The Power of Storytelling in Leadership: Building Stronger Relationships at Work


Summary: Storytelling is one of the most effective ways to connect with employees and foster a positive work environment. Here we explore why leaders should tell their stories first when engaging with employees. This practice can dramatically improve relationships at work.

Dear Dr. Sylvia,

I was in a difficult meeting with one of my Senior Executives. He was nervous and evasive. That was not like him.

Thus, I asked what was wrong and got the stereotypical, “Oh, nothing, I’m fine.”

The meeting was a waste of time. It stayed superficial and meaningless.

For this reason, I made an excuse about an emergency meeting to stop this menial conversation before I got so angry that I started challenging his credibility.

It is best to take a break from a meeting going “nowhere.”

I knew if I launched into how upset I was with how he handled a major project, it would lead down the path of what you call JUBLA, the judgment, blame, attack route.

In other words, how could I have engaged him to talk openly without being a demanding, insensitive boss?


Caring Communicator

Dear CC,

Above all, you were right to shorten the meeting till you were sure of what would be the most effective way forward.

Staying in a meeting that is flat or frustrating often needs a reset.

Let’s focus on one way to get past the superficial and get to where there is a real opportunity for positive action.

Leaders: share your story first.

Here is what I think was missing in your short, frustrating conversation with this senior executive.

Firstly, it is your task to establish authenticity and vulnerability when communicating with an employee.

Let’s look at it this way, have you ever…

  1. I walked away from an interaction, wondering what went wrong.
  2. Did you leave a meeting knowing you did not uncover what was bothering someone else?
  3. I held back from asking how to help.
  4. Lost sleep over an interaction with a client or employee?
  5. Wish you had spoken up rather than remained silent.
  6. Been afraid to tell your story for fear of being misinterpreted?
  7. Talked incessantly to others rather than the person who needs your critique.

We all have second thoughts and regrets in conversations.

Look, we’re all simply what can be called FHBs (fallible human beings). We all must interpret what others are saying and how we can find the “sweet spot” in a conversation where authenticity and vulnerability move us from superficial to real.

For example, here is one of the best ways for humans to connect meaningfully through storytelling.

Storytelling is one of the most effective ways to connect with employees and foster a positive work environment.

When leaders share their personal stories and give employees space to share theirs, it creates a powerful dynamic that enhances communication, understanding, and trust.

Storytelling is an ancient art form used for generations to pass down knowledge, culture, and experiences.

Indeed, when leaders share their stories, they demonstrate authenticity and vulnerability, making them relatable to their team members.

Authenticity creates a human connection, breaking down barriers between hierarchical levels in the workplace.

For example, imagine a new leader, Alex, joining a team as their manager. Instead of immediately imposing rules and expectations, Alex starts a team meeting by sharing a personal story about overcoming adversity in a previous role.

Firstly, please remember that a great story is not just about grand victories or flawless successes. It is about the human experience, the moments of vulnerability, and the growth that stems from it.

As leaders, when you open your heart to share your journey, you create a safe space for your team members to feel seen, heard, and understood.

In the following days, Alex called for a team meeting. As his team members gathered, he noticed excitement and apprehension in their eyes. Taking a deep breath, he began his story.

“Thank you all for being here today. Before we embark on our shared journey, I want to share a part of my story. When I was new to this role, I felt the weight of responsibility on my shoulders. I wanted to prove myself, to be the ‘perfect’ leader you all deserved.”

Consequently, a ripple of interest spread through the team, and they leaned in, captivated by Alex’s honesty.

The atmosphere in meetings shifts from fear to freedom when the truth is told without JUBLA ( judgment, blame, or attack).

“But you see, I made mistakes, and I felt vulnerable. There were times when I doubted my decisions and questioned my abilities. I realized that trying to be invulnerable distanced me from you, my team, and the essence of what makes us human. So, I decided to embrace vulnerability, acknowledge my imperfections, and learn and grow alongside each of you.”

Most importantly, as Alex spoke, the atmosphere shifted from apprehension to relief. His team members began to share knowing glances, realizing that their new leader was just as human as they were.

He continued, “I want you to feel comfortable being vulnerable too. In our moments of vulnerability, we can truly connect and support each other. I am here to listen, to learn from you, and to grow together as a team.”

Telling the truth is NOT spilling your guts!

