I’m writing these words a few days before the 18th anniversary of what we all remember as 9/11—those horrible attacks on the US that led to the deaths of thousands. Most of you remember that day. You have a personal story or two. You know where you were and what you felt.
Even though you’ll be receiving this a few days after the day of commemoration, I want you to ponder something with me. Let me “go broad” to explain it.
Many times in these Leading Thoughts, I’ve urged you to get good at “story.” We are learning that story or stories provide the easiest way for people to absorb information. The brain uses fewer calories to digest story. Data is best remembered by most people through story. It is also retained for longer. And, frankly, people are more likely to recount a story they’ve heard, thus multiplying the impact of it.
Leaders should be storytellers. They should tell the stories of their heroes, of their mentors, of their own defining moments, and of what other leaders and companies have done in heroic times. Ideally, everyone in your firm should have a story about the firm burning in their hearts. They should have a story that captures the meaning of the firm and the vision for the firm, one that encapsulates the reason for what you do.
I have been speaking publicly for about forty years and I’m still surprised by one truth. My audiences remember the stories. If someone stops me in an airport and says they heard me speaking somewhere in the world, they aren’t going to comment on the data I gave or the way I interpreted a scripture or even my assuredly hilarious jokes. No, they will mention the stories—of that soldier, about Lincoln or Churchill, of that thing my wife said or about that company that made a change. It’s the stories that live on.
Now, I want you to get good at storytelling. If you feel unequipped for this, get the Storybrand material from my friend Donald Miller. Even consider attending one of his conferences. He’s the best at teaching leaders how to clarify their message, in part by telling their story.
Aside from this, though, here is a challenge for you. Take some time to consider the meaning of your company in light of 9/11. A way of life was attacked. People came together. Meaning arose. How do you stitch your firm into the fabric of that experience? I’m not asking you to get too grandiose. I am challenging you to find the meaning of 9/11 for your firm and work it into a defining story.
Dad started this company because he loved this country. 9/11 allows us to reclaim his founding values—and those of our nation.
This company has focused on hiring vets since World War I. 9/11 gives us a chance to remember why.
We are only a five-person firm in the Midwest and we make children’s clothes. Yet every day we build on essential American values. 9/11 gives us an opportunity to remember the price of living out these values.
You see what I mean. Can you do this? It isn’t a trick or a PR tactic. It’s about your ability to translate your firm to its noblest value in the minds of your people and the outside world.
That’s part of leadership. That’s what great leaders do. Use 9/11 this year as an opportunity both to honor that moment in our history and to position your firm in terms of it.