Leadership Storytelling Is Rooted in Vulnerability

By: Mary Anna Rodabaugh in Storytelling in Business

The road to success is often winding and filled with pitfalls, potholes, and downright failure. Every successful CEO and business leader knows this to be true. But is the glow of success ever dimmed by the steppingstones of failure? Genevieve Georget, executive editor at Round Table Companies, weighs in.

“More times than not, the CEOs I work with don’t know why they’re afraid to open up,” Georget says. “But having experienced it firsthand for half a decade now, I can take a pretty good guess. It’s what we call the ‘vulnerability hangover,’ and it’s especially troublesome for clients who aren’t accustomed to discussing their feelings. Consequently, they fall into the trap of believing that vulnerability somehow corrupts credibility.”

Vulnerability Boosts Authentic Thought Leadership

Vulnerability does quite the opposite. Instead of corrupting the credibility of the successful business leader, it actually makes them more human, more relatable, and easier to trust. From colleagues to stakeholders and everyone in between, human failure is a collective experience, and people love hearing about it. Why? It makes them feel less alone, teaches lessons otherwise not experienced, and proves that even the most shiny and successful CEOs once overcame (or were overcome by) challenges.

“If you share your vulnerable story—the story of tenacity, reliance, and hard work—you’re more likely to connect with audiences and win their loyalty.”

“Too often, we think we’re serving readers by only outlining happy endings,” says Georget. “But everyone knows that the best stories include a bit of dragon-slaying along the way. If you talk about an effortless climb to the top, you won’t inspire anyone. On the other hand, if you share your vulnerable story—the story of tenacity, reliance, and hard work—you’re more likely to connect with audiences and win their loyalty.”

Confronting the Discomfort of Vulnerable Storytelling

No one likes to shine a spotlight on his or her mistakes. No one enjoys the incessant perspiration caused by the heat of embarrassment. With this in mind, Georget offers the following questions to consider as leaders ease their vulnerability hangovers:

1) What scares you the most?

No matter your response, plenty of people in the thought leadership space have the exact same fear. Remember this fact as you face your discomfort.

2) What are your perceived successes and failures?

Georget notes that many successful leaders reframe setbacks as feedback in their leadership storytelling. The hiccups, mishaps, and embarrassing outcomes are opportunities to understand what doesn’t work. Therefore, even a failure could morph into a success!

3) What’s the most significant thing you have learned?

Every story featuring a heroic protagonist contains a transformed individual who started somewhere, was met by challenges, and ended up somewhere different (mentally, emotionally, or even physically). Successful leaders take the long way home more than once and find something new to appreciate in each journey.

With these three questions in mind, leaders can take steps to shake off their vulnerability hangovers and offer the most honest and raw versions of themselves through leadership storytelling.

Read the full RealLeaders article

Vulnerability is sexy. Are you ready to tell your story?