetings and welcome to Talk About Talk episode 143: Controlling Your Narrative.  I’m so glad you’re here.  Let me introduce myself. In case we haven’t met, my name is Dr. Andrea Wojnicki and I’m YOUR executive communication coach. Please call me Andrea!  I’m the founder of Talk About Talk, where I coach communication skills to ambitious executives through 1:1 coaching, bootcamps, workshops and keynote speaking. My objective is to help you improve your clarity and confidence, so you have more credibility. When you have more credibility, you can make real impact. And that’s when you’ll get noticed and ultimately you’ll get promoted!  THAT is my goal here.  

If this resonates with you, then I also encourage you to check out the Talk about talk.com website. There are many resources there to help you out. If you’re an individual executive, there’s information about private coaching and small group bootcamps. If you’re a leader or an HR manager looking to boost the communication skills of your team, there’s also information about corporate workshops and keynote speeches.  And there are plenty of free resources too: like the archive of this bi-weekly podcast, AND, I really hope you’ll sign up for the Talk About Talk email newsletter. That newsletter is your chance to get communication tips and coaching from me every week. One last thing: I do spend a lot of time on LinkedIn. Like I’m there everyday. So I hope you’ll connect with me on LinkedIn and maybe send me a message and let me know what you think about this episode.

Alright, let’s get going. CONTROLLING YOUR NARRATIVE

I’ve got lots and lots of relevant examples to share with you – like the story I just shared with you about the women who’s narrative evolved from “foreigner” to “corporate lawyer with a global perspective.”  

These are stories mostly from my one-on-one coaching sessions and some corporate workshops, where I helped clients control their narrative in a way that’s true and that’s aligned with their career aspirations.   I hope that one or more of these stories will inspire you to start controlling your own narrative.  Whether you’re a rising star eager to make a strong early impression or a seasoned executive looking to refine your image, this episode has something for you. 

I’ll share real-life success stories, actionable tips, and even explore the consequences of neglecting your narrative. 

This topic of taking control of your personal narrative typically comes up when I’m coaching folks on their personal brand. I’ll often start out a coaching session or a workshop by sharing some of the specific benefits that we can experience when we develop our personal brand. Of course, there are many, many benefits of developing our personal brand. But specifically the top three that I share are: #1 that it’ll boost your confidence. Simply because you’re identifying your passions and your expertise, how could it NOT boost your confidence? #2 developing your personal brand provides you with focus and direction. And #3 working on your personal brand will facilitate in helping you control your narrative.

And yes, you could say this last one works the other way around too. You could say that controlling your narrative will strengthen your personal brand. It works both ways and its helpful to look at it both ways.  Controlling your narrative and personal branding are closely integrated.

If you’ve heard me or others talk about personal branding before, you may have heard Jeff Bezos’ definition. He says that your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.

In other words, you could say that your brand is “others’ narrative about you.”  Hmm….

I love this definition because it encourages a mental exercise, where we imagine what the important stakeholders are thinking and saying about us – what  the narrative is – when our name comes up in conversation. 

So when they’re discussing who to promote. Your name comes up. What are they thinking and saying about you?

Well, if your brand is others narrative about you, then your narrative can shape your career trajectory. 

And here’s the thing I want you to consider. When it comes to your narrative, you can LET it happen or you can MAKE it happen. I say make it happen. Take control of your narrative. Imagine the possibilities if you could intentionally shape your narrative. It’s like having the steering wheel of your career in your own hands.

Such power!

That said, I want to point out that this is about not about being manipulative nor inauthentic – nor creating falsehoods – nor crafting a facade. It IS about identifying a theme that you want to emphasize, then putting words around that theme – the narrative – and consistently communicating those words and reinforcing them with corresponding actions.

Oh that was good!!! Did you get that? This can our working definition of controlling your narrative. It’s about (1.) identifying a theme that is authentic and true to you, that you want to emphasize, (2.) then putting the words around that theme. Articulating it. And then (3.) consistently communicating or reinforcing those themes through your words and your behaviors.

Alright, enough pontificating! Let’s get into some examples. I’ve got some stories to share.

I thought that a great place to start would be with what happens when you fail to control your narrative. 

oboy! There are so many examples around us of people who fail to control their narrative. The most obvious examples are with public figures. When, for example, politicians fail to establish a narrative that resonates with voters or with their opponents. Or celebrities who fail to advocate for themselves. This is why PR firms exist, I guess.

But of course you don’t have to be a public figure to benefit from controlling your narrative. Or to suffer when you fail to control your narrative.

