Transparency, Authenticity, and Vulnerability: Storytelling for Leaders

Transparency, authenticity, and vulnerability are tools anyone can use to create stronger relationships. For leaders who seek to be more inclusive, authentic storytelling can accelerate trust and shape culture within your organization. Transparency derives from an attitude of servant leadership. Authenticity demands a great deal of self-awareness. And vulnerability requires incredible courage and self-confidence. If we want to connect with and inspire others, we must be brave and humble. These are the hallmarks of true leadership.

(Author’s note: This article is adapted from my book, Network Beyond Bias.)

Regardless of your tenure or title, you can lead others by example. If you’re searching for the kinds of stories that build leaders, here are some prompts to help you get started. And please, tell me how you’re using storytelling to empower yourself and others!

Your Values

  • Share a story from your childhood, teenage years, or early adulthood that was a defining moment for you. What brought you to the crossroads? What core values drove your decision? And what did you learn about yourself? When was the last time you told yourself or someone else this story and why?

Your Journey

  • If you are in a position of power, such as a corporate leader, think back to when you just starting your climb up the organizational ladder. Was there a time when you struggled to be heard or taken seriously? How did that feel? What steps did you take to cope with your environment or to change your approach? If you were in that situation today, how might you handle it differently?

Your Struggles

  • Talk about times you struggled – financially, academically, professionally, or personally. Who helped you? What mistakes did you make? What did you learn? Do you now view this struggle as a source of pride?
  • Was there ever a time you didn’t fit in? How did that feel?
  • In what aspects of your job or life do you struggle? When do you ask for help? Are there times when you refuse to seek help because you don’t want to appear weak, incompetent, or vulnerable?

Your Mistakes

  • Think about a time when you missed a chance to live up to your values. What was the situation? Why do you feel you it was the wrong decision? What options did you have, and what drove your choice? What lesson did you learn?
  • Talk about a time when your beliefs about something or someone were inaccurate or incomplete. How did you become aware of your error? What work did you have to do – internally or externally – to bridge the gap? How might the situation have unfolded if you hadn’t changed your mind? Did you ultimately learn more about yourself?

Why Storytelling Matters

We all need role models. And when those role models have flaws or limitations we can relate to, we become even more invested in their success. The people who look up to you want to be able to see themselves in you. They want to feel connected to you and your story. When you engage in authentic storytelling, you provide that vital connection.


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