Moreover, team members shared their own stories and fears one by one. The walls that once separated them fell, leaving room for trust and understanding to flourish.

With each story shared, the team grew closer, fostering an environment of collaboration and empathy. They realized they were not alone in their struggles and could overcome any challenges together.

As time passed, Alex’s team thrived under his leadership. The culture of openness and vulnerability became the cornerstone of their success. They tackled obstacles with resilience, celebrated victories joyfully, and supported each other through the highs and lows.

True leadership blossoms from embracing one’s authentic self.

And so, the tale of the new manager, Alex, and his team became a legend, passed down through the company.  

Ultimately, leaders who understand that vulnerability, not invincibility, forge unbreakable bonds and pave the way for growth and success.

The story highlights the challenges faced and the lessons learned. By doing so, Alex sets the stage for open and honest communication, encouraging team members to share their experiences without fear of judgment.

Building empathy and understanding is vital for leaders to have winning teams.

When leaders share their stories, they invite employees to see them as individuals with unique backgrounds and experiences. This, in turn, helps build empathy among team members, promoting a more compassionate work environment.

Let’s consider the case of Sarah, a team member who has been underperforming lately. Instead of reprimanding her in front of the team, the team leader, John, decides to talk to her privately. Before discussing the performance issues, John opens up about his struggles in a similar situation earlier in his career.

This act of vulnerability helped Sarah feel understood and less defensive. As a result, she opened up about her challenges, and together, they found a way to improve her performance.

Leaders can use stories to inspire and motivate others.

Leaders often play the role of motivators in the workplace. They inspire and encourage their team members to take risks and strive for excellence by sharing their stories of success and failures.

Imagine a team working on a challenging project with tight deadlines. The pressure is high, and morale is low. The team leader, Maria, gathers the team and shares a story from her early career days when she faced a seemingly impossible project. Through hard work, creativity, and determination, she and her team successfully delivered the project.

Maria talked with her team about how she was an unforgiving super achiever when she came to the United States from Russia.

Without unnecessary bravado, she shared how she, her parents, and her sister left the only home they had known with only one suitcase per person.

Maria was determined to find a safe haven for her family and worked day and night to become a physician.

She felt very alone until her executive coach helped her see that asking for help was not a weakness.

It took some time for Maria to trust that others would be there to help with projects.

Now, she is, in her own words, “an asker rather than a teller.”

Her team did not know the back story of coming to America. It explained to them why Maria was so driven and demanding.

They discussed new ways to work together. After hearing Maria’s story, they agreed to speak up if Maria returned to her old pattern of telling rather than asking.

It worked.

This story instills a renewed sense of motivation and belief in the team, spurring them to tackle their current project with renewed vigor.

Leaders win when they enhance team cohesion.

The act of sharing stories fosters a sense of camaraderie among team members. When employees hear their leader’s personal experiences, they perceive the leader as approachable and genuine, leading to stronger team cohesion.

The best leaders encourage two-way communication.

Leadership is not a one-way street. It involves listening and valuing the input of team members. By telling their stories first, leaders demonstrate they are open to listening, learning, and growing alongside their employees.

Consider a situation where a team struggles with a project’s direction, and creative ideas seem lacking. The leader, Michael, starts the meeting by sharing his creative process and how he often draws inspiration from unrelated fields. By doing so, he encourages his team members to contribute their ideas without fear of judgment.

This two-way communication sparks an exchange of ideas, leading to innovative solutions for the project.

Storytelling is a powerful tool that leaders can use to foster deeper connections with their employees.

In conclusion, by sharing your stories first and creating space for others to share their experiences, you, as a leader, can establish authenticity, build empathy, inspire motivation, enhance team cohesion, and encourage open communication.

This practice’s dramatic impact is evident in how it transforms relationships at work, creating a more positive, supportive, and productive work environment.

As leaders embrace storytelling as a fundamental aspect of their leadership style, they pave the way for a culture of understanding, trust, and collaboration, leading to tremendous success for individuals and the organization.

In conclusion, remember the power of storytelling and its profound effect on your team. Share your story, and watch as it sparks a chain reaction of positive change in the workplace.

To your success,

Sylvia Lafair

PS. Want the exact formula to know which personal stories to share and the right timing to do this? Set up a discovery session with a Pattern Breakthrough Coach by contacting us here.  

Creative Energy Options

Sylvia Lafair

Creative Energy Options