Just this week. I had a consult with a female executive who was in desperate need of help with her personal brand and controlling her narrative. She told me that she was gainfully employed at a company – a well-known company that you’ve probably heard of. She’s doing well in her role as a VP , but she’s getting restless and she’s looking for a C-suite role at a new firm. Based on her credentials , she was invited to interviews by several firms. But she never made it through to the final round. She realized, in retrospect, that she was struggling to answer many of the questions that they were asking her. She was failing to control her narrative

One of the things we ended up focusing on for her is her leadership style. LEADERSHIP should be a key theme for many of us when we are controlling our narrative. As a VP pursuing the c-suite, this woman’s leadership is a critical part of her brand. She’ll geta lot of traction by thinking about her true and authentic leadership style and putting words around it, then she can then consistently communicate.

So What about you? What’s your leadership style?  Have you taken the time to think about that in a disciplined way?

I have an episode on demonstrating leadership it’s episode 90 – I’ll leave a link to it in the shownotes. There are many ways we can demonstrate leadership – there’s leading or managing people, of course, but there’s also being proactive or using your initiative. There’s also being decisive, being strategic, AND we can also demonstrate leadership through thought leadership.  How else can we demonstrate leadership?  How about by using the word “leadership,” – referencing ourself as a leader?  Controlling the narrative!  Simply using  the word “lead” or “led” or “leadership” in reference to ourself.  The team I led.  Or my leadership style.” You get the idea.  Its shocking to me for how many executives this is a revelation.  If you want to be seen as a leader, use the word lead!

This reminds me of some academic research I rad a few years ago focusing on how female executives build legitimacy through their self-narratives. It’s a paper called “Class Matters: The Role of Social Class and Organizational Sector in High‐achieving Women’s Legitimacy Narratives.” Keyword for us there? NARRATIVES.  I’ll leave a link to this paper in the shownotes.

The authors highlighted how successful female executives consciously employ six different types of self-narratives, or, as they call them, “six different discursive legitimation strategies” to explain and justify their success against the odds. Are you curious what the six are? There’s:

  1. Success through competence, or skills, however they acquired them
  2. Success through endurance or resilience
  3. Success through maneuvers or being a strategic and analytical thinker
  4. Success through their social network or relationships
  5. Success through serendipity – or good luck
  6. Success through warrior-like action – or being a courageous fighter


These women articulated their path to leadership (did you get that? Their “path to leadership”) to one or more of these narratives.

Fascinating.  And a wonderful opportunity for us. You can check out the paper, as I said, in the shownotes for this episode. And look at the list of narratives in the appendix.  Its almost like a checklist.  Which of these 6 narratives resonates with your story? Is it pure competence? Resilience? Strategic? Based on relationships? Or maybe it’s your good fortune? Or perhaps its your courage to fight for yourself?

The narratives we’re telling others – and ourselves! – is rally important. SO it’s well worth the effort to do so consciously or strategically. 

This comes up a lot in my workshops and coaching sessions where executives are seeking to overcome an identity that isn’t serving them. Let me share a few examples. 

A few years I was running some workshops for some senior female executives. These women were all over the world. We were talking about which archetype best personifies each of us. I am the sage and the magician, I announced. What are you? One of the amazing female executives raised her hand and she said, well, I know that deep inside my heart I’m the jester. I love cracking jokes and making people laugh. But I try to hide that when I’m at work. 

Wait, what? I asked. You hide your true persona? Let me get this straight. Didn’t you just get promoted to Global Chief of Staff? Yes, I did. And does your boss know that you have a sense of humor? Yes, I suppose he does, she answered. Well, of course you know you can’t go around making inappropriate. Jokes. And laughing all the time. Period. Business can be serious. But we also all appreciate that person who provides levity when things get a little too intense. Period. And I think that’s you. Let’s make Have you ever thought about making that part of your narrative. You’re a strategic thinker and a strong leader. Who also provides levity when needed. You are a positive influence on the corporate culture. 

She was silent for a minute.  Then she adhibited she was absolutely thrilled with that narrative.  It was like a relief.  A way of articulating hr true self and highlighting her value of that true self in the work environment.  Its very validating.

So here’s the question for you. Is there some part of you that you’re not particularly proud of? Or something that you’re trying to hide when you’re at work? Is there a way of labeling that attribute or creating a narrative around it that becomes a positive? Of course it still needs to be true and authentic and valid. But have you thought about creating a narrative around that thing that might not be so positive? Let me give you a few examples of. When this is exactly what I’ve helped my clients with.

There’s the gentleman who rarely speaks. He’s quiet and shy. Of course, he had the technical capabilities, but he rarely said a word. Certainly he could work on his confidence and that is something that we worked on, but we also worked on creating a narrative for him. Around. The fact that he is a deep thinker and a strong listener, not just quiet and shy.

