I grew up in a small town, a really small town.
Mercer, Missouri never had more than 400 residents. A small bandstand still stands in the town square. Back when Mercer was more prosperous, the square included a drug store, two grocery stores, a lumber yard, the bank, the post office, and Sammy’s barber shop.
Every other Saturday, Mom sent me to Sammy’s for a haircut. Sammy worked alone, but he had five or six chairs in the waiting area, so it made the perfect place for the guys to sit around and to swap stories.
You could hear who got a new bird dog, which farmer stayed up half the night pulling a calf, or how the new Methodist preacher’s sermon ran a little long last Sunday.
You could also hear some tall tales. The unwritten motto at Sammy’s was, “Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.”
It’s a funny line, but it’s a bad idea.
In our truth-challenged world, business leaders and communicators must deal in facts. Smart business decisions depend on a rock-solid base of data, facts and insights.
Facts form the foundation, but you have to tell a story to convince people to believe, change behavior, or buy.
One of America’s greatest storytellers, historian David McCullough says, “Facts are never enough. Facts rarely if ever have any soul.”
McCullough adds, “One can have all the facts and miss the truth. It can be like the old piano teacher’s lament to her student, ‘I hear all the notes but I hear no music.’”
Finding Your Music
CEO’s and other leaders who are driving growth and change must make music, not just play the notes. So how do you find stories to use as a leader?
The best stories come from your personal experience and from your business. You just have to look for them.
One way to find your stories is to listen to your employees. For example, I’ve organized dozens of leadership roundtables where leaders listen to front-line staff. One GE leader was particularly good at asking questions to get details of a story. We kept notes, made follow-up calls to check facts, then included the story in the next all-employee message.
At Lockton, one of my typical questions to sales executives and client service leaders was, “How’s business?” Peeling back the onion of that one question led to dozens of client success stories and other examples we used to fuel and support Lockton’s vibrant culture.
Stories matter. Facts matter. The best stories—built on facts—persuade and move people to action. Finding and sharing those stories for your organization is essential to driving growth and change.
Anthony Hopkins portrayed John Quincy Adams in the Stephen Spielberg movie Amistad. His best line was, “Whoever tells the best story wins.” That’s a fact you can use to build your business.
See more on storytelling in this video.