How To Lead Yourself and Others with Inspiring Stories


“To handle yourself, use your head; to handle others, use your heart.” — Eleanor Roosevelt

What’s your story?

No, not once upon a time.

What’s your story of who you are, where you’ve been, and where you’re going?

Your stories package and share your experience.

Stories help you stand out among the crowd, and rise above the noise, if you share the right things.

What are the right things?

Share your unique experiences, your values, and your strengths … and even relevant flaws.

You are human, after all, and everybody has flaws.

Leaders Author a Distinctive Story

It’s not what happens to you, but how you respond.

You are the author of your life.

Choose your adventures.  Write your stories with might.  Lead yourself first and use your stories to guide yourself and others.  It’s not about happy endings.  Life’s about learning and responding.

Happy endings are a byproduct of making the most out of what you’ve got, standing strong when tested, and enjoying the journey along the way.

In the book, Emotional Capitalists: The Ultimate Guide to Developing Emotional Intelligence for Leaders, Martyn Newman writes about authoring distinctive stories.

Key Take Aways

Here are my key take aways:

  • Stories improve effectiveness.  Stories are the most powerful tool.   Leaders achieve effectiveness through the stories they tell.
  • Write and live your stories.  Stories should light up possibilities.  Stories should inspire.  They should help connect people from where they are to where they want to be.
  • Stories should feel real.  Leaders must live their stories.  Leaders must embody stories.  Stories have identity.

Stories are a Leader’s Most Powerful Tool

Stories have identity.  They give leaders a lot of power to inspire, influence, and connect.

Via Emotional Capitalists: The Ultimate Guide to Developing Emotional Intelligence for Leaders:

“Harvard leadership guru, Howard Gardner, also believes that leaders achieve their effectiveness mainly through the stories they tell.  In addition to communicating stories, however, Gardner believes that leaders must embody those stories:  ‘Stories have identity.  [They are] narratives that help people think about and feel who they are, where they come from, and where they are headed.  [They] constitute the … single most powerful weapon in the leader’s arsenal.’”

3 Questions to Ask About Your Distinctive Story

Newman asks a set of questions to help you test your story:

  1. Do you possess sufficient self-reliance to author a distinctive story — or at least a chapter — in the life of your organization or business unit?
  2. Does the story engage people and provide them with a relevant and potent dream?
  3. Can you do this for your customers and, more importantly, can you then empower them to realize those dreams by buying into the vision, product or service that you are responsible for providing?

What’s your story?

Inspire yourself.  Inspire the world.

Lead yourself from the inside out.

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Photo by Olivander.


  1. This is great insight and something I’ve only recently learned – probably in the past year. The way we think of our lives and ourselves is in the form of stories. That’s why narrative is so powerful, it taps into the essence of how we think about being human. Most of us have a subconscious narrative that runs through our lives, whose power we may not even realize. If you can tap into that narrative, understand what your story is, then you have the power to change it! Its like lucid dreaming. The power of a lucid dream is that you suddenly realize you are sleeping and you have the power to modify that reality in ways you can’t when you are stuck in the dream without lucidity. If you are conscious of your story you have leverage to change your life in ways that may not have seemed possible to you before.

    Once you understand your own narrative, what’s to stop you from learning others? If you can get glimpse of someone else’s story then you have a deeper understanding of their perspectives, their priorities, and their motivations. People can be motivated by a wide variety of things (money, approval, achievement, etc). Understanding someone’s internal narrative can help you tap into their values and motivations in ways that will allow you to help them also untap their potential!

    Finally, you can use narrative and story to get your points across and share your perspective. Try this excercise sometime. Try to convince someone with plain facts and data and then try to convince them with a story that explains where you are coming from and how their decision or actions fit into that story. Which is more effective? By sharing stories not only can you get understanding you get the chance to modify your own understanding, your own story, as a result of the interaction.

