Storytelling and the Reserved Leader

I’ve never been comfortable talking about myself. Standing up in class each fall to share how I spent my summer vacation made me squirm. College essay writing was painful. And I’ll be honest — even today as I begin a talk or workshop with a quick introduction, in the back of my mind a quiet (sometimes loud) voice asks, ‘who cares?’.

Asking questions and listening deeply. Processing the experiences and insights of others. Facilitating the wisdom of the group. These are all natural ways of interacting for more reserved, facilitative leaders like myself. But putting ourselves and our lives front and center, not so much

The problem is that others learn from our stories. And storytelling is among a leader’s most important skills to affect change. So, reserved and facilitative or not, we must master this ability if we want to optimize our impact and results. Here are three things I’m doing to help me get over the hump and become more comfortable and adept at sharing my stories.

Focus on the value to others rather than the discomfort to you.

Vulnerability and a sense of personal exposure are powerful feelings that inhibit our ability to put ourselves and our stories out there. Years of honing a sense of privacy can create a fortress that keeps authenticity outside. Concerns about what others will think can be debilitating. The only way to make peace with these feelings and put them aside is by balancing potential discomfort against benefits. And in my experience, the scale nearly always tilts in favor of the value others will derive.

Spend time reflecting upon what you want to think about least.

It’s easy to look around at the extraordinary experiences of others and think, ‘my life is pretty boring.’ I’ve not climbed Mount Everest, invented a new technology, or faced a life-threatening or life-changing illness (thankfully). But I have — like you — encountered struggles, challenges, and insights that can be hugely instructive to others. And that’s the best place to mine for meaningful lessons. Dredge up those events that you’ve tucked away. Wallow in the disappointments. Relive those tough times. Discover the meaning. Crystalize what you’ve learned. And get ready to pass it along.

Find a great interviewer.

Framing your leadership storytelling doesn’t have to be a solo endeavor. Find a partner to act as an interviewer. The requirements of conversation help sharpen the mind and introduce another perspective. Offer questions like: What challenge or setback has had the greatest impact upon you and your leadership? Who’s helped you grow the most? What was your biggest career misstep and what did you learn from it? What lessons do you continue to learn over and over again?

Gratefully, I found a wonderful interviewer who helped me get past some of my reserved self-consciousness and share more of myself and my story. You can listen to it all — and take in the art of interviewing as executed by Sonal Bahl.

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Julie Winkle Giulioni

Julie Winkle Giulioni


Julie is a champion for workplace growth and development and works with executives and leaders to optimize the potential within their organizations.