Karen Lynn Gilliam, Ph.D. is a 2006 graduate of the PHD Program in Leadership and Change at Antioch University.

Dissertation Committee

  • Jon Wergin, Ph.D., Committee Chair
  • Carolyn Kenny, Ph.D., Committee Member
  • Laurien Alexandre, Ph.D., Committee Member
  • Klaus Witz, Ph.D., External Reader


narratives, portraiture, storytelling, charismatic leadership, underground railroad, voice and leadership

Document Type


Publication Date



This study examined a social movement through the power of story and storytelling and its influence on behavior from a purposeful sampling of individuals who heard the story of Joan Southgate’s journey. Ms. Southgate, a 73-year-old African-American, walked the 519 miles of the underground-railroad across Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and into Canada. The grand narrative of the underground-railroad is a never-ending story, subject to change with each re-telling and/or unveiling of polyphonic microstories. Stories have the ability to capture emotion and reason, hearts and minds. While storytelling is thought to be a most powerful means of communicating, very little scholarly work has been written about its use as a tool for leadership and leaders. The purpose of this study was to look at what meaning could be derived from understanding the connection between storytelling and leadership. Stories were collected and interpreted using a social science portraiture approach, which emphasizes and respects the voice of the people being studied. Their narratives evolved into written portraits that reflected and validated their experience and were placed in a social and cultural context. The foreshadowed question asked: What is the impact of story on the listeners and why do they react the way they do? From a knowledge application perspective, the researcher hoped to uncover how business/community leaders could better connect with those they’d like to influence in some way and how storytelling could be used for a social movement. Where leadership is concerned with meaning-making processes, the findings from this study suggest that the most important process may be that of developing a sense of self and/or unique purpose and then being able to see one’s self as part of the larger whole. It was further revealed that finding one’s voice and enabling others to do the same is of primary importance to storytelling leadership, a concept which takes the power of storytelling combined with voice, knowledge, intelligence, and experience of the storytelling leader to unite a group of people who try together to achieve certain shared universal goals. The electronic version of this dissertation is accessible through the OhioLINK ETD Center,