March 22, 2024 / Esther Choy

According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, if economic trends continue as they are “the US will take 208 years to close its gender gap.” If we want to see this rate of change accelerated, we must commit to raising women leaders who can tell their own stories to increase the impact of their leadership. A powerful way to do this is through storytelling in mentoring.

For many women business leaders, like Casey Foss, Chief Commercial Officer at West Monroe, storytelling in mentoring has become a core part of how they understand their role as a business leader. “Sometime over the past five years, mentoring and growing the people around me became the priority,” said Foss. “Watching people struggle through COVID, watching women leave the workforce, watching my own daughter find her own voice during COVID, my priorities just changed…If I wasn’t going to fight for more female leaders or more space in the boardroom nobody else was.”

Casey Foss Uses leadership storytelling in her mentoring relationships

Authenticity and Vulnerability in the Mentorship Relationship

“As a woman in business,” Foss recalled, “you’re taught that being vulnerable might make you look weak.” She never shared personal stories at work for fear it would hold back her career. While stance of self-protection led to a reputation of being a results-driven and effective leader, Foss also realized that it was hurting her ability to mentor other women in her office. There was a perception that her career came easily and that she had set an unrealistic bar.

So Foss decided she needed to lean on her leadership storytelling skills. She started to share stories about her struggles — running to the train to pick up her kids, mom guilt, etc. “It made me much more relatable… more human,” Foss said. “And to be honest, those are the stories that I find myself sharing all the time. It’s not my accolades or my success.” By normalizing the struggles she faces as a woman in business, she is now able to connect with her peers and mentor those around her better, paving the way for more women leaders in business.

Examples of Leadership Storytelling In Mentorship Relationships

Recently, Foss met with one of her mentees who was struggling with work/life balance and caring for her children. So Foss told a story to help her mentee understand that she was not alone in this struggle and also provide alternative ways to understand what it means to be a working mom, struggling to achieve that balance.

Here’s the story she shared:

“I was getting ready to take a trip. My daughter’s friend was at my house. She came up to me and said, ‘You’re leaving town again?’ This is not even my own kid. Now I’m getting guilt from her best friend? I told her ‘Hey, lay off me. This is why I’m going.’ I went to the airport, got on the flight. I landed and had a text from my daughter that said, ‘Mom, I just want you to know how proud I am of you. I know how hard it is for you to travel and leave us behind. And we appreciate it. P.S. you’re going to crush your meeting and presentation tomorrow. So good luck.’”

Foss continued her story to frame it for her mentee: “I’m building what’s going to be a really strong woman, right? And so to me, the question is if you left…is your story done? Is the legacy complete? I like to ask myself, would I be satisfied in three months? Or would I look back with regret?”

Mentoring Through Story Facilitation

The job of mentoring women isn’t just for women. We need as many men as possible to join in to help accelerate change in the gender gap. Business leaders, like Eugene Toh, Chief Commercial Officer at Energy Market Authority, have learned how to use leadership storytelling in mentoring to help his mentees tell their own stories.

Here’s what this can look like: Toh empowered a younger colleague to make her desired career move into international relations by helping her learn how to tell her own story during job interviews. After several unsuccessful interviews, his mentee was feeling hopeless about her chances of getting the job she wanted. So together they reviewed how she presented herself during these interviews.

He realized that she was doing a great job showing prospective employers her credentials and competence, but she was not relating her character — her personality and values. Is she outgoing, patient, empathetic or optimistic? Is she loyal, kind, humble? Of the Three C’s covered in most interviews, character is often the most overlooked, but the most compelling to employers.

By asking his mentee some good questions, Toh helped her to tell stories about herself that could show her character during her next interview. One story she shared about how an overseas trip during college ignited her passion for international relations demonstrated both her passion and her tendency to be proactive. Together, they worked on how she could weave that personal story into her next interview. Toh was thrilled — but not surprised — when he later learned that interview had been successful and she had accepted the job.

“She had told her own story,” said Toh. “I merely helped her uncover it. How we tell our stories can change lives.”

A banner describing Story Lab, a complimentary service to workshop stories with a facilitator.

Mentoring Through Storytelling: The Multiplier Effect

Business mentors like Foss and Toh are building a legacy by accelerating the pace of change by supporting the women around them to discover their own leadership qualities. They use storytelling to lead with authenticity, compassion, and curiosity — helping those around them become leaders in their own right. What legacy are you building? What stories do you still need to tell?

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"This is an amazing and insightful post! I hadn’t thought of that so you broadened my perspective. I always appreciate your insight!" - Dan B.

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