“What’s your story?”
This is one of my favorite questions to ask others, so much so that I even ask it of myself. How someone chooses to respond tells you so much in itself and also opens the door to new territory to explore. We can find common ground and connect, or we can find differences and unknowns to open up to more possibilities and engagement.
- What do they/you focus on or include in their/your story?
- How does it feel; what are the emotions that come up?
- How open and vulnerable are you?
- How closed or vague are you?
- Are you sharing what you feel you ‘should’ or what you really want to share?
- Are you sharing the same old story, or is it fresh?
Storytelling has been been around as long as humans have, as a powerful way to teach, to express, to witness, and to connect. Stories help us to create a shared experience, to understand each other and relate, to observe and transform.
There is power in sharing our own stories and in listening to those of others. Stories often gives us clues as to where our belief systems and core values originated and were shaped over time. This is why I believe storytelling is an essential skill and practice for all of us, and most definitely for leaders.
When leaders know their stories, share them, and create the space for others to share theirs, they give people permission and security to open and witness each other. We come together in the universal human experience and begin to trust and understand each other.
I co-created and directed a Women’s Leadership Expedition last summer, and we specifically chose, “What’s your story?” as the theme for our first full day.
Our conscious leadership curriculum took place for a week aboard a catamaran in the US Virgin Islands. In such an intimate setting, it would be difficult to hide or not engage, and yet we knew that creating a safe space for connection would be essential for participants to open up, express authentically, and thrive.
Enter storytelling, our reliable friend and tool that would help us to feel seen, heard, understood, and appreciated, and do the same for others. These desires are core to the human experience, strong leaders included. Conscious leaders have the courage to get personal and in turn, invite others to do the same, knowing that life is personal.
Once acquainted with the boat and the sea, we gathered in a circle for sharing our leadership stories. We formed agreements for creating a safe space to speak. We agreed to listen without judgment or input and to witness each other without interruption.
The first woman to share modeled courage for everyone, going straight into a deep experience. In respect of her story, I will not share details, but I will tell you that she opened up about a very dark and challenging in time in her life and how an invitation to feel her core values was the guiding light that truly saved her through this time.
So now we had this story to relate to and engage with for going into the landscape of our own hardships and our own core values. The others naturally accepted this invitation to share about their own challenges and core values. The intimacy of this shared experience primed the soil for us to plant seeds together for the week ahead.
In this way, storytelling naturally draws us in and taps into our inherent ability to connect and be in community without having to force it. We are wired for this and there is an ease and depth that is possible.
As each women shared, it became clear that many had experienced traumas ranging from loss, abuse, disease, and more. We were reminded that everyone has a story even when we don’t know what it is. Mutual respect and support followed.
With these personal experiences out in the open, it became even more personal and relevant to learn tools for working with and through them. We practiced recognizing the beliefs and opportunities in our stories, acknowledging the stories that define us and those that we wish to transmute.
We continued to share our stories throughout the week, learning along the way and we created new stories that will be perfect to share with others as a way to teach through example.
If you are interested in incorporating storytelling into your leadership style, here are some strategies to consider:
- Reflect on your own life story and stories; look for themes, patterns, what turns you off, what turns you on, what induces joy, what induces fear (journaling and meditation are great for this)
- Share your stories with your team, as appropriate; be honest and speak from the heart
- Ask good questions of others to tease out their stories
- Create a space specifically for storytelling and sharing (e.g., in a weekly status meeting, each team member takes 5 minutes to share about their weekend; or in a monthly team meeting, create the culture of beginning with a couple of stories that reflect the team’s core values)
- Address problem solving through story; e.g., as a group or individually, where have we seen a similar problem before and what happened? What worked or didn’t work?
- How did the experience shape our belief system going forward?
- Learn the art of storytelling and asking good questions
- Offer prompts to your team to encourage them to become self aware and to hear stories on specific themes relevant to the group mission/ vision
- Once again, creating a safe space and trust amongst the team will allow people to feel secure in sharing their truth; identify ground rules to encourage this (e.g., assume positive intent, listen without judgment, agree on whether questions or input is acceptable)
- Ask your peers, mentors, and your own leaders to share their stories with you.
Guest Author Bio: Erin McElroy
Erin is a seeker, teacher, and facilitator specializing in personal transformation and integration. She is passionate about helping people to experience conscious, tangible change; for purpose, on purpose. Her playground is in the space of exploring consciousness and embodying your potential to live a fulfilling, meaningful life. She also leads Conscious Leadership Sailing Expeditions.
Erin lives in Mexico, diving deep into practices such as breath-work, meditation and writing, while taking time to play, explore, and channel her best impression of a dolphin.
Please contact Erin at: www.erinmcelroy.com