01 Dec 2018

Action Plan: The Power of Story

by Ryan Jones


Photo by Miora Rajaonary

As a guy who makes his living getting—and keeping—people’s attention, Charles Henderson (MBA 1991) appreciates the value of a memorable tagline. He knows that his is more compelling than most. “I call it my ‘heroin-to-Harvard’ story,” he says. “Really, it’s a metaphor for a leader’s story of where you were to where you are.”

Henderson brings his story to audiences from LA to South Africa as managing director of the leadership development firm Henderson, Harper & Associates. Its power lies in its truth: From dabbling in marijuana at age 12 to a full-blown heroin addiction at 16, Henderson was eventually arrested and served a brief jail stint followed by rehab. Without a high school diploma, his future seemed bleak, but he willed himself through a GED program and community college before getting his finance degree from Wharton; after a few years at Chase in New York, he found his way to HBS.

From there he landed in Johannesburg, where he’s been based for more than two decades. His message: that honest, personal stories can go a long way in instilling values and bringing teams together. His work runs the gamut from coaching and management training to team building facilitation, but it’s the storytelling, Henderson says, “that everything else revolves around.”

How to Tell Your Personal Story

The essential elements. “There are four components in every effective leadership story: It should make you feel something, it should make you think, it should inspire you to action, and it should strengthen the relationship between you and the person hearing your story.”

Be real. “For me, it’s about authenticity. If you feel it, they’ll feel it.”

Don’t just talk—listen. “At the end, I say to the group, ‘That’s my story. What’s yours?’ When leaders begin to reflect on their own journeys, they gain new insight about themselves and develop stories that inspire people to higher levels of performance. The next step is to listen to what others have to say.”

Featured Alumni

Featured Alumni

Class of MBA 1991, Section F

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