In an interview with CBS News, President Barack Obama says the biggest mistake of his first term as president has been his inability “to tell a story to the American people that gives them a sense of unity and purpose and optimism, especially during tough times.”
Obama’s presumptive opponent in this fall’s election, Republican Mitt Romney, pounced on his remarks, saying, “Being president is not about telling stories. Being president is about leading, and President Obama has failed to lead.”
This is not a political article and what I’m about to say is not politically motivated. But Romney couldn’t be more wrong.
Yes, being president is about leading, but a big part of leadership is telling stories. Ronald Reagan knew it and that’s why he is still called “The Great Communicator.”
The most successful CEOs also know it. I once worked for a company in which the CEO was obsessed with telling stories because he knew their power in helping employees understand his vision for the company. And in business as well as in government, those without a vision are lost.
Carol Kinsey Goman, a consultant and expert in culture change for business, wrote several years ago that “Good stories are more powerful than plain facts. This is not to reject the value in facts, of course, but simply to recognize their limits in influencing people. People make decisions based on what facts mean to them, not on the facts themselves. Stories give facts meaning. Stories resonate with adults in ways that can bring them back to a childlike open-mindedness—and make them less resistant to experimentation and change.”
I don’t know many people who would argue that change is not needed in our country. Obama ran and won on that platform, in fact. Perhaps he’s on to something.
Those who believe he has failed to bring about the change he promised—and I would think Romney is among them—might consider that the president might be right in his assessment of his first term. Perhaps if he had been a better storyteller, more change might have happened.
Robert J. Holland is employee communications manager for a Fortune 500 company in Richmond, Va. He blogs at Communication at Work, where a version of this post first appeared.