What's your leadership story?

We play a leadership role in various aspects of our lives - for ourselves, in our families, with our friends, in our leisure activities and our work. Your leadership story can help you connect with your followers, says Hilary Jeanes of PurpleLine Consulting.

“Leadership cannot really be taught, it can only be learned.”  ~ Harold S. Geneen

“Be the change you want to see in the world.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi

“You don’t need a title to be a leader.” ~ Anon

We play a leadership role in a variety of aspects of our lives – for ourselves, in our families, with our friends, in our leisure activities and our work.  Developing our own self awareness leads to understanding our strengths, our impact on others and gives us more choices.  That is why I call my style of coaching - leadership coaching.

At the recent Cambridge Wordfest literary festival, I heard Gavin Esler (the journalist on BBC’s Newsnight) speak about his book “Lessons from the Top”, which describes how leaders use stories to hook their followers. 

We all love stories. 

They capture our imagination and are much more memorable than facts alone.  Drawing on his experience of interviewing stars from politics, business and the arts, from Bill Clinton to Angelina Jolie, Gavin demonstrates how to turn the power of stories to your advantage.

Amongst the many interesting points he makes, Gavin says “leaders work hard at being the person they think we want to follow”.  Whilst I don’t agree with everything he says (for example ‘authenticity and how to fake it’ doesn’t fit with my take on leadership) I really liked one of the models he identifies.

He suggests that to connect with your followers you need to say:

-       Who you are

-       Who we are as a group (i.e. what characteristics, passions etc we share)

-       Where your leadership will take us i.e. what’s our common purpose.

"Every leader begins with a personal story, a way of answering the question "who am I?"  Lady Gaga, for instance, tells us repeatedly that she was a weird kid at school, though she turned out to be highly driven and creative. She describes herself as 'a freak, a maverick, a lost soul looking for peers'. 

Secondly every leader's story involves a group narrative, a way of explaining 'who are we?'  In Lady Gaga's case 'we' are the outsiders. She calls her fans 'my little monsters', and in her leadership story she is 'Mama Monster' who keeps in touch with her offspring on Facebook (more than 55 million ‘likes’) and Twitter (more than 33 million followers), so her story is very effective in generating followers.

Thirdly, all leaders offer a collective mission, the answer to the question 'where are we going?' Or 'what is our common purpose?'  Lady Gaga tells her followers that together they can change the world.  She also promotes a positive message about gay rights.

This ‘leadership projection’ is what most of us would call storytelling.

What is your story and how do you communicate that to your followers? 

On the blog of Kevin Roberts I spotted this. 

  • L ove
  • E ncouragement
  • A uthenticity
  • D aring
  • E nthusiasm
  • R espect
  • S ervice
  • H ope
  • I ntegrity 
  • P erseverance

Originally from Nicky Gumbel, Vicar of Holy Trinity Brompton, as his first tweet of 2013, Kevin refers to it as ‘a pin-the-on-the-wall-and-look-at-it-every-morning checklist.’ I agree.  Do you?

Hilary Jeanes is a leadership coach, facilitator and HR Consultant.  Her business, PurpleLine Consulting, supports people to develop their leadership skills and realise their potential.


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