  2. Hi JD

    Stories are interesting. I once listened to a talk which covered using stories in one’s personal life. Stories in terms of what you are telling yourself about you life etc. If you are unhappy with it, change your own story. It was interesting.
    Quite liberating if you think about it. Also, what has our life story been telling us?


  3. Many people today say that who we are is the sum of the stories we tell. Many people reading this think “Who can I be?” because they don’t really have any stories to tell. Does that make them nobody? These same people often forget about the stories about how they have gotten better, their ah-ha moments, their moment in the spot light, limelight, photog’s light. The stories of how you became the person you are and how you achieved the success, understanding, position or job you have now. Many times people think, “Oh, I don’t have any stories, I haven’t invented anything, written anything, created anything.”

    But it’s not about that.

    It’s about the moment you recognized you have a problem making decisions and was able to make your first one. Even if that decision was what to order for the office lunch, it’s a story, one of your stories.

    It’s about the moment it all meshed and you closed your first sale. Even if you didn’t consciously now what changed or shifted, your numbers only improved from there on.

    It’s about the moment you reached the pinnacle of success in your chosen field and realized you wanted to do something else, and then did it.

    All the little stories add up to a bigger story and those stories add up to your life. I often forget or overlook the little stories. I often lament the tired old refrain “but I don’t have any stories to tell”. And then I have an ah ha moment and remember some of my stories. Hopefully, remembering this time I will also remember to write them down and reflect on them so I don’t forget them again in the future.

  4. I have been thinking about stories a lot lately – not in the traditional (fictional or memoir) sense, but in marketing. We’re seeing it more and more and in the strangest places – the use of stories in commercialism. Interesting stuff and definitely relevant to a website copywriter like myself 😉

  5. One of my favorite Natalie Goldberg quotes:
    “Tell us the details….
    Pay Tribute
    to all the everyday and extraordinary things”

    Wonderful blog! This is my first time here and I am really enjoying reading!
    Recently I started including personal stories in my blog posts, it takes some courage at first, but I feel so much more connection with my readers. Great tips here!

  6. “I am Winston Wolf – I solve problems” [Pulp Fiction]. That is my story. Period. I started to talk about this openly only lately, but long ago i was keeping it deep inside.

    Once I asked a colleague [who’s opinions I value] to give me his feedback. He scratched his head, he thought a bit and then told me this: “You are like that guy in Pulp Fiction who was called to solve Travolta’s and Jackson’s problem… what was his name… uh Wolf something.” Needless to say I was speechless… I thought to myself – “gee, it is good to live my story” 😉

    I think it reflects on my take of focusing on stuff that matters. Something that positively affects not only me but others – the more the better.

  7. @ Jason

    Great point on how if you are aware of your own dream and not stuck you can change it. A little awareness goes a long way!

    I also like your point on sharing stories to share or modify understanding. It’s empowering and effective.

    @ Juliet

    I like that. Change your story, change your life.

    @ JLR

    Excellent distillation. I agree … it’s the little stories that add up over time. Collectively, it’s an epic, but we write the epic, a scene at a time. When it’s not going the way you want, back to the storyboard.

    @ Melissa

    Stories play a key role in marketing. You want people telling stories of your stuff. IPhone is a great example. It seems each week somebody is telling me a story of how IPhone changed their life.

    @ Positively Present

    Thank you.

    @ Angie

    Thank you. That’s a beautiful quote and I like the dual focus on both everyday and extraordinary.

    @ Alik

    I like that. One of the things that makes me care less about what I do and more about how I do is that I think of myself as a “solution engineer.” Granted I’m selective on what I work on but that’s really about my “why.” For me it’s, why, how, what.

    It’s great to live a compelling story. Go Wolf.

  8. We are all a collection of our finest stories. Choosing which ones to recall, recite, and possibly sharpen against the whetting stone of time is ultimately one of the few things that will truly define us.

  9. @ Writer Dad

    Well said and it’s a good reminder that we can carry the good forward, and use some of our stories to improve.

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