The Power of Storytelling for Women Leaders
Every woman has a story, and the world needs to see and hear your story and your perspective as a woman leader—and, more critically, as a woman of color. Storytelling is rooted in our cultures and has been proven to be one of the most effective ways to not only share with the world who you are, but open people’s minds in a way that simply telling a set of regurgitated data or facts cannot.
Over the past few weeks we have seen the power of storytelling play out in one of the largest stages for women that we have ever seen. The Kavanagh hearing allowed each party to tell their story in a historical setting like no other, but the stories that captured our attention, the stories that had the most impact, the ones that moved and changed people’s hearts and minds in that hearing, across the country and perhaps the world, were told in an elevator. These voices rising without faces even shown, but sharing their stories of pain, memories, and trauma visibly changed the tide for the hearing and the world. Personal stories that perhaps were one of the most beautiful examples I have ever witnessed of activism through storytelling. Women’s storytelling.
The Science Behind Storytelling
Stories allow connection with others, across gender, age and race. There is an actual psychological/biological production of oxytocin in our brains that creates empathy when we feel a connection to another living being. This is important for changing biases and challenging stereotypes of women, especially in settings historically dominated by men, like the field of nonprofit arts.
Storytelling as Self Affirmation
Writing therapy has been long used by psychologists and social workers for emotional release, grief or loss, and trauma recovery. Capturing your own personal stories through journaling or other means helps you to understand yourself better, through activating your life experiences, past traumas, and celebration of amazing life moments. This practice strengthens us, calms us, inspires us, and heals us. Buy a journal, write, listen to yourself, express yourself—the better you know yourself, the more you will find strength in your leadership. It will manifest in you through writing, in the form of confidence, self-realization, and self-love.
Stories as a Management Resource
Storytelling can be used as an important tool to help you show vulnerability and empathy, which helps develop personal credibility—an essential aspect of leadership. It can strengthen relationships with your employees, your funders, and your constituents or members. It is one of the most effective ways to share visioning and goals. For example, the mission of my organization Alternate ROOTS is to “support the creation and presentation of original art that is rooted in communities of place, tradition, or spirit. We are a group of artists and cultural organizers based in the South creating a better world together. As Alternate ROOTS, we call for social and economic justice and are working to dismantle all forms of oppression—everywhere.”
While that statement is incredibly powerful, it becomes stronger by tying it to my personal stories of oppression—whether it’s my parents’ illegal bi-racial marriage in 1958, and my birth in and of itself being a form of activism from the womb; or barriers I encountered as an Afro Latina ballet dancer in a Eurocentric artform. Those become the stories that people will remember, and those stories make you, as a woman leader, reflect how you are deeply connected to the work.
Storytelling is one of your greatest tools and resources as a woman leader. It has the ability to influence and inspire others to take action, just like we have seen across news stations in recent weeks. Never forget: your story can transform your life, change the lives of others, and your story can change the world.
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