Six Reasons to Embrace Story-Driven Leadership

I am on a blogging sabbatical writing on my upcoming book. This is a guest post by Sarah K Asaftei, a branding specialist and owner of skaMEDIA Productions, Inc, where she creates story-driven brand campaigns for foundations and double bottom-line companies who desire massive social impact. She’s worked in international media production for more than 22 years, producing & directing more than 150 story videos. She had a Christian music video officially nominated for Video of the Year at the 2014 Canadian Gospel Music Awards.


I probably can’t count the number of times I’ve been let down by a leader I’d respected. You meet someone, read their book, hear them speak — and no matter how adult you are, you catch yourself thinking — Wow, that person is amazing. I wanna be just like them when I grow up!

Then, some indefinite time period later, you learn they cheated on their spouse or embezzled money or plagiarized “their” content, and you feel utterly deflated. Guess I don’t wanna be them after all… Bummer.

Sometimes it’s closer to home. A boss, mentor, boyfriend or girlfriend you admired or even loved. Then you discover that this person is an utter jerk, or a narcissist, or a fraud in private life — and it can shake your faith not only in them personally but in humanity at large.

There was a time when society was made up of small, intimate social groups. People lived on farms, in villages, in small towns. Even in the cities, distinct social classes forced narrow circles of interaction. Everybody knew everybody else’s story, because they grew up alongside each other and then grew old in the same place. If you beat your wife or lied compulsively or cheated customers at your market stall, others might ignore it but they still  knew.

In contrast, today we live in isolated, compartmentalized worlds where we rarely speak to neighbors and anybody can pretend to be anybody else on the internet. If you’re a jerk, or a narcissist, or a fraud, you might successfully hide it for a very long time.

As a leader, you essentially have two options:

  • keep your public and private faces separate, living in fear that someone will unmask your fractured existence, or you can
  • lead with your whole story.

Just to clarify, I don’t mean leaders shouldn’t have private lives. As a business owner, social leader, mentor, and (not least) a pastor’s wife — I freely acknowledge great value in keeping one’s personal life personal. I just mean they shouldn’t have multiple faces.

I’m talking about being the same person no matter which environment you’re in at the moment – home, work, play, travel. I’m talking about embracing your story into every facet of your leadership. Not based on who you wish you were, or the expectations of whichever social circle you’re in at the moment. Private and public personas should be driven by an identical set of core values. Otherwise, one of your faces is living a lie.

Here are six reasons I believe it’s crucial to live with one face, and lead with your story. Because this challenges you to:

be real.

When you aren’t in denial of who you really are, then the pressure is on to be a decent person all the time. You’ve gotta live with one face, not several. Which forces you to look in the mirror and decide if you like the identity that is truly you. (And if you’re not satisfied, then it challenges you to go change into somebody you actually like to see looking back at you, but I digress…)

– be focused.

When you’re transparent about what drives you, it’s easier to avoid those enticing distractions. Verbally opening up about bits and pieces of your story throughout daily life provides a constant reminder of why you do what you do. It keeps you grounded in the process God used to get you here.

– be honest.

You’re no more perfect than I am, which means we’re all messed up on some level. Finding the courage to face failures and admit past mistakes give you a platform to transform them for good. Not only do you get to repeatedly benefit from the your own lessons, but it creates authentic connection points for mentoring others. And when you aren’t hiding parts of yourself, there’s a lot more space to breathe easy.

– be a listener.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but your story isn’t merely yours. Neither is mine. We are each made up of all the stories of those with whom we interact. Depending on your personality, it can be equally challenging to shut up and listen as it is to open up and share. But when you do, you begin to realize that the sum of each story is far greater than its individual parts, and life is richer for taking the time to listen.

– be humble.

Put simply, you cannot last as a respected leader while simultaneously manipulating and using people around you. Narcissistic, self-absorbed leaders deftly compartmentalize life into multiple identities and may be skilled at keeping those faces separate. However, the ultimate result is a sense of abuse, contempt, and betrayal from their teams. Living one single transparent story is a catalyst to rejecting narcissism and remaining humble.

– be accountable.

Viewing your personal story as a small part of a much greater whole triggers the realization that your goal, career, ministry, or purpose is something bigger than your ego. Anything you create, any team you build — needs to be strong and diverse enough to outlast your own tenure. Accountability keeps that potential alive.

As I look forward into 2015, my goals are to listen more, embrace accountability, and more truly live with only one face.

And in the meantime, to continue sharing compelling stories about others in ways that change the world.

Which ones speak to you?