Looking back, I can’t remember a time when my parents weren’t leading. Sometimes they led small teams of 5-10, sometimes groups in the thousands. They were leaders at local, national, and international levels. While they were both leaders in their careers, they also led in many volunteer roles. Socially gifted, my parents’ ability to connect with people and bring them together was awe-inspiring.
Meanwhile, I was extremely shy and struggled to be in the same room with someone I didn’t know. This was okay as a small child. As I grew older, it was expected I would lead – just like my parents.
By the time I started school, I learned that no matter my personal preference, someone would call on me to lead. More importantly, it was expected that I would always accept the leadership role. As awkward and uncomfortable as I often felt, each new role built my knowledge, skill sets, and confidence. Today, I am a mixture of experienced leader, shy child, and leadership student.
My parents often reminded my siblings and me that the ability to work with people was more important than any personal gift we might have, like musical ability, intelligence, or physical agility. They constantly encouraged us to exercise our social “muscles” and often taught us through stories. To this day, I rely on their stories to help guide me through new or challenging situations.
Abraham Lincoln as a storyteller
Character is like a tree and reputation its shadow.
The shadow is what we think it is and the tree is the real thing.
Abraham Lincoln is often recognized as one of the most effective and influential leaders in history. He was also known for his ability to lead through storytelling. A number of his stories are captured in Donald T. Phillips’ book, “Lincoln on Leadership.”
The underlying theme of Abraham Lincoln’s leadership stories is a focus on individuals, relationships, and compassion. In his book, Phillips states, “the foundation of Abraham Lincoln’s leadership style was an unshakable commitment to the rights of the individual.” Fast Company author Mark C. Crowley underscores the importance of Lincoln’s understanding that, “Engagement and performance are mostly influenced by feelings and emotions.”
Whatever you are, be a good one.
Storytelling is an integral part of human learning and connection. Intentional storytelling can be one of the most effective and formative tools in a leader’s tool kit.
Think back to a personal leadership learning moment with a strong connection to your development journey. Chances are, there is a story that goes with the moment.
What stories would be included in a book about your leadership? Is there a theme or main message your stories contain? Is it the story you intended to tell?
What are the stories that guide you or that you use when guiding others? How will you use intentional storytelling in your leadership journey?
Want to dig a little deeper?
- Academic Paper – Harris, J & Barnes, B.K. (2006): “Leadership Storytelling“
- Article by Christine Hennebury from CBC Canada: “Storytelling is not just entertainment. It’s a fundamental part of being human“
- Book by Donald T. Phillips : “Lincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies for Tough Times”
- Article by Mark C. Crowley from Fast Company: The Leadership Genius Of Abraham Lincoln (fastcompany.com)