How Storytelling Can Crush Your Authority

How often do you insert yourself into the stories that you tell? What role do you play in those stories? Do those stories position you as a person of authority or a person struggling to find her way in the world?

I was inspired to write this post after attending a seminar last week. The presentation was entertaining and fun. The talk was filled with stories, and the presenter was a natural storyteller.

But there was one subtle thing that stood out to me—and it's the reason I’m writing this blog:

Many of the stories were personal and opened the presenter up to appear vulnerable.

Before jumping to tell me that vulnerability is the key to successful leadership, let’s be clear. I completely agree that being vulnerable—by acknowledging your limitations and admitting when you are wrong—is a powerful attribute of a good leader.

I’m talking about a slightly different form of vulnerability here.

I’m talking about a vulnerability that happens when you connect and relate too closely with the problems you claim to be solving for your customers.

What if you were to seek help from a financial advisor to get out of debt, and the financial advisor said, “yea, I know. I really wish I could figure out how to get out of debt too!”

You would turn around and walk out the door.

Think about that the next time you tell a story about yourself in the context of your business. There is a subtle difference between empathizing with the problems your customers have and commiserating with them about those problems.

Good leaders empathize with the problems they solve for their customers. They say things like, “I understand how nerve-wracking it can be to watch your debt pile up.” That’s empathy.

Good leaders do not commiserate with their customers about the problems they solve. Commiserating implies that you struggle with the same problems yourself and suggests that you don’t know how to solve those problems.

Commiserating crushes your authority. Empathizing establishes your authority.  

Storytelling is a tricky thing. It can be a powerful tool to connect with the people who need you the most. But keep in mind that there are formulas and strategies to follow when using story to grow your business.

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Sarah Cook

Simplifying copy & content for health entrepreneurs.

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