You Can Lead…

A horse to water but you can’t make him drink.

If you thought this was going to be an inspirational post about leadership, you’d be wrong. Sorry. I don’t have a clue about leadership. I wish I did. I marvel at my social media, scrolling through all the leaders out there — so much passion and energy. I get tired just reading about their achievements, let alone the enthusiasm they show for wanting to help others become leaders too. I guess you could say I’ve played leadership roles in the past, but I can’t post those on LinkedIn nor share them here. No, that material is for a (fictionalised) book.

What I do have a clue about are writing and self-publishing. I now know so much about both that I could start a business — and, who knows, I could even be a leader at it! Anything is possible, right? Unfortunately, the very thought of doing anything that entrepreneurial makes me want to self-medicate and take a long nap.

Still, I’ve recently found myself in a surprising predicament. I unassumingly fell into a mentoring role. It wasn’t something I ever considered. I mean, I have written a book that I hope will inspire others, and when readers reach out to me confirming I have done just that I am gratified and grateful. That gives me more encouragement than they could possibly know. I feel a sense of pride. My work is validated. I have made a miniscule difference to someone else’s life, even if it is for just however long it took to read the book.

That’s a kind of leadership, I suppose, but in all honesty I’m a bona-fide follower. For example, I’ll have sworn off sugar and husband will say “Let’s get a tub of ice cream.” Me: “Ok.” Willpower gone, I will follow him to the confectionary aisle even though I was adamant we’d avoid it. I look to others for inspiration. Give me a task and I will do it. Give me a whiteboard in a brainstorming session and I go blank. I have nothing. Zilch new ideas of any kind in my head.

Funny then how a random phone call from a stranger, who had got my number from an old friend, put me on a path of redirection and challenged my thinking.

She had written a book she was ready to publish. She’s not a writer — her words. She was hungry for recommendations and determined to self-publish her manuscript as is, thinking it was final. She knew I had plenty to share about self-publishing and she came to learn. I am also in fact an unconditional sharer. I’m sure she didn’t anticipate any other advice, although she wanted my opinion — an honest critique, she said. I made it clear I’m no editor or manuscript assessor, and she was fine with that.

After reading her manuscript, it was blatantly obvious that at best it was a first draft. I didn’t need an expert to tell me that. She was oblivious though. She had no past history of writing — nor any desire as far as I knew — except to tell this one story, and she clearly had no training. So how could she know what is entailed in writing about a life without making it sound like journal dabbling? Except, she has the confidence and ego of 10 men and is so sure of herself (and her writing) that I imagined she could lead an army into battle. No writer I’ve ever known has been that self-assured. Stephen King may be — now — but the majority? Not a chance. Just as well, I say. A healthy dose of self-doubt keeps us on our toes. Keeps our head out of our arse, and keeps us grounded and open-minded, which in turn allows the knowledge to seep in. How else do we gain wisdom?

It was a very long 180 pages, but as I read I saw the potential. The weirdest thing happened. I knew how it should be structured. I knew what was missing and what it needed. Like a jigsaw puzzle falling into place, I knew instinctively what had to be done. And to prove it – mostly to myself – I did a great deal of work on it, including many pages of notes and suggestions. I was convinced I could show her the way and help her turn her story into a masterpiece.

She had unknowingly led me out of my comfort zone to a place that had me believing I could lead her…

Weeks later, as I sat at my desk looking at my mobile, stunned, having just had a ‘final’ conversation. I realised all my work had been in vain. She thanked me profusely, but she was going to do it her way. She took on some advice and will use most of the introduction and preface I wrote, but otherwise she felt her way was best. I wished her every success of course, and ate humble pie. Then I ate chocolate.

I’ve had an epiphany. I tried to impart to her in less than a month what has taken me years to learn from my own mentors. I tried to teach her what has cost me tens of thousands of dollars to learn. I’ve made hundreds of mistakes, deleted thousands of words and killed more darlings than I thought possible before coming to understand the true meaning of ‘voice’. How on earth did I expect she’d just get it? How do you explain ‘show don’t tell’ to a mere mortal in a few conversations? That shit took forever to sink into my psyche, and it still trips me up now and then. What was I thinking? Poor woman probably thought I was nuts.

And now, as my manager husband points out, I can indeed lead a horse to water, but I can’t make him drink. He also points out that time is money and I’ve just wasted a lot of time – taken away from my own writing – for absolutely no money, so he’s a tad frustrated as you can imagine. He is such a business leader. Shouldn’t I be more frustrated? Flabbergasted, yes, but I’m not frustrated.

I realise this experience has given me a glimpse into what is possible. My beliefs I had about who I am have been challenged to the core. I now know I could definitely lead, maybe not an army or a peace corps movement or a protest, but I could lead one person in the direction of their dream to become a writer. I could share what I’ve learned and give them the confidence and help they’ll need to see it though. In turn, I can pay it forward to the team of experts I’ve come to know and admire – editors, self-publishing and PR consultants, and creatives like designers, web developers and tech nerds. I am a trove of information. I could be the sounding board they crave, the shoulder they’ll need to cry on, or simply give the professional advice I know they need. And imagine being able to do all that for someone who is actually open to it…

But I will be letting my husband talk money. I’ll be following his lead in that department.

Marcia Abboud