There’s also the female CEO that I was coaching that talks very quickly. The cadence of her speech was. Noticeably rapid. She got comments on it all the time and we worked on slowing her speech. We also worked on her narrative whenever anyone pointed out. Her fast talking. She would say something like. Yes, I’m working on it. I’m a fast thinker, and sometimes that translates to being a fast talker.

That simple statement implies that she’s high IQ without sounding too boastful. And by the way, there was absolutely no question that she was high IQ. Admitting that she’s working on her speech cadence, on slowing down her speech, and also admitting that she’s a fast thinker encourages people to think of her as someone with high IQ.  This is a smart narrative.

Did you get that?  SMART narrative.

This story is similar to the woman who spoke with an accent, the quote unquote foreigner, who shifted the narrative to “global experience.”

Speaking of global experience, I met a beautiful mixed race woman at a workshop recently who told me that she’s exhausted with the Q: where are you from? The truth is, she grew up in Canada, as did her parents. Her grandparents were all from different continents.  Instead of sharing all this though, I encouraged her to try this narrative: When someone asks where are you from? Instead of being annoyed, think of  this as an opportunity to share your narrative:

“My ancestry is A, B, C & D. I also travel extensively for work and for pleasure. I’m a leader with a true global perspective.”  

Compelling, right? She turned her annoyance into an opportunity to share something positive about herself.

That’s like my friend Lori, a successful event manager turned professional photographer.  If you met Lori, the first think you would notice is that she’s tiny.  I mean, she is noticeably short. But she has huge personality and capability. She’s type A and she’s very bright.  Instead of letting people focus on her stature, she controls her narrative.  She says things like “I’ll see you at the event.  I’m the short one with the bright clothing and with lots to say.” She told me that she purposefully wears bright clothing so people notice that. She’s the short woman in bright clothes, a bright mind, and lots of energy. She’s a powerhouse and she’s controlling her narrative.

OK – I’ve got more examples for you here. Here are a few that might be helpful if you’re seeking to position yourself for a promotion or a new job.

Plenty of executives whom I coach talk about their extensive or broad experience. Recently I was coaching a c-suite executive  who was interviewing for A new position. When he shared his experience with me, there was absolutely no denying That he had broad experience. But it wasn’t clear to me, nor was it to him, that this broad experience would actually provide value to a future employer. So I asked him to share some stories with me about how his broad experience has helped him in the past. Then I suggested. Then I said quote It sounds to me as if you have an incredibly. Valuable catalog of case studies. That you’ve experienced first hand. So as a senior executive, you can. Leverage these case studies in the decisions that you’re making, Is that right?

Again, that big smile. When we nail the narrative. He was so thrilled. My broad experience provides me with a catalog of case studies that I can leverage. When I’m solving problems and making decisions.

Here’s another one period. Plenty of leaders that I coach. Are genuinely nice people. It even shows up in their 360 degree feedback. They are adored. But how do you say this without sounding cliche. I’m a nice guy. How do you say that? And how do you say that in a way where? You don’t sound like a wimp, like maybe you’re too nice and you’re not assertive enough.

Well, this is when my advice of leveraging the word using the word lead comes up again. If people call you nice, Ask yourself what kind of leader am I? A few suggestions:

  • Perhaps you could reference your Collaborative leadership style as
  • Of you might highlight how you are people focused, you bring out the best in people.
  • Or you might talk about the type of culture you create to encourage a high-performing team.

You get the idea. Take the point you want to make about yourself.  That rue thing, and articulate it is a way that is true to you and provides value to the organization.

This is the recipe that I used for all of these examples I shared, and it’s the recipe I encourage you to try when you’re creating your own narrative.

I want to close with three things.  My three point summery. Are you ready?:

  1. When it comes to your narrative, you can LET it happen or you can MAKE it happen. I say make it happen.  
  2. When you control your narrative, you strengthen your personal brand.  Of course,  You are strengthening your professional identity.  But how do you do so? Well, that’s my third point.
  3. It’s about (1.) identifying a theme (or themes) that is authentic and true to you, that you want to emphasize, (2.) then putting the words around that theme. Articulating it. And then (3.) consistently communicating or reinforcing those themes through your words and your behaviours.

Remember, your narrative is a story worth telling. 

I will leave it there. 

And if you enjoyed this podcast episode, I hope you’ll share it with your friends and leave me a review on whatever podcast app you’re using. It really makes a difference and I appreciate it.

And please connect with me on LinkedIn. I’d love to see you there and you can always message me on LinkedIn.