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Karen's Story

Why Story-Based Techniques

I can’t imagine a single day without story, whether that story is a poem, the narrative surrounding the birth of my first grand-daughter, the newspaper and anecdotal stories (true and untrue) during my first political run for office, the pleasant and sometimes painful memories that emerge from watching a movie or reading a book, the saga behind a tragic accident or the account of walking the path of the underground-railroad.


Karen Gilliam and family

As a little girl I delighted in listening to the stories told by my grandmothers. Embedded in my memory are the cautionary tales and wise adages that were nurturing, affirming and told me that I belonged. Now as a grandmother of twelve, and since 2010 a great grand-mother, my one regret is that much is lost to memory. It is as much for my grandchildren as it is in service to humanity that I am now called to continue the work of inspiring others to find and articulate their voices and to remember the stories so they can pass them on. It’s important for people to know where they come from, so they’ll know when someone is trying to take them back.

As our world continues to become more complex and fragmented and as we find ourselves floundering in a sea of both personal and professional change, the need for understanding and interconnectedness is ever most important in our lives. And this is where story becomes the connective tissue, having the ability to capture emotions and reason, hearts and minds.

It has been said that there are three great mysteries in life - - air to a bird, water to a fish and man to himself. Stories also hold this extraordinary power over our lives. We may have forgotten or have missing pieces of our individual stories. But it’s not taboo to return and fetch that which is lost (Sankofa Symbolism). We might not be conscious of the developing story and need to stop, pause, and reflect on the meaning of the moment. Or, we may be stuck, floundering, unsure or even fearful of how this story will conclude.

How does this relate to leadership? Story is meaning and just as stories are co-created, it is equally true that leadership is a social meaning-making process. The most important meaning-making process that a leader undertakes is that of developing a sense of self, unique purpose and/or meaning in herself, as well as in others. Telling and sharing our stories – whether in professional, community or familial settings – helps us to realize that we’re more alike than we are unalike.

The findings from my research revealed that when story includes one of the four universal dimensions of living, loving, learning and leaving a legacy (Covey, 2004), it allows for private meaning-making that can transform into a public and shared meaning-making experience. These are the sacred callings where the heart’s deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet. For a more descriptive narrative of storytelling leadership, please read my article, Storytelling Leadership: Connecting Our Stories across Differences.

My purpose, then, is to support and build community with people who believe in something greater than themselves and to help our young people identify their signature purpose. This is of particular significance to my work as a council woman. It is important to do what you can, with what you have, where you are.

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My work and life experience tells me that leadership capability is inherent in every individual. That experience includes over 15 years as a human resources/training and organization development practitioner in diverse industries and the following:


  • Certified Diversity Executive (CDE)
  • Weatherhead Executive Coaching Certificate, from Case Western Reserve University
  • Noble Purpose Learning Facilitator
  • Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI®) Practitioner
  • Criterion-Referenced-Instruction (CRI) by Bob Mager
  • AchieveGlobal (Zenger-Miller) Master Trainer
  • 360° Multi-Rater Certification


  • Elected Council woman, Ward 4 Bedford Heights, Ohio


There’s more:

  • Recognized in Who’s Who in Black Cleveland 2006 through 2010
  • Recognized by National Black MBA in Members on the Move 2006
  • Registered Organization Development Practitioner (RODP)


  • Ph.D., Leadership & Change, Antioch University, 2006
  • MBA, Systems Management, Baldwin-Wallace College, 1990
  • B.A., Notre Dame College, 1987
  • A.A., Cuyahoga Community College, 1981

“Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity” (www.phd.antioch.edu) are the words of Horace Mann, the first president of Antioch. If you interested in pursuing doctoral studies and are at a moment in your life when you want to mindfully pause, to think critically about where you’ve been and where you want to go from here, consider Antioch University’s Ph.D. Leadership & Change Program.

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Gilliam Consulting
Karen L. Gilliam, MBA, Ph.D., CDE
P.O. Box 46220, Bedford, Ohio 44146