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home : commentary : leadervoice February 6, 2016

Story to the rescue
"Leadership comes from making story, turning it into experience, and then back into story."

by Christina Baldwin

As a girl it often took me hours to let go of day energy and relax into night quiet. Once tucked into my blankets, I wasn't allowed out of bed and no requests for attention were tolerated. If I wasn't going to sleep, I had to come up with my own entertainment: I came up with story. I remember developing long storylines that I built on night after night until I could hardly wait for bedtime so I could explore the continuing adventures of myself.

In these twilight fantasies I had a horse, cowboy boots and freedom. I was always a leader: girl to the rescue, girl of courage, girl with a plan. After an ordinary school day, these stories were my escape and a kind of preparation.

I grew up before women's leadership was recognized as something. Parents and teachers encouraged my intelligence: I was expected to get good grades, go to college and have a plan "beyond getting married," but the words "women's leadership" weren't in the social lexicon. And if something is not spoken, it is nearly impossible to imagine. And if we cannot imagine something we don't know how to bring it into being. That is the essential importance of story: Story is a map that takes us into unexplored possibilities. Story gives new ideas a framework in the mind and from that frame we begin to assume the story can be made real.


There are a million ways this transformation from story to reality plays out individually and collectively. At age 10, I did not have a horse, cowboy boots or freedom, but I began expanding the story of myself in ways that made the imaginary into the real. Living on a half-acre at the edge of suburban Minneapolis. I pleaded for a horse. My father said, "You raise money for the horse, I'll put in a fence and stable." I began saving every dime and quarter in a Mason jar. When I was 13, I had $125, and found a want ad for a Palomino mare for the price of $125! My father kept his bargain and the horse became real-very real. The next part of leadership was learning to ride, learning that a horse, despite reading dozens of horse books, does not have the personality of a big fuzzy dog, and learning what it was like to be on my own riding county roads, in charge of myself and a 900-pound animal, making decisions and getting safely back to the barn.

Leadership comes from making story, turning it into experience, and then back into story. As a teen, I didn't know what the horse was teaching me. Now my story places that experience into a lifelong frame to understand how women's leadership rises out of the ordinary and offers us opportunities for becoming extraordinarily who we are. The horse is gone. I still have the cowboy boots. My freedom expands.

Christina Baldwin is the author of seven books, including, "Storycatcher, Making Sense of our Lives through the Power and Practice of Story." Her life-work can be seen on her business website: www.peerspirit.com

LeaderVoice: Tell us about a principle or practice of your leadership experience that might strike a chord with other women. 
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