On a Sunday afternoon in the Autumn of 1946, following a delicious dinner of Grandma’s fried chicken, my father, my uncles, and older cousins gathered on the back porch of her old weather worn sharecropper house. Those arriving too late to get one of the rocking chairs brought a cane bottom straight chair from the kitchen and leaned back against the wall. We boys sat anywhere we could find a space, waiting for the real feast to begin.

It was story-telling time! The war was over, but nothing would be the same again except the wonderful stories the men shared. As soon as one storyteller finished, another stepped forward with an even better account along the same line. The longer it went on, the more memorable the stories became. It fascinated me that every man had his own version on every subject, usually confirming the objective of the previous man’s story.

While listening to the stories, I could visualize myself as the main character in each one. Have you ever found yourself doing that? I tamed that stubborn mule. It was me who walked five miles through the snowstorm to rescue that puppy. I was driving the tractor that the landlord bought last month. These stories became mine!

One day it dawned on me, and like a curtain being pulled back revealing a truth behind it, I received the lesson of a lifetime. Good storytellers create their own version of an event. A valuable lesson by itself, I would learn more about this principle in the future.

Around the age of twenty-five, while searching for the secrets to enhance my career, I attended a two-day leadership training seminar featuring a long list of highly rated professional speakers. The subjects ranged from leadership to motivation, along with salesmanship and self-development. On the second day, a man went to the microphone and told an elaborate story to make his point. It was a good illustration, well delivered, but another speaker told that same one the previous day.

That was not all that was repeated. Before the seminar was over, I heard several jokes told more than once. I don’t know if it surprised or disappointed me to hear much of the material repeated by others who spoke later. By believing every speaker would bring their unique material, had I expected too much?

I learned a valuable qualifier to the previous lesson—good speakers and writers also use original material.

These experiences left me with a Principle of Creative Followership I practice and highly recommend to you.

Tell Your Own Story.

I package my stories with my original material. When I am introduced at a speaking engagement, the audience expects to hear a message from me, not my teachers, not my boss, not a historical figure, or anyone else.

I will not disappoint them or embarrass myself by using stories or material from someone else. What about you?

—Jimmy Collins

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