Did you know that leadership attraction and marketing are related?

You couldn’t control how your story started, but you can write a few good pages in there
― Mustafa Saifuddin

As I was reading Russell’s most recent book called Dotcom Secrets, something really jumped out at me as a doorway to leadership development – leadership attraction. It is about finding what is attractive about you personally, no matter how unexciting you think that might be – as an “attractive” leader to others so they want to follow you. This is almost exactly the same strategy Mark Breslin uses in his book about construction leadership “Alpha Dog”, although he explains it a bit differently. So I think I am on to something important here… As you know a leader is someone other people want to follow, not someone they are obligated to obey. The secret to this is the combination of both self-awareness and using your “backstory” at the right moment to attract the right people to the right goal. As you develop the necessary self-awareness about what is actually attractive about you to other people, you will have a team of people who want to follow you, and willingly contribute their talents and energy towards whatever goal you need them to work on. So how does this work?

According to Russell Brunsen, there are four elements to finding and using your very own “attractive character” or in our case “attractive leader”. Finding your own stories within these themes, is key to moving from a “bad egg” manager people try to avoid to an “attractive character” leader they want to emulate.

The four elements are:

  1. Backstory
  2. Parables
  3. Character flaws
  4. Polarities

Managers I have known and not loved still had qualities

In my many encounters with managers, I have met incompetent and weak managers, but I have rarely met someone I thought didn’t have something important to focus on and teach their team. When we learn to be aware of our strengths, find stories to illustrate them that inspire others and then use the right story at the right time, we are moving towards both self-realization and becoming an attractive leader for our organizations. This post is going to focus on finding your backstory to get started with this process. I will use my own backstory discovery process as an example that hopefully helps you find yours.

Your backstory is the part of your life that makes you an attractive example to others – and that helps them focus on a particular goal. The example Russell uses is the guy “Jared” who was overweight and started eating at Subway everyday until he lost 200 pounds (and had a lot of problems later when he became famous, but we are just going to look at the actual diet here). This guy is only interesting to us because of his Subway story. And if you had seen him either overweight or after he lost weight in Subway eating a sub you would not find him to be an attractive character until you knew his backstory. When you hear his story, you start to identify with him, his life, his struggles and his decisions. If you aren’t concerned about weight, his backstory may not be that attractive to you. However, if you wanted to start your own restaurant, develop sandwich recipes or begin a movement for healthy living, you might also be interested in this backstory. You would need another backstory if you wanted people to focus on something like learning to ride a motorcycle or parenting for example.

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Your backstory should relate to your goal

I was trying to think about how this would apply to me and to the readers of these posts, because leadership backstories can be very motivating to a team. It’s just that the backstory you choose has to help the team focus on something specific that you want them to pay attention to. It was not easy to come up with a backstory until I applied it to my own work or my business. That is where the strategy will become useful for you too. Since I want to promote leadership courses and coaching, my backstory started to come together as I remembered how I initially learned to lead by consciously doing the opposite of what my worst managers did to me. Then later, how I used learning to bring me into my own sweet spot for leadership.

My leadership attraction backstory:

One of my worst managers always kept me and everyone else in the dark with decisions so that we knew nothing about what was happening and had to keep coming to him with questions. He would periodically dump huge decisions on our heads at the last minute with an air of superiority. When we emerged from that destructive situation, he would invent another impossible task to see if the one or two people who survived his last attack would finally crumble. His attitude was to try as much as possible to destroy us, and then justify his sadistic approach by saying how he “built our character”.

Three other horrible managers I experienced, all had what I would call spineless approaches to leadership. They avoided making decisions, solving problems, confronting bullies, and had nothing motivating to say to anyone. They existed in a bubble of their own fear about what might be coming down the pipes for them, and were ready to throw us under the bus at any moment should the risk factor for them become greater. These management behaviours also had poor planning in common.

My leadership approach: balancing encouragement and challenge

I felt that both approaches were demoralizing and wasted a ton of time, energy and talent. I became determined to develop my capacity to motivate others, encourage them and additionally, to take the reins on difficult issues and not back down just because it was uncomfortable for me. I studied good managers, read a ton of things about leadership, paid attention to people I felt had strong leadership characteristics, learned how to plan out all aspects of the management role, and had a lot of humbling experiences trying to run projects as a manager myself. My whole approach towards leadership has evolved out of this brew of learning, imitating, and rejecting negative behaviours I did not want to be known for. Eventually I developed my own leadership approach based on these two key themes and one support behaviour:


Support behaviour #1: Use both encouragement and challenge, to provide people with the right remedy for the issue at hand.

Support behaviour #2: Use an understanding of risks and opportunities to keep the team focused, while responding to events as they pertain to the goal.

The balance of challenge and support, risk and opportunity requires finding the right mix for each person, situation and team. But I came to this understanding through my leadership backstory. Although I wasn’t aware of it to this level in the past, I think that even at a less conscious level it has resonated deeply for the majority of my clients and management students. As I reflected on my story, I realized how important it was to develop self-awareness to manage effectively. I also realized the necessity of planning based on risk and opportunity in order to be able to more responsively manage my team.

Time for your call to action:

What is it about your story that could encourage or challenge your team, as required?

(Once you have an idea, help us all to be more successful leaders by messaging your idea or emailing it to marie@shiftworkplace.com.)

In conclusion

So that is my personal leadership backstory. It led me to mitigate risk, develop talent and plan and I teach all these things in my courses about leadership because that is who I am. You will always lead your team from who you are even if you completely unaware of it. Clarifying your backstory and then using it to tell your team who you are, at the right moment when they need it most, will naturally lead them to identify with you, even if they are very different personalities with very different stories themselves. Your backstory brings the human interest piece, and the leadership example from your own experience – directly to the consciousness of your team members. One caveat here: your backstory is something you use to help your team focus, not to get others to admire or idolize you. And that inner truth that is the best of who you are will be what sustains your leadership attractiveness.

So what do you want your team to focus on and what is the “inner light” to your backstory that would help them get there? I can’t wait to hear about how this works for you!

“People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.”
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

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About Marie:

Marie Gervais, PhD, CEO Shift Management is a business-to-business entrepreneur who specializes in helping employers train their middle management to lead, get their workplace learning online and interactive, and conduct team assessments to figure out who to promote and how. She has a background in integrating internationally-trained individuals to the workplace and has supported many businesses in their efforts to hire, retain, support and promote immigrant and diverse employees.

Get in touch – she would love to hear from you: marie@shiftworkplace.com or 780-454-5661