What? Leadership lessons from Stephen King? He’s not a leader ….
I grew up playing softball – a lot. I remember, as a young girl, sleeping with my new glove under my pillow to soften it up. Night after night you could find me throwing the ball around with my older brother, focusing on getting both accuracy and power into my game.
Last week, as I played backyard cricket with my two sons, I noticed exactly why my elder son’s accuracy and power were lacking as he threw the ball to the keeper (the catcher in softball.)
But when I made a gentle suggestion about moving his elbow further back before the throw, he immediately dismissed me as a non-expert.
Because I had never played cricket.
The value of cross-contextual learning
Stephen King is a mega-huge, mega-successful, mega-prolific author. He’s a master of communication and a devotee of persistence. I don’t know about you, but I, for one, think that if the guy’s going to share how he succeeded, as he did in his book “On Writing,” there might be some valuable lessons for those of us who aim to be successful in other realms, such as in leading people.
So here are 5 nuggets of gold from Stephen King that wise leaders would do well to consider.
Nugget #1: “Language does not always have to wear a tie and lace-up shoes.”
Stephen King’s writing is simple. His rule is that if you can say it with less words and smaller words, do it. Write how people talk.
Consider how you speak with your team. There are times when formality is exactly what’s called for, but those times tend to be few and far between. Keep it simple, keep it concise, and drop the jargon wherever possible.
Nugget #2: “No one can be as intellectually slothful as a really smart person; give smart people half a chance and they will ship their oars and drift.”
Procrastination hits smart writers as much as it hits smart leaders.
Keep on top of yourself when it comes to productivity. Just because you can let things slide, doesn’t mean you should.
And when it comes to your team, be aware that if you’ve got a group of really smart people, you need to keep them busy, challenged and motivated. It would be all too easy for a culture of oar-shipping to develop if it’s allowed to.
Nugget #3: “If you don’t want to work your ass off, you have no business trying to write well.”
Is the cross-contextual lesson loud and clear here? I hope so.
Work on your leadership. Give it priority. There will never come a time when you are a complete leader and the learning stops.
Nugget #4: “If you do your job, your characters will come to life and start doing stuff on their own.”
King knows that a book is really coming together when his characters start behaving in ways he didn’t intend them to. They take over, and that’s when the magic happens.
You don’t necessarily want the unexpected in your team, but if you lead well, your team members will “come to life and start doing stuff on their own.” Give them the resources and the support and they’ll surprise you with what they can achieve without you.
Nugget #5: “I’m a lot more interested in what’s going to happen than what already did.”
Looking back at what you’ve already written is dangerous for a writer. You need to keep moving forward, from the beginning of a draft, through to the end of it. Revision comes only after the first draft is complete.
Focusing on the past – your successes and failures – doesn’t move you towards the visions and goals which drive your future outcomes. You need to keep pressing on and creating the next version of your leadership reality. Dwelling spells doom.
The cross-contextual mentor
My son apologised to me a few hours after my initial cricket-mentoring advice fell on deaf ears. After I’d returned indoors, he’d stayed outside to practice on his own, without his mother telling him how to throw a ball.
“It worked,” he said to me. “I tried what you said about my elbow and it worked. I’m sorry I didn’t listen the first time.”
Live and learn.