All human beings need narratives to center their message and meaning to move us forward collectively. Our brains are literally wired to engage in this process.
This is how Leaders build a following. People hear their call, experience the context of their vision and resonate with the questions of inquiry. See the vision; see themselves in it contributing to it being served by it and they don’t just buy in they invest; they trust, they join with you. Contributing their time, energy and resource…and…they spread the word.
Let’s look at newly announced US Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg who is building trust with his story. He’s willing to speak right into his experience with exampled empathy. Leaders must be vulnerable and open about their own lives to create healthy and expansive narratives to move and inspire the collective forward. We can all take a lesson from him. His foundation in storytelling is a good sign of someone who is connected to his humanity.
Unlike Elizabeth Warren, he does not simply tell his same origin story over and over. He weaves stories into interactions regularly and frequently. He also embodies a comfort in his own skin that engenders trust. Like Obama he folds his story into our story.
There is a certain theatrical presence to being a Leader.
Hillary Clinton never got this, nor did John Kerry, neither does Theresa May.
Obama on the other hand got it, as did Bill Clinton and certainly there is no more master of theatrical spectacle than Donald Trump or Boris Johnson.
Is it a cult of personality? Yes, emotional connection matters more than intellect on its own. But Leaders need to embrace this fact to successfully engender a following that is engaged instead of enraged.
Brain research from Harvard to Brené Brown all points to the same thing: Empathy, emotional intelligence and storytelling, is how the world make sense of itself to the masses.
Think back to who won class president at your high school, was the team captain, the most popular…It comes down to a certain kind of likability and connection factor.
This is not stupidity, it’s human nature.
Every human person desires’ expression; we seek to be seen and heard, acknowledged, appreciated –understood. We look to who aligns with our values, thoughts and feelings, we follow those that give voice and presence to us and promise a vision that does more than hope we look to the embodiment of those ideals we hold dear in action. Leaders that mirror this expression in word and deed –those are the ones we invest in. To achieve this you need to get on your feet and physically tell your story.
I love how Abby Wambach talks about leading from the bench in her recent book Wolfpack. “If you’re not a leader on the bench, don’t call yourself a leader on the field. You’re either a leader everywhere or nowhere.” Stop looking for mirrors. Leadership is not a position or a title it’s an offering you give the world; expressed in your story exampled by your behavior.
If you have a voice you have influence to spread. The old rules were about earning the right, waiting for permission. The new rule: Lead now—from wherever you are.
Tell your story as it’s unfolding. Yes, you came from there but what’s the mountain that you’re climbing now? What is the vision you look toward? In her book Rise: In Pursuit of Empowerment Sabine Matharu profiles her story and that of 25 women, women like you and me who faced their obstacles turning failure into fuel and rising above challenges to become inspirational entrepreneurial women whose hidden creativity and business acumen was realized; despite facing an array of traumatic experiences, mindset and domestic battles. These women told their story. They turned impossible experiences into incredible opportunities that are profitable and fulfilling. Leading from where they were moving their story forward as an example to us all of what leadership looks like no matter your age, culture, social or economic state.
Let’s tell our story not once upon a time but now for the sake of all humanity.