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Sally Helgesen – The Opportunities You Get By Writing a Book

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Transcript: our interview with Sally Helgesen

Moustafa: Hello, hello, everyone. And welcome back to the Passionpreneur Publishing Thought Leader Show. Today, I’m very excited to have our special guest, Sally Helgesen. She is cited in Forbes as the world’s premiere expert on women’s leadership. She’s an internationally bestselling author, speaker, and leadership coach, and has been named by Thinker50 as one of the world’s top 20 coaches. Her most recent book, How Women Rise, coauthored with a legendary and one of my personal favorites, my mentor, Dr. Marshall Goldsmith. Sally, thank you very much for taking the time for being here with us today.

Sally Helgesen: Wonderful to be here, Moustafa.

Moustafa: Well, I’m really excited because you tackle a very important element in the journey of leadership, which is particularly around women leaders. And I think that’s been an under catered area for a bit too long now. And you have phenomenally stepped into it with the right energy. I would like to take a step back first to you as an author and as a thought leader. How did becoming an author and an international author impact your own career trajectory?

Sally Helgesen: It completely shaped my career trajectory. I was working in corporate communications back in the late 1980s. And what I noticed was that the companies I was working in did a very poor job of understanding the strategic value that women could bring and the potential women had as leaders. So, I decided that the best thing I could do would be write a book that would help organizations understand that. And that book was The Female Advantage: Women’s Ways of Leadership, which was published in 1990. And was the first book that looked at women from the perspective of how they could leave, rather than how they needed to change and adapt.

So, because of that, I began getting calls from companies, at first in the US, but then all over the world, “Can you come speak to us? Can you come work with our women?” There was nothing out there that had a positive approach. So, that work and, “Can you give a keynote, can you do a workshop?” So, my entire career evolved over the last 32 years, evolved because I had written a book on a subject where the timing was good and the message was distinctive.

Moustafa: Amazing. I love it. So, in that, I feel that’s a natural segue to the next question about, how important is it for women leaders to actually write and publish a book? Do you really recommend it for most women executives and women leaders?

Sally Helgesen: Well, it’s pretty hard to write a book when you are being an executive. But sometimes when you have retired from that position, or if you’re in transition, that can be a great time to write a book, certainly for any woman who wants to identify herself as a thought leader, who has an aspiration to be a speaker and to appear publicly, speaking on behalf of what women can contribute. Writing a book is the necessary, first, the place to start, I really think. So, very highly recommended to do that. And I think it’s something that more women should consider doing and jump in.

Moustafa: Amazing. Well, it is actually harder typically than it would be. And this is where we would come as Passionpreneur Publishing. So, yes, agreed with you and that’s why we’ve perfected a system that would help those executives. So exciting to know that you believe in that, at least need to do it. In that, do you feel that a lot of women executives procrastinate or have excuses of why they wouldn’t do it, aside from, okay, there is an element of hardness to it, and hopefully with the services we provide, we’d make it easier. But even then, there are still some excuses and procrastination that happens outside that. And especially in context of your book, How Women Rise, there’s a lot of those habits that would delay the growth of women leaders.

Sally Helgesen: I agree with that. I do find that men and women both procrastinate on this, but I think that the ways that they will procrastinate can be different. For women, I think what’s most likely to get in the way is the overvaluing expertise, which is one of the habits that Marshall and I talk about in How Women Rise, so that they feel like there may be somebody else who has more expertise, or they’re not necessarily qualified, or, “Why should I be the one to write about this?” And then also the perfection trap. If I can’t get it perfectly on the first go, then there’s no reason to do it. Whereas in fact, if you’re going to enter into this sphere, I’m on my ninth book now after The Female Advantage, and you have a chance to get another… You can take another chance at it.

So, everything doesn’t need to be perfect the first time. So, I think those can. And then of course, those two habits of reluctance to claim your achievement and expecting others to spontaneously notice and value your contributions can get in the way. Because they’ll make women reluctant to really try to draw all that attention to themselves and say, “Oh, well, I don’t think that I’m any more expert than anybody else is and let’s give them a chance,” which is great. Giving others a chance is good, but it’s really, if we can look at doing this in the framework not of achievement, in the framework of contribution, that’s really what we’re doing when we write a book.

We are making a contribution to the knowledge and the practice of the world. So, I think framing it in that way can make it easier and can make women, at least some of the ones I’ve worked with and coached, more comfortable, thinking of themselves as stepping up in that way.

Moustafa: I agree with you, Sally. That’s very valuable. I always tell a lot of the authors with a bit of tough love. I say, “Get over yourself, because when it’s not about you when you really know that you’re there to offer value, you’re going to really not care about what people think. You’re just going to do it from your heart and results are going to follow.” That’s been amazing insight, Sally. Thank you very much for all of that. So, the takeaway is rule number one, write a book. It doesn’t matter how good or bad, just get it out of the way. Obviously, we’d love to support whoever would like. But whether you publish with us or not, really just write a book and get on with it. That’s the most important message from Sally here. Anything else you’d like to add on, Sally, for this.

Sally Helgesen: Yeah, I don’t think I would say whether it’s good or bad doesn’t matter. I think we all want to start off with the aspiration to write the best possible book we can. That’s really, really important. And then if we can, as you say, think of it as a contribution, think of it as something we are adding to the world. Every single one of us has had an experience, an insight, an encounter that has value for other people. And what writing a book really does is just gives us the largest potential platform with which to share that one valuable insight that we have.

Moustafa: That has been Sally Helgesen. Sally, thank you very much for the amazing insights to how women rise and in this, I would say how women become best selling authors. Really appreciate it and looking forward to speaking to you again.

Sally Helgesen: Thank you, Moustafa. It’s been a real pleasure.

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