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People follow leaders because of who they are more than because of what they do. Developing self-awareness, engaging in self-reflection, acting with integrity, and being able to develop and maintain authentic relationships are what make individuals effective leaders.

More and more people are coming to understand the role that narratives can play in leadership development by enabling people both to learn about themselves as well as make authentic connections with others. I recently wrote about the young people I saw perform in the finals of the Knicks Poetry Slam. Through the process of creating their poems and giving them voice and expression, these performers learned about themselves their inner strength and capacity to overcome obstacles and were able to connect powerfully with their audience.

The performers who spoke from their hearts authentically and with vulnerability were the ones that members of the audience were most drawn to. It wasn’t about anything in particular that they had accomplished. Rather, it was their capacity and willingness to share their thoughts and emotions with candor and openness they shared stories about themselves and what was important to them.

Similarly, Barack Obama’s capacity to mobilize people is in large measure a result of his oratory skills. Obama didn’t come to the election campaign with a huge amount of political experience or accomplishments in the political arena. Rather, he came as himself and presented himself openly and candidly by telling his story. His speech in Philadelphia, in response to the uproar about comments made by Reverend Wright, was a pivotal moment in his campaign. He spoke about his own life and experiences. By bringing himself into his speech his personal relationship with Reverend Wright, his relationship with his Grandmother, and his willingness to face the issue of race head on – he enabled people to connect with him at a deeper level than merely political party lines.

On April 21-23, 2009 I will be co-facilitating a workshop on Creative Approaches to Leadership which features building personal and leadership narratives as a vehicle for accessing core priorities and forming authentic relationships. Please please contact me if you are interested.

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