Should Leaders Share Their Personal Stories?

Growing up, I was taught to keep my personal life private. Beginning with my family, my parents encouraged me to be careful about what information I shared with people, including my friends. When I entered the workplace, I carried that belief with me that there should be a definite division between my personal and professional life. “Keep them separate”, “Never mix business with your home life”- that was the way to ensure my success. The truth is that I don’t believe that manta anymore! Sharing our personal trials and discoveries with the people around us helps make us authentic leaders. Here’s why sharing our personal stories is important:

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                                                                                                                                     Eze, France

Leadership is sharing the lessons we learned: Whether our experiences are personal or business related, we gain invaluable insights by living through them. We might have done things well but recognize we could have handled something in a better way. When women with young children ask me how I handled working and childcare, I share with them what I learned- you can do everything you want to do, but not at the same time. A difficult lesson for me. 

Leadership is about being a strong role model: Leaders, who are able to share their most essential values with others, are the most highly regarded. When you look around at the leaders you know, can you clearly state what’s important to them? Do you know what they stand for and why? Through our storytelling, people get to know what makes us tick and what we are passionate about. I once collaborated with someone who opened up to me about her daughter’s challenges. She was an advocate for special education and that passion carried over into every decision she made in leading.

Leadership is being human: Our feelings and emotions make us the leaders we are and impact all of our actions. When we tell anecdotes about how we reacted in a situation, we are showing empathy and compassion. By sharing how we dealt with obstacles in our personal journey, we are telling others that we feel pain and frustration just like they do. We are also offering different ways to look at resolving an issue.

Leadership is opening up to people: A leader who is willing to reveal to others something personal about themself, is displaying an element of trust. They are confident in communicating a story that may reflect a side of them unknown to the other person, and an important step towards building that relationship. I once had a co-worker who was very critical and negative. We sat down one day to have coffee and she told me about her childhood challenges. From that point on, I understood why she did certain things and admired her leading in a whole new way.

Leadership is being honest and transparent: I am always leery of people who play games, who are unable to say what they really want to say. What can result is confusion about what one’s actions and words mean. Through our personal stories, we can clearly and directly disclose our true intentions so that others can understand our leadership choices better. We build trust with others by leading with integrity and transparency.

Are you willing to lead by sharing your personal stories? Do you already allow others a glimpse into your personal journey? How do you feel about opening up with your private life?

12 Responses to “Should Leaders Share Their Personal Stories?”


  • Fantastic post Terri. I resonate with this post and loved the points. Yes leadership is about bring human, about creating trust, about opening up to people. Leadership is about being honest and transparent.

    Love your insights.

  • Thanks Lalita for your kind support! Without sharing our personal journeys and lessons we’ve learned, we can’t build the trusting relationships we find so important. I appreciate your comments!

  • Hi Terri

    You make a great point, Terri. I, too, was brought up to keep personal and professional separate. I’m a big one on sharing our stories with others, but there is an art to sharing them in a way that is both timely and constructive. Stories provide valuable insight….it takes time to distill the wisdom that comes from them. My only suggestion is that leaders take the time to really understand their own stories before doing a Kardashian and blurting out stuff about themselves just to share.

    Love the post!

    LaRae

  • You are too funny, LaRae about the Kardashians! But it is true that leaders need to understand the lessons learned from their experiences before they share them with others. It is always wise to take the time to decide how we will present the things we’ve learned because then we have truly digested what we really want to share. Thanks LaRae!

  • Brilliant Post.

    Being a private person I too struggle with the message I have within and the stories I want to share.

    You bring up some great points about leadership, leadership is about being human, transparency, being open, being a role model.

    We are our stories and the story teller too.

    Thanks for sharing.
    Lolly

  • I am with you Lolly on being a private person but have realized the importance of opening up to people and sharing some of my personal lessons I have learned along the way. I know you have a profound personal story to tell, but the way you share it is so compelling. I have learned so much from your courage! Thanks Lolly!

  • Our stories enable us to build authentic, heart-felt relationships. When leaders show that they are real people, titles and hierarchy slips away and connection is strengthened. I love this post because not only do you share with us why opening up and sharing who we are matters, you’ve shared your personal experiences which makes them come to life. In fact, that’s a great example you shared when you wrote about trust. Sometimes the story not only shares learning but more importantly shines a light on why people are the way that they are and helps us to see and experience them in new ways. Can you tell, I love this post? Thanks, Terri!

  • Stories create meaning and engagement and people learn from them. Whether we want to acknowledge or not, life happens, even at work. Although we don’t need to air every little personal detail that happens, there is a human side of leaders that make work and life more real. Whether it is challenges of raising kids or parents aging, we all work through situations and it becomes part of who we are as a leader and as a person.

    We do need to think about what story we are sharing and telling and deliver a perspective.

    Great discussion point here, Terri. Thanks!

    Jon

  • Learning about leaders’ stories and how they got to a particular place is a powerful way to build trust and relationships. Like you Alli, I feel that I learn so much from others through their sharing. In turn, I feel so good when I can offer a new viewpoint to someone else to help them get unstuck or make sense of their challenge. You are so right that authentic leadership comes down to the people piece and learning together how to tackle work and life obstacles. You are a great storyteller, Alli and I continue to grow from all your sharing. Thanks for being there for me!

  • I love how you describe the idea of “life happens, even at work.” That is the honest truth and if we can open our hearts to share some of the lessons we learned through some of our personal journeys, we will be more authentic leaders. We most definitely need to think about how we share our anecdotes, but the key is being vulnerable enough to let others in on that part of our life. Building stronger relationships is what leadership is all about. I have learned so much from you Jon! Thank you for all your support.

  • I find that I have a lot more respect for leaders that are willing to open up and share personal stories along with the principles they teach. It shows me they are real people with issues. It makes it a lot easier to trust and connect with them. Thanks for sharing Terri!

  • Thanks for sharing your insightful comments, Luke, on my blog! You are so right that when leaders show they are human and have experienced frustrations and challenges, it helps to build a more trusting relationship.I also think that storytelling is a powerful way to share lessons we have learned along the way and want to reveal. Thanks again!

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