Research highlights benefits of sharing personal stories at work

29 January 2018

Research highlights benefits of sharing personal stories at work

New research highlights potential benefits of leaders sharing personal stories in the workplace

Sharing personal stories in the workplace may improve both leadership and team dynamics, research by Dr Penny Moore at Henley Business School suggests.

Dr Moore, a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, is investigating the potential benefits of sharing personal stories at work, which include humanising the leader and helping team members better understand each other.

To date 70 CEOs and senior leaders have been interviewed by Dr Moore, including some of the most influential people in the country; a diverse mix of men, women, chairs, founders, entrepreneurs and CEOs from both the private and charity sectors, all with impressive leadership experience.

They include former Dragon’s Den stars James Caan and Richard Farleigh, and Sir Michael Eavis, founder of Glastonbury Festival.

CEOs from charities such as Samaritans, Stonewall, Comic Relief and the Big Lottery Fund, as well as the Time to Change campaign and the chair of Children in Need have also participated.

Others who agreed to share their stories include former head of the British Army Sir Peter Wall, ITV chairman Sir Peter Bazalgette and Mohed Altrad, born in the Syrian desert and now a billionaire businessman.

The research focused on capturing the personal stories which have shaped their lives and trying to understand the extent to which they might share these types of personal life experiences at work.

The types of stories leaders shared have included childhood memories, family stories, stories of self-doubt, difficult life experiences, and personal and professional triumphs and tribulations. 

Dr Penny Moore, Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at Henley Business School, said:
 “We have a natural curiosity to want to know about the lives of other people, where they’ve come from, the experiences that have shaped them, and what we might have in common – this is particularly true when that person is a senior figure like our boss.”
“Storytelling is a natural and powerful mechanism humans use to understand and bond with one another. My research suggests that in the right contexts, sharing personal stories, especially when they reveal a level of vulnerability, might help humanise a leader and increase empathy, social connection, and support.”

One of the main findings to emerge from the research so far is the extent to which senior leaders did in fact report sharing personal stories with colleagues. The study has shown that story-sharing is common, even in corporate settings.

Many of the leaders interviewed spoke about sharing personal stories at work, and about the importance of being seen as ‘open’ and ‘human’ by their employees.

Dr Moore added that in the context of teams, personal stories provide a depth of information about a colleague which is potentially quite valuable. By sharing personal stories, team members can better understand their colleagues, what motivates them, their struggles, values, and what makes them tick. This information might influence how the team functions as a whole.

However, Dr Moore says it is still important to get the balance right when it comes to telling stories, to avoid oversharing and make sure the context is appropriate.

The study, which began in 2016, is set to end later this year.

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