Every single person has a story that will break your heart. And if you’re paying attention, many people…have a story that will bring you to your knees” — Brené Brown

Everyone has a story. Unfortunately, when people are confronted with challenges, they often start telling the oldest one they know. Usually, this story is the one that tells them why they aren’t capable of handling their current situations. Stories like, “nobody cares what I have to say anyway,” or “somebody else can do it better than I can, so I’m not even going to try.”

These are the stories that we pick up throughout our lives. Sometimes they were told to us by our parents, and sometimes we get them from our teachers, or coaches, or peers, or TV. You get the idea. Initially, these stories were probably told to keep us safe, but over time they end up serving to hold us back. They limit what we do, what we say, and who we are.

I call these our First Stories. They were are often the first messages we take on about ourselves and the world, and they lay the foundation for who we become. Our view from the First Story is limited, and we can barely see the horizon.

As a leader in your organization, when someone comes to you with a problem there is a good chance they are telling themselves some version of their First Story. Your job, then, is to help elevate them beyond this self-limiting narrative — to get them to the Second Story. The get them to a place where they can see beyond the walls that normally block their view. To get them to a place where they can clearly see the various paths they can take away from here.

Your job is to LIFT your employee.

Lean In

When someone comes to you with a problem, give them you full attention, listen intently, and let them know you are as invested in a solution as they are. Listen without judgment and resist the urge to offer quick fixes. Any solution you offer at this point will be more about your story anyway.


Whatever the employee is struggling with is probably a slightly different version of some other challenge they’ve already confronted, and they’re telling themselves an old story. Listen for any projections or judgements. These are going to tell you more about the narrative playing out in your employee’s mind.

Facilitate Internal Inquiry

Ask questions that get beyond the current situation. Have they faced similar situations before? What did they do? This may take some work, but you need to get your employee to see his or her role in the current situation. Why is this important to them, and what would happen if they did nothing? What are some things they could do to change the situation?

Take Action

At this point, you have hopefully shown your employee that they can take direct action to remedy their situation. You have elevated them beyond the roadblocks they had placed in their path, and you have helped them see how they can initiate change. You have given your employee a new story to tell, a Second Story.

I am business owner and an anti-racism activist committed to creating a more loving and inclusive world.