We know a lot about storytelling and the brain and how story contributes to influence, and yet most leaders are tentative about sharing their most compelling stories or being vulnerable in the moment. Our most powerful stories are filled with humanity or more accurately our imperfect, broken selves. The old paradigm of a sparkling smile, firm handshake and manufactured positivity no longer sit well in the new corporate world. Everyone is starving for authenticity.
We’re suspicious of those who avoid sharing the rougher bits of their journey. The new corporate world is demanding the truth and won’t be led by emotionally dishonest projections of professionalism. Trust is born in the darker corners of our narrative where we lost faith, made a mess of things, and made mistakes that make us cringe. It’s the conflict in those narratives that spark the comeback and the phoenix rising from the ashes.
Here are 5 stories that will get you closer to an authentic leadership story
1. Owning a mistake
2. A time you were overlooked for a role or opportunity
3. A moment you felt powerless
4. A time you were bullied at work
5. An invisible struggle you face
Leaders who avoid the hard stories are missing an opportunity to connect more deeply and lead with more authority. Narrative vulnerability expresses a commitment to truth and is an act of respect. When we fail to acknowledge truth, we insult our listener’s intelligence.
Think about trainings you’ve attended, all hands meetings, and moments of crisis. What happens when everyone walks out the door? They immediately confer about what was total B.S. and what was true. They’re aligning their authenticity meters and if the communication lacked humanity and truth, credibility is lost and commitment and loyalty is fractured.
We spend a lot of time helping our executive coaching clients build trust and authority by examining high stakes conversations, presentations and media interviews. How do you behave in crisis? Those stories will continue to live long after the crisis has passed.
A stunning example of authentic leadership and communication is Arne Sorenson’s message on April 10, 2020 in the early stages of the pandemic. Sorenson was the CEO of Marriott who very recently passed away. In less than 6 minutes Sorenson told everyone where the organization stood and how it felt to be in the moment as a leader and a human. It’s a master class in authentic communication and how to be credible and build trust through vulnerability. Sorenson is gone, but his legacy as an authentic leader will not be forgotten. Lots of people cried when they watched that video because we all knew something rare was happening and it felt hopeful to see corporate America humanized in a time of crisis.
Sorenson will live and breathe through the stories that people tell about his leadership. Make no mistake when you leave a room, an organization or this planet, all that is left behind are the stories people tell about you.