Remember when everyone used to sit around the campfire at night and just tell stories? No? I don’t either. It hasn’t happened in my lifetime…well, except that one time we went hiking and got lost. OK. I made that last part up. But, I have gone camping with my church group. We did roast marshmallows and tell a few stories. It was actually a bit relaxing. It reminded me of watching the old movies with people hanging out around the fire. Yep, the movies…that’s about all I’ve got.
But stories have a way of creating community. Those who are able to use stories can create connections. When you experience a leader who is disconnected from his tribe, part of the reason is they don’t effectively use story. Leaders need to have a vision they are after and that vision is best made vivid through story. When people are unable to understand where you’re headed, a story often creates a picture which gets stamped in their minds.
The problem is most people have read a story but they are terrified of telling their own…in it’s entirety. If we do, we want to edit the bad parts out and keep the sections which make us look smart. We want to keep things hidden because there are bad people out there who will use them against us. There ARE evil people out there. But, the stories are so much more powerful. Stories are so powerful that keeping them inside causes stress.
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” –Maya Angelou
Studies have linked suppressed emotions to heart disease, cancer and other terminal illnesses. This is not a surprise because your body often tells you quite easily when it is stressed. This stress comes in the form of sadness, overwork and unexpected life circumstances. But, there is a different stress associated with guilt, feelings of judgment and feeling like you have to keep it together. You remember the difference in feeling when you told a lie versus when you were simply sad about a fall. One feels tight and dark while the other simply feels painful.
Leaders are constantly bombarded with information and how it should be shared. So, many choose to keep information, especially about themselves and their faux pas, to themselves. This creates a constant, inner tug of war which leads to the type of stress we’ve mentioned.
It needs to be released in some way. One of the ways this can be done is through writing. Here are some simple reasons it is healthy, helpful and empowering for a leader to write her story:
1. It relieves the pressure of being perfect – None of us are perfect anyway and everyone knows this deep down. Yet, we feel the pressure of keeping up appearances. Sharing the imperfect moments releases you from this and you will find you can still lead authentically. People tend to trust a leader who can be vulnerable and authentic because they know the leader isn’t just interested in keeping their position.
2. It provides a way for you to evaluate your journey – Stuff is happening to us all the time. We have many ideas in our minds and oodles of information which passes through our brain space. Sitting to reflect is not the norm. Meditation and mindfulness, while helpful, are not always accessible to everyone. But, you can actually start your way towards those by beginning to write down your personal story events.
3. It inspires others – When people know your story, where you came from, some of why you made the decisions you’ve made, it can be incredibly empowering for them. Nelson Mandela, after spending nearly 30 years in prison, was able to become the first non-white premier of South Africa. During this time, he used his story and the stories of other to inspire greater community behavior and action in his country. In fact, it was his story and his ability to tell it which made for greater impact worldwide.
4. It creates a legacy – We all end our earth journey at some point. Some of us are even lucky enough to have someone write about our exploits while we were here. But, what if the person to do that was you? There are unique perspectives only you have. There are experiences only you have gone through and can tell about. There are moments you have lived through, of which no one else is aware, that provide the connecting thread of your life. That story can only be told by you. You can tell it verbally, but when you write it, it remains forever.
“The human species thinks in metaphors and learns through stories.” –Mary Catherine Bateson
You don’t have to be a skilled writer. Someone else can fix the language and the grammar. But, leaders who share their story in this way connect in a way other leaders don’t. You bring the penthouse closer for those who have yet to experience it. Your current circumstance no longer seems impossible to everyone else and they recognize the person who occupies your office as a real human being.