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:
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?