Storytellers Compass: 2 Leadership Life Stories Everyone Should Know

I’m sharing some of my favorite thoughts from past years as I slowly continue to think and dive deep in the area of Leadership life stories. I appreciate the foundation developed since 2010 and the encouragement and accountability on these posts.

The following experience happened in April 2017 during an academic conference focused on Servant-Leadership. The funny thing to me is that the same reaction occurred in April 2024 during a different academic conference focused on Communication.

Introduction – Conference Conversation

I love the look I get from people when they find out that I have a doctoral degree focused on the practice and process of storytelling. The fun really starts, when I let them know that I have been able to travel to several international destinations because of the rich information and data found in stories.

In 2017, one of the distinguished attendees sat down near me during our morning cup of coffee. I recognized his name immediately and offered a “Good Morning.” Our awkward exchange talked a bit about our discussion topics during the Conference. I heard about his focus on leadership analysis and the quantified data while my paper offered leadership anecdotes and the qualitative data found in stories. In 2024, an emerging scholar was looking at a quantitative analysis of gender in the communication process. She seemed to cross her eyes at me when I asked her about the stories from her interviews.

I again realized that leadership life-stories is a different way of engaging people in the leadership process.

In my mind leadership is about cultivating relationships with other humans. At a fundamental level we accomplish this growth by listening to and humbly offering leadership life-stories. Everyone involved in this interactive process learns and co-creates new knowledge.

Several authors have published their ideas of the specific stories’ leaders can tell. This is already plowed through books like: Simmons (2001) in The Story Factor, Forman (2013) Storytelling in Business, Denning (2000) The Springboard. The following list briefly offers my ideas and two leadership life stories that everyone should be ready to share, whether you examine the numbers of the leadership process or share stories.

Leadership Life-stories of Self-Awareness

At the core, leadership life-stories of self-awareness help individuals understand who they are. In the leadership literature plenty of work relates to the concept of knowing thyself. In the leadership life story process this is the DISCOVER phase. I focus on Servant-Leadership and Authentic Leadership.

While this is important, I would suggest we are missing a key piece.

Leadership life stories recognize, and honor, that we find out who we are by understanding ourselves in relationship with others. I have found out the good and bad of my individual personality through my relationship with my wife, my kids, co-workers, and friend and family. Each of these areas provide moments that we can also DEVELOP an understanding of ourselves. Most importantly to me, as a person of faith, my leadership life-story (Self-awareness) is centered in my relationship with Jesus Christ and this identity as Lord and Savior.

So, what is a core identity for you?

Leadership Life-stories of Setting Vision

Leadership life-stories of Setting Vision are like a time machine: creating stories of aspiration ten years down the road but also reflecting on stories of inspiration from ten years before. Let me explain.

Most organizations and communities are familiar with Setting Vision so that individuals know the goal down the road. This can also be personal. I remember a conversation with Mr. Wallace during History class in High School. He was one of the first to cast a vision of who I could be. I was going to be a Major League baseball player, he encouraged me to think about the learning environment. Almost 25 years looking back at the joy and challenge of helping others in the classroom, I’m grateful for the conversations with him after school.

Setting a vision also looks back and gathers inspiration for future endeavors. Reflecting on failure can be the first step to future success. A few years ago, I flopped in my attempt for an international teaching grant. I stayed in contact with the University, received coaching, and continued to work on my skills. Surprisingly another opportunity opened up. With the vision firmly in front of me, I was able to travel and work at Bifrost University (Iceland) during Summer 2017 and Summer 2019 and most recently Greece during May 2023.

Action Step and Response

So, what individual or organizational leadership life-stories are being created in your life right now?

Thanks for the continued support and encouragement on these posts. The emphasis today is that leadership life-stories are cultivated through relationships. That distinguished attendee from earlier? We continued to interact over the conference. By breakfast on Day 2 he was sharing stories of how he had been impacted by his students and what impact he hoped to leave. In my mind, this is the power of leadership life-stories and the relationships that can be built.  

If I am missing any feel free to reach out and let me know. Looking forward to hearing from you soon!

Let's Connect

One of my strongest passions is connecting with others and hearing their stories. Even if we never work together, I’d still love to meet you, learn more about you, and hear some of your unique experiences.

I’m looking forward to hearing from you, future friend. 

Chris Hamstra

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