Wednesday / May 29

What’s Your Leadership Story?

3 women sitting at a computer

In her Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts (2018) Brene Brown said, Own your story and you get to write the ending. Deny the story and it owns you (p. 270). As the authors of best-seller, Leading While Female: A Culturally Proficient Approach for Gender Equity (2020), we found hundreds of female educational leaders from around the world who wanted to share their leadership stories with us. All they needed was a place to write or speak about their own journeys of cultivating support factors to help overcome barriers along their personal and professional pathways.

We’ve found the purpose of reflection on leadership is to gain a better understanding of our values, beliefs, and assumptions. Subsequently, we learn from reflecting on our experiences. Those reflective thoughts lead to adaptive behaviors that lead to new leadership challenges, insights, and ideas. We then reflect on those new behaviors, and we begin to see new leadership opportunities. Recording these reflective cycles through journaling provides the storyteller and the story reader with blueprints for future actions.

Your leadership story is ongoing and serves to motivate you to overcome surprises, frustrations, failures, and other barriers that get in your way.

Bailey and Rehman (2022) showed the habit of reflection can separate mediocre professionals from extraordinary professionals. The 442 executive leaders in their study reported the most significant experiences for a leader’s development are surprise, frustration, and failure. The leaders noted these experiences most advanced their professional development and had the most impact on making them better leaders. Experiences of surprise, frustration, and failure involve cognitive, emotional, and behavioral processes constantly in motion. If leaders do not take time to rest and reflect upon what is learned from their experiences, fatigue will overshadow the learning experiences.

In our work with education leaders, we have used structured guided questions and protocols to create opportunities for reflecting, sharing, and planning. Keeping a journey journal is one way female leaders chronicle key elements of their stories. Lessons Learned or After Action Reviews (AAR) are also ways to record critical moments in your leader’s journey.

Reflection as story

Take a few minutes and reflect on a recent experience that caused you to be surprised, feel frustrated, or have a sense of failure. Find a quiet place. Use your notepad, computer, or tablet. Set your timer for 10 minutes. First, recall the experience.

What happened that caused you to be surprised?

How did things go compared to the way you had planned for things to go?

As you reflect on the experience, what did you learn about yourself under these circumstances?

What about yourself will you own about this experience/story?

What new ending will you write for your story?

Start with a Template

Now, you’re ready to tell your story. The story you typically craft about yourself is what Brene Brown (2018) calls your Stormy First Draft (SFD). Start with a template of reflective questions to help determine the myth making that’s been going on with you.

As I think of my leadership story, what are some emotions I typically feel?

In what ways does my body typically react when I think about my leadership experiences?

In what ways do I describe my values and beliefs?

How might I describe examples of alignment of my actions with my values and beliefs?

In what ways have I challenged my own assumptions?

What am I learning about myself as a leader from my SFD?

Your responses to these reflective questions may lead you to your breakthrough leadership story.

Write your new story

Using the SFD template can lead you to writing your new, authentic leadership story. The guiding questions for your new story are:

Who am I? In what ways do I describe my deeply help values and beliefs about equity, inclusion, and diversity?

Am I who I say I am? What actions and evidence exist that demonstrate the value I hold for equity, inclusion, and diversity?

In what ways do I assess cultural knowledge for myself and my community?

What might be some ways I manage the dynamics of diversity and inclusion in my school community?

How have I demonstrated adapting to demographic changes within my organization? Responses to these thinking questions can lead to evidence for institutionalizing personal and organizational cultural knowledge. And, now you have the foundation of your new leadership story.

The Power of Your Story

Your journey may inspire emerging leaders as they begin their equity journeys. Many experienced leaders will find renewed energy from your story. Your leadership story is ongoing and serves to motivate you to overcome surprises, frustrations, failures, and other barriers that get in your way. Your leadership story starts with reflecting on your own journey. Your reflective journal is a key support factor as you continue to chronicle the relationship of your values, beliefs, and assumptions for equity, inclusion, and diversity aligned with your leadership actions.


Arriaga, T., Stanley, S., & Lindsey, D. (2020). Leading while female: A Culturally Proficient

approach for gender equity. Corwin.

Bailey, J. & Rehman, S. Don’t underestimate the power of self-reflection. 

Harvard Business Review. 03. 04, 2022.

Brown, B. Dare to lead: Brave work. Tough conversations. Whole hearts (2018). Vermillion.

Written by

Dr. Trudy T. Arriaga serves as the Dean of Equity and Outreach in the Graduate School of Education at Cal Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, CA. She is co-author of My Leading While Female Journey; Leading While Female: A Culturally Proficient Response for Gender Equity; and Opening Doors: An Implementation Template for Cultural Proficiency.  Dr. Arriaga served the Ventura Unified School District for 14 years as the first female superintendent.  She began her career as a bilingual paraeducator and enjoyed 40 years of service in education as a teacher, assistant principal, principal, director and superintendent.

Dr. Stacie L. Stanley serves as the Superintendent in Edina Public Schools.  Stacie has served in a variety of education roles including classroom teacher, elementary school principal, math specialist, curriculum & staff development specialist, director of achievement equity, director of curriculum, assessment, and instruction and associate superintendent. Stacie is a Senior Training Associate at the Center for Culturally Proficient Educational Practice and the co-author of My Leading While Female Journey and Leading While Female: A Culturally Proficient Response for Gender Equity.  

Dr. Delores B. Lindsey retired as Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership at California State University San Marcos; however, she has not retired from the education profession. Her primary focus is developing culturally proficient leaders. She helps educational leaders examine their organizations’ policies and practices, and their individual beliefs and values about cross-cultural communication. She is the co-author of My Leading While Female Journey and Leading While Female: A Culturally Proficient Response for Gender Equity

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