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The Core Stories Exercise

Teaching Case

Written by Ryan Quinn (invented by _____________)

University of Louisville College of Business

Date of Publication: 2020

Leadership topics:

  • Compassion

Product number (to be assigned)

Industry: None

Pages: ___


Core stories are stories from our lives that explain why we are who we are today. The core story exercise is a classroom activity in which a teacher first explains and models what it means to share core stories, and then class participants share their own stories in small groups. There is no culture we have yet encountered in which this exercise comes naturally to people. However, the only people who have ever had bad experiences with this exercise are those who pretend to participate rather than participating authentically, and this is exceedingly uncommon. After participants share stories, following rules carefully outlined by the instructor, the instructor debriefs the experience and helps participants see how it can apply to their leadership experiences.


  • Starter content: This exercise gives students a visceral experience in empathy, what it takes to achieve, its impacts, and its role in leadership. The activity is highly sensitive, and must be done with care. It usually works best when done after covering topics like compassion and empathy in detail first, so that people know what they are getting into and why they are getting into it. We have had success in using it after teaching the content in the book, Leadership and Self-Deception, using a case study along with the book.
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