Leading by autobiography

Leading by autobiography

While leaders may have varying styles, traits and behaviors, one pattern that I discovered relates to a concept I have come to call ‘leading by autobiography’.  This term refers to the idea that inspirational leaders who sustain their effectiveness over time are people who influence others with their stories of identity.  They have a clear sense of who they are, and they reveal themselves to others by the personal stories they tell.

The more I observed the phenomenon of leading by autobiography, the more I came to see it everywhere I looked.

When Barack Obama talks of his desire to reform health care in America, he often talks in very personal terms about the illness and death of his mother.

When Jack Welch sought to make GE the world’s most competitive company, he told stories of what he learned about competition as a young hockey player in Boston.

When Margaret Thatcher built her political message in the 1970s around the need to transform Great Britain, she spoke often of the values she learned as a child in her parents’ shop: decency, self reliance, and initiative.

At this moment, I am watching legendary investor Warren Buffet on CNBC.  When asked about the most important lessons of his life and career, he begins immediately to tell stories from his childhood.

The examples truly are everywhere.

When I talk about or do leadership training, storytelling often takes center stage, simply because of my conviction that storytelling is one of the leader’s most important tools for influencing others.


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