I just sat in a writing group with a bunch of outstanding writers from around the world, and there was one question that fired me up more than any other that I had to jump in and answer:
“How do you get to the point of not caring about what people think of your writing?”
The more I thought about this, the more I realized how parallel the answer is between writing and leadership. The more I thought about this, the more it confirmed that writing and leadership aren’t so different after all. The greatest leaders write, and I’m convinced that the greatest writers are just literary versions of what you and I would consider leaders. The two are so closely interconnected, that they share the same answer to the question above. You could ask “how do you get to the point of not caring about what people think of your leadership?” (And by leadership in this context, I mean “hard decisions that benefit the group”). The answer to both questions is what I call leather-mindedness.
Leather-mindedness is level-headedness, invulnerability, and detachment all wrapped into one package. It’s when the mind, like leather, is not easily penetrable. Like leather, the mind is not entirely waterproof. But the water (or feedback) that does make it through is most often the meaningful feedback you need. With leather-mindedness, you are protected from any opinions that don’t serve the purpose of what you are trying to accomplish. You are secure in your own skin, and you are not fazed by fear of judgment. As a writer or a leader, leather-mindedness is a superpower. But it is not something you can achieve overnight. In fact, there are three thresholds one must pass through in order to be considered leather-minded:
Threshold #1: Consistency. As a writer, you must show up often. The more you sit down to write, the more comfortable you will become with putting your thoughts out to the public. As a leader, you must show up every single day. You must live the long game. The more you show up, the more you put in the work, the more you face the tough challenges and make tough decisions, the more confident you will be in your capacity for everything leadership requires. This is the most time-consuming threshold because you do not know at what point you will cross it. But when you cross it, you will know.
Threshold #2: Extremity. No, not your legs and arms, but your ability to push your comfort zone to the extreme. It is your ability to wear the purple tunic without self-consciousness. It is your ability to stand up to the biggest challenge facing you and plant your flag. It’s your ability to go where every fiber of your being says you shouldn’t. The farther you can push your comfort zone as a writer and a leader, the more surface area your influence can cover, the thicker the leather that adorns your mind will be.
Threshold #3: Detachment. We have a tendency to become engulphed in our thoughts, our doubts, and our fears. We have a tendency to dig deep and micromanage, or throw up our hands and run away when we feel fear of some sort. But detachment is the sweet spot between those two extremes. In writing, you don’t want to be so pinpoint focused on every word that you forget to see how they all fit together as sentences or paragraphs. As a leader, you don’t want to have such tunnel vision and become so low to the ground that you fail to see the swamps, deserts, and chasms your team may face ahead. But a healthy detachment is the ability to remove yourself from the immediate situation mentally. Take a step back and survey the scene. Understand where the dangers are, and where the opportunities are. In writing, that can be closing the laptop and sleeping on your idea. In leadership, that can mean observing, rather than actively commanding in the heat of the moment. Detachment is a crucial threshold to cross as a writer and a leader. It will give you the calmness of mind to make effective decisions.
So, if you want the answer to the question “how do you get to the point of not caring about what people think?”, your answer is, and will always be leather-mindedness.
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