Feb 7, 2022

How to Improve Your Leadership Performance by Changing Your Internal Storyline

I didn’t feel like a failure, but a screw-up. A scatterbrain or a flibbertigibbet. It’s weeks into the new year, and I can’t seem to get my ONE tiny new habit going.

Raise your hand if you are feeling this.

(Ok, put your hand down. I see you.)

Then I was like, wait. Where is this coming from? Why am I resorting to low-level shame?

Immediately a story hopped into my mind…

We’d go straight from school to our Girl Scout meeting as a pack. Kelly green sashes, shiny Trapper Keepers, and bright chatter from a gaggle of 3rd graders tumbled like puppies into Cynda’s split-level house. I’d often stay after meetings and play while I waited for my dad to pick me up.

And many nights after a troop meeting, we’d get a phone call from Cynda’s cheerful voice, “Oh, I’ve found little bits of Jennifer again!” I’d forgotten a worksheet, my viola, my badge book, or something.

Listen, Cynda was a gift, and yet I was allowing this story from elementary school to shame me.

Friends, “Oh, little bits of Jennifer,” was more than a trio of DECADES ago. And yet, it’s a story that was negatively impacting my performance in my work.

What stories are you holding onto? What are you allowing to influence you in ways that not only don’t serve you, but just aren’t true?

We’re all walking around with these stories from long ago that burrow their way into our minds, influence our emotions, and then play out in our actions. And I promise you — they are impacting your leadership.

What stories are you holding onto? What are you allowing to influence you in ways that not only don’t serve you, but just aren’t true?

How do you find those stories, especially at work where it’s not exactly (or even remotely) therapy hour? And let alone the stories your team carries? And then what do you do?

Three Steps to Changing the Story

  1. Follow the cringe.
    When you feel that discomfort or cringy feeling, you’ve got a story to look for. Notice it, jot it down, make a note in your phone. It doesn’t have to be a transcript of the event. It can be simple:
    In FY23 planning. Phillipe said X. I felt Y. What’s the story?
    Come back later and examine it.
  1. ID the identities.
    Did you catch the names I was calling myself? Screw-up. Scatter-brained. Flibbertigibbet. Those are identities I was putting on myself. What have you called yourself? Stupid, Mean, Worthless, Incapable?
    When you notice you’re labeling yourelf, you’ve got a story to find.
  2. Mine for a new story.
    We need to the old story go, but we have to replace it with the new story. When have you felt the opposite of the negative story? So for me, I remembered when I first went back to work after having a lotta kiddos in not so many years. I was organized. I felt engaged, energetic, and capable. That’s the new story. My performance is now tied to a success and not 9-year-old me when I was first learning to organize my stuff. (And so far, my consistency is much more successful!)

How will you use this process? Where in your life do you need to find and release the old story?

I’d love to hear…comment and let me know!


  1. Jenna says:

    This Girl Scouts story sounded like my childhood! Not only because I was also wearing the kelly green sash, but also because I was forgetting “little bits of Jenna” everywhere! I have learned so many coping mechanisms for my forgetfulness, but how many of those “coping skills” became the OCD and anxiety that today fill my mind?! These are good things to evaluate and let go of if it has come from a place of shame and lies!

    • Jenn Whitmer says:

      It’s amazing how these stories impact us. And so much of growing is letting go. When our coping mechanisms hurt us, that’s no longer helpful.

  2. […] write frequently about how personality and stories impact your leadership skills. Today we’re opening up to […]


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