The stories that reveal the most about us are usually the ones we would rather not share. Sometimes they are embarrassing, too painful, or make us feel vulnerable. I recently had a conversation with a leader who had experienced a challenging year. His son was in a car accident and he lost a sibling to cancer. As he reflected on the year it was clear that these two events had become part of his narrative. He attributed many of his short comings of the previous year to these two events. Very few people knew the impact of these events because they were too painful to share and they triggered an outpouring of emotion on the part of the leader.
After giving the situation some thought, I suggested that he reframe both events. Rather than focusing on his son’s accident, we discussed focusing on the fact that his son is now thriving and doing well. Reframing the event created a story about resilience not tragedy. Similarly, rather than focusing on the loss of his sibling (admittedly not an easy task) I asked him to consider how he would celebrate his sibling’s life and ensure his legacy. This thinking shifted the emphasis of the story to how his brother lived rather than his death.
I remember sending a condolence card to a senior leader after learning of the death of his father. His handwritten thank you note was filled with memories of how his father influenced his life. It revealed another side of a leader with a reputation of being no nonsense and hard driving. This highlights another aspect of storytelling. We must create the space for people to share their stories, welcome “the reveal,” and be comfortable with the demonstration of vulnerability.
It can be challenging to reveal the deeper side of ourselves, especially if we believe that vulnerability is a sign of weakness. The presence of a leader is defined by a blend of power and vulnerability. It’s a recipe for relatability, connection with others, and a demonstration of what it means to be human. Share your stories.