New Column, Leadership Life Stories, by Chris Hamstra

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Column Title: Leadership Life Stories: Communicating and Leading through Your Story

Column Entry: “Introducing Leadership Life Stories: Engaging the Power Of Stories”

By Chris Hamstra, PhD, Davenport University

Description: There is a power when people come together to share stories. As people of faith, the practice and process of storytelling helps us understand ourselves, our communities, and our organizations. When combined with leadership, stories provide examples of how to serve authentically. This column brings people around the virtual campfire to explore the concept of leadership life stories and how to learn to engage people in the classroom and boardroom with wit and wisdom.

March 2024 | April 2024


There is a power that brings people together when stories are created with others. This first column invites you around the virtual campfire to explore the practice and process of leadership life stories. My hope is that these thoughts and practical steps help you in classroom and boardroom.

Leadership Life Stories: A Starting Point

The picture to the left of my computer screen is one of my favorite leadership stories in the Bible. Found in three of the four gospels, the picture shows Jesus walking on water towards the 12 disciples, who struggle to stay afloat in a small fishing boat.

The artist, William Brassey-Hole, shows the chaotic scene of the disciples on the Sea of Galilee. Several disciples are on the oars, trying to muscle through the waves. Two are high in the mast, working to wrestle the torn sail around the cross-beam. One of the disciples reaches out the back of the boat with his arms high, pleading for Jesus to Save Us.

My mind focuses on the 12 disciples fighting for their lives.

These men had different personalities, perspectives, temperaments, and stories. Yet, Jesus walks through the chaos of the wind, rain, and waves to connect each of these individual stories within the over-arching redemption story of Jesus Christ.

As people of faith, we live in the story of God’s grace through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our fractured stories on earth can point back to the perfect story of Jesus in heaven through leadership life stories.

Leadership Life Stories: A Practical Starting Point

We are surrounded by leadership life stories every day. We just need to look for them.

I learned about the power of storytelling during my first jobs in the field of communication. My early career goal was to be a play-by-play broadcaster in baseball or hockey. As an overnight radio DJ, I learned that stories can be as simple as a one-minute weather forecast between Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins songs. As a sports videographer, I captured the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat on the sidelines of countless games. I particularly enjoyed watching a community come together when a minor league baseball team moved to the area.

With this understanding of stories, a spark in the area of leadership started for me when I went back to school for a graduate degree. Juggling full-time work and a growing family, I saw how the fields of communication and leadership came together through the stories of people around me. I learned during this time that effective communication begins the leadership process which can make a difference in the lives of people, organizations, and communities. Over the past 20-years as a faculty member, I continue to work with learners in the United States and around the globe to fine-tune their leadership life stories as they launch their careers.

Leadership Life Stories: An Academic Starting Point

Leadership life stories start with communication. The Narrative Paradigm[1] suggests humans make sense of the world by listening to and sharing stories. Walter Fisher[2] says that stories work when they are coherent (narrative probability) and ring true with other people (narrative fidelity).

Specifically, the term leadership life story stems from the work of leadership scholar and lead author Boas Shamir. His two articles published in 2005 seem to suggest that[3] leadership life stories provide a “meaning system” for individuals to feel, think, or act (p. 396). Leadership life stories also help the leader justify their position to themselves, others, and their communities.[4]

I like this idea that leadership life stories are a full body exercise and engage the heart (feel), head (think), and hands (action).

What are Leadership life stories?

I define Leadership life stories as:

A formative experience that provides a turning point in life. This Leadership moment is reflected on to construct a new meaning which is then shared with others through a story.

In the months to come, these columns expand an academic understanding but also offer practical steps that can be used in the classroom and boardroom. Let me offer a quick leadership story that was pivotal for me.

Early on in my broadcasting career, I remember sitting next to Detroit Tigers baseball announcer Ernie Harwell. Erine began calling games with the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants. His stories seemed to stretch almost to the beginning of time. As he left, I gave him a cassette tape with some of my early baseball calls for his evaluation. Less than a week later the phone rang. Ernie was on the phone for a ten minute call with some advice and encouragement. His leadership and his stories provided a much needed moment of encouragement and practical steps forward.

How about you? Are you listening to the stories around you? In the classroom, are you paying attention to learners’ stories so that you can connect well with them? Let me encourage you to begin thinking about the moments of leadership in your life. These steps can help you connect well to others and, more importantly point, others to Christ.

* The views of any CCSN columnists are their own, and do not necessarily represent the views of the CCSN. We invite and embrace a wide range of views and critiques on important communication and cultural issues from a Christian perspective. The CCSN is a community of Jesus followers who study communication. We do not support or promote a particular social, political, or denominational agenda. 


[1] (Fisher 1989)

[2] (Fisher, Narration as a human communication paradigm: The case of public moral argument. 1984)

[3] (Shamir 2005)

[4] (B. D.-H. Shamir 2005)

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