Sarah’s Story: the power of words, stories and voice

“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.”

Ludwig Wittgenstein (Philosopher), from his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus

I’ve always liked words – words like:

Connect – from the Latin con and nectere, meaning to bind together.

Inspire – from the Latin inspirare, breathe or to blow into; conjuring up the images of something divine that is able to fill us up with an idea, or truth, with just a breath.

Transcend – from the Latin transcendere, which is made up of the word trans meaning across, and scandere, to climb. Upwards, and beyond.

In story telling, life or ‘vividness springs from the names of things’ (McKee 1997: 395); searching for and using the right words for things is an art, and I am always awestruck by the concept of communication. I formulate and idea in my mind, wrap it in words that I send to you (written, virtual, via vocal chord and eardrum vibrations) and that you then decipher into images in your own mind…the better the words, the more accurate the communication. What magic!

In Speech Acts (Searle, 1969) we can see the power and authority that some words hold: like declarations. A declaration of peace, or of war, the declaration of human rights … just by virtue of being voiced, they can change the trajectory of lives. Speech really can do something – it can put things into action.

My passion for words and for story telling has led me into a career centred on dialogue and conversations. Working in organisations, brokering and facilitating conversations and helping teams make meaning of their strategy and vision; coaching individuals from a variety of backgrounds, industries and cultures; I have learnt that narrative and story telling is a powerful tool for transformation, connection with others and purpose-filled action.

We shape our identities, our sense of self and sense of belonging through stories – as I let my mind wonder, I think about the narratives that I am a part of, the stories I hold onto about myself and others. Some are accurate, some are not – some are empowering, others may be harmful.

I am energised and inspired by the change and impact that I see all over the African countries that I work, travel and live in. I believe that the We Will Lead Africa volume will amplify this. By creating a platform for stories of African everyday leadership to be heard – stories that haven’t yet had the space and attention that they deserve – we are redefining what we see for the future of the continent and it’s people, and we are spreading stories that will fill others with hope and inspiration to play an active part in bringing their aspirations to life.

Part of moving forward, is to imagine the Africa that we want for the future. We Will Lead Africa is an opportunity to come together to take a close look at all our stories, to uncover those that are most powerful, and importantly, to be the authors of our own stories. ‘As we begin to embody our own genuine expression, we find our voice has magic in it … Speaking our voice can transform our circumstances.’ (Isaacs, 1999: 160). As we speak, as our stories are broadcast, we will see that we are not only expressing thoughts, but that we are bringing into being a world – as we speak, we begin to create a new reality.

And so I leave you, with some questions about your stories: What stories sustain and uplift your sense of self, and connect you to others? What stories would you tell to inspire action from others around you? What could move us beyond where we are now, enable us to transcend the stories that hold us back, and bring into being those that propel us forward?

Send us your stories of everyday leadership for the We Will Lead Africa volume.

Submit yours by 6th June 2016 – details at:


Isaacs, W. (1999) Dialogue and the art of thinking together: a pioneering approach to communicating in business and in life. New York: Random House

McKee, R. (1997) Story: substance, structure, style, and the principles of screenwriting. New York, US: Harper-Collins Publishers

Searle, J.R. (1969) Speech Acts: an essay in the philosophy of language. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *