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Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

Kristen Lamb — Photo

Posts Tagged: leadership

Image via Mark Smith Flikr Creative Commons
Image via Mark Smith Flikr Creative Commons

I’d like to blame it all on Jay’s roast, but having time away, true downtime, allowed me to do some thinking (which is generally dangerous and has a wide blast radius). For any of you who’ve done any yard work, you know that for a vine to bear fruit, for a rose bush to produce more flowers, for a tree to grow taller, it needs to be pruned.

One of the key ways we grow in our careers (or even as people) is to be pruned. Pruning hurts. It sucks. It takes away all the pretty fluff we thought was “progress” and renders us naked and vulnerable. After pruning, we might not look like a lot to others, but inside and beneath, great things are happening. Our roots (commitment) dig deeper so we can stand taller.

Image via Keith Williamson Flikr Commons.
Image via Keith Williamson Flikr Commons.

The first step to being pruned is honestly and critically looking at where we are weak. I know there are all kinds of experts who say, “Only focus on your strengths. Don’t work on your weaknesses. You can’t be good at everything,” and that is true to a degree.

But…

On some stuff? We need to become experts.

When I first started writing fiction, my dialogue was fabulous, my prose lovely and my characters all adorable…but I could not wrap my head around the antagonist and plotting, thus wasn’t generating true dramatic tension.

Okay, I was playing Literary Barbies.

This was a critical node that would undermine everything I wrote. So I read every book available about plotting and tore apart every book I read and every movie I watched until I had it nailed. But I had to admit my weakness (pruning) to grow stronger.

Practice does make perfect, if it is intelligent practice.  If practice isn’t guided, it can just create a crap load of bad habits we’ll just have to fix later. Just ask anyone whose worked five minutes with a golf pro. Swinging the club incorrectly a thousand times doesn’t improve our game. It creates tendonitis, back problems, and eventually we get a lot of chigger bites from hunting for golf balls off in the rough.

Image via CompanyGolfLessons Flikr Creative Commons
Image via CompanyGolfLessons Flikr Creative Commons

Ah, but to know where to gain expertise, we need to know and admit our weaknesses and flaws.

Back to pruning. We love to look at our flowers, the stuff we’ve done well. Ah, it’s so pretty. I think I’ll call her “Tiffany.” It’s hard to admit where we fall short or are outright failing.

This is one of the reasons rest is so vital (and has been an area where I’ve been failing a lot). We can’t live off caffeine and adrenaline (Who knew?). And if we are always knee-deep in the mess, we lack perspective. Pulling away allows us a new vantage point and permits our brains to calm down long enough to really “see.”

Know there is a difference between fixing weaknesses and fixating on them.

I launched WANA International about a year ago. I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit and I wanted a way to reach more writers and offer affordable classes. I also wanted a way to highlight what I believed was emerging talent and use my platform to boost theirs.

Launching a business (publishing a book) requires risk and often we don’t know what we don’t know. More often, we figure it out when it goes BOOM. The learning curve of being a baby CEO has been steep and I am still learning.

My CEO photo.
My CEO photo.

I have been pruned…a LOT.

I’ve had to fire people I adored, who I really wanted to succeed. I’ve tried technology that sucked and formats of classes that just didn’t work out. Put out classes no one signed up for.

To succeed, we need to take risks and I will warn you ahead of time that a lion’s share of the risks we take (especially early on) will be mistakes. But some will turn out to be the best thing you’ve ever done, too.

I took a risk on Lisa Hall-Wilson and Marcy Kennedy and they have become shining WANA diamonds. But for every person who works out, there are fifty who haven’t. The ones who didn’t? That’s pruning. Each “failure” took me down a notch to learn to be better at diamond-spotting. Still working on it.

Sometimes ideas are just coal.
Sometimes ideas are just coal.

I took a risk helping Piper Bayard with her disaster book, Firelands, which has become a best-seller. But for every Piper, there have been a hundred writers who didn’t want to face the ugly and do the hard stuff. Some just faded away, gave up, and some have been all-out cataclysms (for more read Plagiarism and Terrell Mims–A Chronic Case of Epic Stupid).

Major pruning *head desk*.

Terrell (and others) taught me that talk is cheap. Pay attention to what people do and what they say. Are they congruent? Does the person have character? Are they focused? What is the person’s work ethic? Are they willing to do the hard stuff?

But where would I be if I’d just sat and cried I was bad at business and a failure and terrible at judging people?

Fix, don’t fixate.

Pruning isn’t Personal

I suppose part of the reason it’s tough to have a Kristen Lamb roast is that I serve roasted Lamb daily on this blog :D.

After my vacation, I have a teensy-tiny list of like one small thing…okay a long…okay a looooooong, looooong, like longer than my arm list of stuff I am committed to working on now that I’m home.

For instance, there are areas of business I just don’t understand as well as I need to in order to be an effective CEO. Does this mean I need to get a degree in business and be a new Jack Welch? No.

But I do need to study, to understand stuff well enough to know who to delegate what to and then how to hold said person accountable. I need to know enough to ask the right questions and understand if I am getting the right answers….or even if I need better answers.

Yes, work on your strengths. Writing is my strength and I train it daily. But, as writers, we are also small-business owners. We need to know the business side of our business or we waste time, energy, money and can even get fleeced.

And you will likely screw up. It’s okay. We learn by making mistakes. Too many people expect to write the perfect book the first time out, or hire the right web person day one, or make every business decision perfectly, but that isn’t how life works.

We Can’t Avoid Pruning—Indecision IS a Decision

I actually had to fire someone I cared about because this person would not take risks. This person needed validation from twenty people that every decision was perfect, and if one person said change the plan, this person changed the entire plan. We cannot live life by committee. Not and stay sane, at least.

This person was afraid of being pruned, didn’t want to lose the pretty flowers. But no pruning? No growth.

My advice? Get out there. Get dirty. Take risks. Yes, failure and mistakes will come, but they prune us so we can bear more fruit and better fruit.

What are your thoughts? Are you like and bracing for a new round of pruning? Does pruning scare you? Have you been pruned and have the fruit to show for it?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of August, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

ANNOUNCEMENT: I have a class coming up SOON, Creating Conflict and Tension on Every Page if you want to learn how to apply these tactics to your writing. Use WANA15 to get 15% off.

Also, my new book, Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World is NOW AVAILABLE.

I will announce July’s winner when I’ve had a chance to unpack.

 Okay, so I do still have a hard time referring to myself with the words, “expert” or “guru” without giggling. But, some really sweet people have labeled me as such, so we’re going to run with that today. Fridays are free-for-all, the day you will see me as a person. That counts as my disclaimer, by the way.

I love my book We Are Not Alone—The Writer’s Guide to Social Media, but I have to confess it was the toughest thing I ever wrote. Why? Because I really didn’t “feel” like an expert. In fact, most of the book represents an accumulation of my failures…ideas that seemed like a good idea, but in practice went BOOM! In fact, I have a deep and profound respect for Wile E. Coyote and if he ever wrote a leadership book, it might look a lot like mine.

But you know what? I used to think that my failures were a weakness. Now? I am not so sure. I don’t know if I trust the leaders who’ve had “charmed” lives. Do I really want to read a wilderness survival manual penned by the dude who did everything right? Or would I prefer to read one by the guy who tells me, “Yeah, those berries might seem like a nice snack, but let me tell you what those little suckers can do!” Do I want to read a book on conquering alcohol addiction written by the Harvard PhD who made straight As or by the guy who crawled out of the gutter, homeless and alone, and has since been sober for 20 years? Does a CEO count as a great leader? Maybe. But if you read the Drunkard’s Walk—How Randomness Rules Our Lives it can change the way you perceive great leaders. Was that CEO or military general that skilled, or did they just happen to be in the right place at the right time for the right confluence of events? Maybe. Maybe not. Makes you think, and put resume’s in perspective.

Failure is a great teacher. I used to think I was a great leader, but then I had a year that I was put to the test…I mean really put to the test. I was elected president of three different organizations and elected to the board of directors for a fourth organization. Yikes! Yeah, you guessed it. I went down in flames. But you know what? I am so grateful for that experience. It has given me some tremendous insights to pass on to others.

I have one of those extroversive, energetic personalities—kind of like Tigger if he drank a case of Red Bull. It doesn’t take long for someone to volunteer me for leadership roles. Why? I am charismatic.

