Mothers Are Leadership Storytellers. Here’s Why.
In 2015, when my daughters were six and three, I jotted down the following story:
Tonight the girls are trying to go to sleep, with Dad keeping them company in the rocking chair. All of a sudden Alina sits up on her bed and begins a dramatic episode of ‘I’m-too-scared-to-sleep.’ Then, Melia [her younger sister] lifts herself halfway up and tries to comfort her older sister. She says, ‘If you wake up in the middle of the night and you are scared, it’s okay if you go to Mom and Dad, I will be okay here by myself.’ What a brave thing for a barely three-year-old child to say!
Children love hearing stories about themselves, so I share this story with my two daughters, knowing that the stories I select can help shape their identities. As a leadership storyteller, I help leaders build relationships, credibility and impact via stories. That includes leaders’ impact and relationships at home, where many of us are raising the next generation of leaders.
Storytelling is foundational to the survival and resilience of families. In fact, the research of author Bruce Feiler has shown that understanding and conveying your family’s narrative may be the single best way to strengthen your family.
When we bring up the past, the selection of stories is intentional: there's something we want to highlight that we want others to remember and repeat. So, when my daughters fight as siblings inevitably do, I can remind them of the time Melia was so thoughtful and protective of her older sister that she was willing to subject herself to the horror of staying in her room by herself (a frightful thing, apparently) if it meant her sister received comfort and reassurance. And I can remind Melia of the bravery she has demonstrated from such a young age. She has a well of resources to draw from for any obstacles she faces in life! I can turn my daughters’ experience into a story that is shaping their identity, relationships and future.
Shaping of values and identity isn’t the only reason to tell stories in the home, though.
Here are three more:
Children are more resilient when they know the challenges their ancestors have overcome. Studies have shown higher self-esteem and a more accurate self-image among preteens whose families discuss both family history and everyday events. The findings of psychologist Marshall Duke confirm this. He asked children 20 questions about their families, and then had them complete a series of psychological tests. “The more children knew about their family’s history,” writes Feiler, describing Duke’s experiment, “the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believed their families functioned.”
Your kids become better storytellers. We know that storytelling is a top skill in the workplace. And it turns out that when parents model good storytelling for their preschool age children, those kids go on to tell more complete narratives of their own a year or two later!
You get to practice! An added perk of telling stories to your kids is that you get to test out storytelling techniques. Most importantly, you get to think from the perspective of someone who is different from you, so you learn how to craft messages for diverse audiences.
Of course, all of us can brush up on our storytelling skills, both in the home and in the workplace. Here’s how.
Make space. Dinner time, weekend breakfasts, walks to the park, the drive to sports practice… all are opportunities to make storytelling part of the routine.
Know what they like. Sometimes we hesitate to tell stories because it’s hard to think of them. Having tried-and-true categories helps. My kids, for instance, love to hear stories about times when they said or did something funny. Maybe they’re both aspiring comedians like their mom. Other known favorites for kids include stories about their birth or early years, or your own school days. Stories that especially build emotional resilience include tales of redemption or transformation, and an “oscillating” family narrative that shows that even though the family has had ups and downs, they’ve weathered them.
Let them interrupt! Interjections help your kids take part in building the family narrative and develop their own perspective on events.
Collect their stories. My story of Melia’s bravery could so easily have slipped away, as so many parenting memories do. Taking the time to write it down adds it to the library of family stories that can instill values, shape their identity and strengthen the family overall. Here are five resources for capturing family stories.
Mothers can play a central role as bearers of stories. Mother’s Day is chance for families to reflect on storytelling's role in preparing the next generation for success.
We can help you tell and capture family stories, especially if you are in a family enterprise. Contact us for leadership storytelling training! Leadership Story Lab trains and coaches managers in storytelling techniques to help them become more engaging and persuasive communicators. Whether you would like to stand out in the interview process, add punch to a presentation, or make a compelling case for a new initiative, we can help. Schedule a working session with us today!
Esther’s book, Let the Story Do the Work (published by HarperCollins Leadership), is now available!