Most people are afraid to reveal much of themselves at work. They think their colleagues won’t be especially interested, or they’ll inadvertently give some office back-stabber a weapon to use against them.

Sometimes these are reasonable fears. But for managers who want to lead effectively, personal stories can communicate values that will inspire and motivate their reports.

The depths of loyalty
Management consultant Stan Slap gives an example of such a story: The manager, a black woman, told her staff about a day in her Southern childhood when anti-integration vigilantes attacked her white best friend at school and she, a little black girl, waded in to help the friend, at the cost of injuries that put her in the hospital. The value the manager wanted to instill: loyalty. She told her people: “If you are working for me and you ever get into trouble trying to do the right thing – I’m coming back for you.”

From your own life
This is a powerful, unusual personal story. But your story doesn’t have to be as dramatic. And you don’t have to be the hero of the story. In fact, leaders win credibility when they acknowledge their own fallibility. For example, perhaps you once dropped the ball on an important project early in your career. You might share that experience and the lesson you learned about accountability.

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