By Angela Noel Lawson
March 11, 2019
The recipe to make a molecule of water is clear: one atom of oxygen, two of hydrogen. Bam! Water. The recipe for how to lead however, is not so clear. In fact, there isn’t one. There is no “how to” manual. Or rather, there are many, which just proves the point: If there was a definitive model only one manual would be needed.
Further, some books about leadership are either written by researchers, or by the leaders themselves. They draw upon the stories of successful people and derive a roadmap of sorts from these experiences. “Do what I do, ” they seem to say, “and you too will be be a successful leader.”
But, it doesn’t work that way–there are too many variables. It’s why quarterbacks call an audible. Or why doctors prescribe a drug to treat a condition it wasn’t specifically approved for–like a heart medication prescribed instead to treat migraines. Which isn’t to say the roadmaps (or the playbook or the FDA-approval guidelines) aren’t useful. On the contrary, these roadmaps provide necessary foundational information the experts then use as a tool to achieve their goals. Deviating from the path isn’t just okay, it’s essential. The key is acknowledging another expert is also in the room.
We are all experts
I think leadership books sometimes forget an important point: We are all experts. That’s a big statement, I know. But consider this in the context of medicine. The ideal doctor-patient relationship, according to physicians, is a meeting between two experts. The doctor brings the medical expertise, but the patient knows him or herself best. We know how we feel. We know our histories. Our past and present circumstances and goals are unlike any, anyone else has ever faced before.
Often, I think how nice it would be if someone could just tell me exactly how to live my life in the best possible way. This imaginary mastermind could then say, “Do this, then that, and you’re guaranteed to fulfill the destiny for which you were born.” But, of course, life is not like that. We have the great gift and the great obligation to figure out both what our destiny is, and how best to make it happen.
Stories as roadmaps
“It is in our nature to need stories,” writes Jag Bhalla for Scientific American. “They are our earliest sciences, a kind of people-physics. Their logic is how we naturally think. They configure our biology, and how we feel, in ways long essential for our survival.”
Clearly, to become the leaders we want and need to be, in our families, communities, and at work, we need the stories of others as roadmaps, and the acknowledgement within ourselves that we’re already bringing unique expertise to the table.
For both of these reasons, I’m starting a new profile series on the You are Awesome blog. In the past, I’ve written about everyday awesome people whose passion or pursuits offer inspiration to me and others. This series differs only in that I’m deliberately seeking to share the stories of people in various leadership roles.
Like the physician, expert in his or her field, these leaders have amassed a wealth of knowledge. I hope their stories serve as a point of interest in the roadmap you and I are building for ourselves.
Your turn: What’s your leadership story? Who inspires you?