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Leaders are Storytellers

If leaders are storytellers: What story are you telling?

Stories are the bedrock of the world as we “know” it. They weave together our beliefs, our relationships and our dreams. Stories have the power to change the way we think, to alter our life’s plan, to build and to destroy – even to mold a nation.

“By the time that FDR [Franklin D. Roosevelt] was inaugurated president on March 4, 1933, the banking system had collapsed, nearly 25% of the labor force was unemployed, and prices and productivity had fallen to 1/3 of their 1929 levels”(1). Part of his strategy for developing programs to alleviate the suffering of the American people during The Great Depression was to Send FERA (Federal Emergency Relief Administration) out to communities to gather information. Renowned Associated Press reporter, Lenora “Hick” Hickok, became Chief Investigator. But, what Hick reported back to the White House was not a list of statistics. There were no comments from local government. What she reported back were stories of real people and real suffering, stories of rail workers and farmers, and families. Successful or not, there is no doubt that the policies and programs created by FDR were strongly influenced by Hick’s stories.(2)

As leaders, we have to acknowledge that the stories we tell are created not just by the carefully crafted words of a memo, email, or presentation. They are also colored and filled in by the choices we make and the way we treat people. Actions – Emotions – Attitudes.

The people we lead witness a story built layer upon layer, reading and interpreting a kaleidoscope of observations. So, what story are you telling? Are your words and actions playing out cohesively or do they conflict with and contradict each other? When our words, actions, or demeanor do not align, it tears down trust within a team and can create an uneasiness that has the potential to disrupt processes and projects big and small. It is okay to tell the story of the challenges being faced. It is OK to tell the story of difficult times ahead. Being honest and vulnerable from a position of leadership is a fundamental part of building psychological safety within your team.

A common challenge for writers is how to move the plot forward. This is true for Leaders as well. We cannot let our narrative focus only on the challenges or even the successes. If you find yourself stuck in a stalled out plot – it is time to start talking about what is next. Leaders have to share with their people steps that are being taken, goals that are being set, and progress that is being made. AND, leaders need to include their people in the plot. How are your people part of the steps, goals, and progress? Write them into the story you are telling. In these unprecedented times, we need to tell stories that bring us together, stories that unite us in a common purpose, stories that compel us to commit to a goal AND to each other.

What Story Are You Telling?

  • Be a consistent narrator – Match your words, actions, and energy

  • Move your plot forward – talk about what is next

  • Add to your character list – include your people in the story

If you are struggling with your story or your people don’t seem to be on the same page, let’s talk about how Leadership or Team Coaching can help.

(1) Great Depression Facts. (n.d.). Retrieved August 11, 2020, from

(2) Quinn, S. (2017). Eleanor and Hick: The love affair that shaped a First Lady. Farmington Hills, Mich: Thorndike Press, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning.

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