Quote: “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.”
“Who I Am” Stories by Patricia Bouteneff
These are probably the most difficult—and most important–stories you’ll tell as a leader. They are also the ones that will take the most work to prepare. But they are essential to building trust. Tell “Who I Am” stories when you arrive in a new assignment at a parish/mission, when you join a committee, or when you need to establish a connection with a parishioner, the parish council, or your partners in the community.
You’re more than likely going to feel some resistance to creating one of these. Why should anyone be interested in your personal story? Isn’t it inappropriate, even self-aggrandizing, in a church setting? Shouldn’t your values be obvious, given that we’re all Orthodox?
Set that thinking aside. Because people will only follow you if they believe in you. Giving your audience the chance to see you as a living, flawed human being creates a zone of authenticity and trust around you. It may be hard to believe but–before your parish will buy into your vision–they have to buy you.
Your community is going to make all sorts of assumptions about you. Its members want to know who you are and what you believe. Your “Who I Am” stories can go a long way to explain both. They help convey your dreams, goals, and accomplishments as well as your failures, motivations, values, and history. They humanize you and make you more approachable. A leader that can tell an authentic story about what makes him who he is will move his audience. Plus that audience now has a better chance of understanding his motivations, for seeing the person behind the title.
To create these kind of stories, you’ll need to take time to reflect on your life, and to choose the situations that helped make you who you are. You’ll need to reconnect with the emotions you felt during these experiences, and add those details to your narratives. You’ll also want to practice these stories until you can tell them easily and bring the moments alive when sharing them.
Let’s look at the case of Father Paul. He is a seminary graduate who has just been assigned to his first parish, after a few years in missions and diocesan administration. His parishioners have just bid farewell to their retiring pastor, who served them for 32 years. Father Paul’s new parishioners weren’t allowed to be involved in the process of choosing their new priest. They resent his arrival, believe that he is too much of an outsider to fit in, and distrust him on sight.
What does Father Paul do?
He spends his early months in the parish listening and learning, but he does make sure to tell several stories about his past leadership roles, including mistakes he made as a priest or as a new Orthodox as well as what he learned from them. He tells them about the time he visited a dying old woman who knew more about scripture than he did. He tells them about the time the builders brought the new pews, only to find that the crosses on the ends had been carved backward. He explains why he’s enthusiastic about being their pastor. He discloses personal information such as where he grew up and the dry-fly fishing that he enjoys in his downtime. His honesty and willingness to be vulnerable help his new community see him as a real person, not as a stranger, and they start gradually to have confidence in him and open up.
If you’re still hesitating, think about the greatest bishop or elder that you’ve known. I can almost guarantee that he was not only confident in his skin but also unafraid to be vulnerable. That authenticity is the essence of real power, power that comes from trust. And one of the ways it is best developed is through “Who I Am” stories.
Storytelling for Church Leaders sources
- Blunt, Ray: “Leaders and Stories: Growing the Next Generation, Conveying Values, and Shaping Character,” on Org (http://govleaders.org/stories.htm)
- Cavanaugh-Simmons, Christine, “Self-authoring the Who I Am Story” (http://ccs-consultinginc.com/who-am-i/self-authoring-the-who-am-i-story/)
- Hopko, Fr Thomas, “Speaking the Truth in Love: Compelling Commentary on Christian Belief and Behavior.” Podcast for Ancient Faith Radio (http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/hopko/bishops_part_1_prophetic_priestly_and_pastoral)
- Jackson, Keith: “Business Storytelling: Using Stories to Inspire,” on com http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/BusinessStoryTelling.htm
- Linden, Russ: “Story Power,” on Governing: The States and Localities (http://www.governing.com/columns/mgmt-insights/Story-Power.html)
- Ramsdell, Catherine: “Storytelling, Narration, and the ‘Who I Am’ Story,” on WritingSpaces.com http://writingspaces.org/sites/default/files/ramsdell–storytelling-narration.pdf
- Schwabel, Dan: “How to Use Storytelling as a Leadership Tool,” on Forbes.com(http://www.forbes.com/sites/danschawbel/2012/08/13/how-to-use-storytelling-as-a-leadership-tool/)
- Simmons, Annette: “The Six Stories You Need to Know How to Tell,” on com (http://annettesimmons.com/wp-content/files_mf/1294790921StoryFactorChap1.pdf)
- Stevenson, Doug: “Storytelling – A Leadership Development Tool,” on Story Theater International ( http://storytelling-in-business.com/files/Storytelling-leadership-development-tool.pdf)