Ahhhh, but herein lies the problem. Charisma and leadership ability are not the same thing (as I would find out during that year of hell). The truth is, had I been as great of a leader as I was in my own mind, I would have managed just fine. But I wasn’t, and I soon got into deep, deep trouble. Great leaders delegate. I learned that. I now delegate. Great leaders keep people accountable. Much better at that too. Great leaders make people feel valued by allowing them to contribute their talents. Much, much better at that. Great leaders are good listeners. Getting there. Great leaders know how to say “no.” Still working on that :D.

The interesting point of this is that, the year I was elected to all of those positions, I had a pretty outstanding resume. Heck, I even impressed myself. Yet, when the test of fire came, I crumbled. And don’t get me wrong, my critique group survived and Rotary is still there…but I was forever changed.

My brother is now president of my Rotary club and doing an amazing job. But the weird thing is that I give much better advice as a failure than I ever could have when I was a “success.” One of my favorite books of all time is called Failing Forward by John Maxwell. Our society places so much value on success, but what about failure? How many neuroses, addictions and devastated relationships are created by us buying into the lie that we must be perfect? We walk around with armor afraid to be human and, to me that is sad.

Perfection is the measure of gods and angels, but humans I believe are better measured by their failures. How did they take them? What did they do with them? How did they use that failure to change their lives and better the lives of others?

My favorite poem when I was a kid, was How did You Die? By Edmund Vance Cook

Did you tackle that trouble that came your way

With a resolute heart and cheerful?

Or hide your face from the light of day

With a craven soul and fearful?

 

Oh, a trouble’s a ton, or a trouble’s an ounce,

Or a trouble is what you make it.

And it isn’t the fact that you’re hurt that counts,

But only how did you take it?

 

You are beaten to earth? Well, well, what’s that?

Come up with a smiling face.

It’s nothing against you to fall down flat,

But to lie there — that’s disgrace.

 

The harder you’re thrown, why the higher you bounce;

Be proud of your blackened eye!

It isn’t the fact that you’re licked that counts;

It’s how did you fight and why?

 

And though you be done to death, what then?

If you battled the best you could;

If you played your part in the world of men,

Why, the Critic will call it good.

 

Death comes with a crawl, or comes with a pounce,

And whether he’s slow or spry,

It isn’t the fact that you’re dead that counts,

But only, how did you die?

So, at the end of the day, I smile when great people like Tawna Fenske call me a guru. It feels wonderful to get letters and e-mails from people my book has helped. And I have to be careful when awesome people like talented Jody Hedlund or brilliant Candace Havens call me an expert because I could get a terrible cramp patting myself on the back. Yet, unlike ol’ Wile E. Coyote, I think I am more wary of packages marked ACME, or in my case EGO.

I like to believe that I am good at what I do, and I sure appreciate all of you who stop by to read these blogs. But I know that the best of what I have to offer all of you, whether it is about writing or social media or leadership or life in general very often came from failure. I like to believe that I am quicker to learn from error than Wile E., but we are kindred spirits in that we don’t look back at what blew up in our face—we dust off and try again and again and again undaunted.

It takes no great effort or test of character for us to criticize others. But to take an honest look inside, acknowledge our shortcomings and then be humble enough to learn and change? Why THAT is progress :D. Thus, if this “guru” has anything to offer it is that failure hurts. No one likes to brag about where she fell short. Nobody likes to list on the resume all their misjudgments, missteps, or mishaps. Yet, these “failures” are our greatest teachers and some of our most precious possessions. At the end of the day, failure is what we make it. Is it a headstone or a stepping stone? The choice is ours.

Happy writing!

Until next time…

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One more mark of a great leader? Be an edifier! Acknowledge those who have contributed. So here is the mash-up!

Everett Marroon wrote a great blog about why writers need community. Darn skippy! We are already weird to start with. Too much alone time is bad juju.

Author Jennifer Holbrook has an interesting perspective on the topic of critique groups. What’s the best kind?

I follow Writer’s Digest Editor Jane Friedman, namely because she makes a mash-up simple by offering great material. She has an interesting blog that offers tips for writing about your life.

Publisher’s Weekly had an interesting blog about e-books. 35 million downloaded so far. Wow!

This blog I found when searching for a guru pic. It was so funny I had to include it in the mash-up. 5 Internet Marketing Buzz Words That Are Annoying as Hell. Yes, “guru” was among them. Shocking!

Have a great weekend. See y’all on Monday.