This month marks the one-year anniversary of publishing “Coachability:  The Leadership Superpower.”  Reflecting on the writing journey, I hope the book has helped others as they read about blind spots, faulty assumptions, and the power of claiming the power in the coachable learning zone.

But I didn’t journey alone, and my reflections now echo with the voices of others who helped me. I want to share some of these voices and the lessons that may help you on your creative journey as a leader.

“This part I liked, and this other part I have no idea what you were saying.”

The writing journey started with regular sessions with Sara J., my writing coach. She would review what I had created in the past two weeks. I’ve read that authors need to live what they are writing about, and Sara was certainly my coachability feedback partner. I always looked forward to hearing what she thought and was equally nervous that my writing didn’t measure up. She would start with the positives and then move on to what needed work. Her kind yet critical guidance put me in the learning zone every time.

The Lesson:  In your creative leadership act, find positive and truthful partners to help navigate your risk-taking with confidence-building and constructive advice.

“Let’s try that again and smooth it out. Ready when you are.”

Stephen G.’s voice stopped me in the middle of a recording session. I was creating a “read-by-author” audiobook, and Stephen was the producer. He would monitor my live recording – word by word – and hit the pause button when a re-recording was needed. I’m a fan of audiobooks, but I was experiencing the reality that it’s harder than it looked. But even with practicing before each session, I found myself skipping words, running out of breath, or just plain sounding boring. Stephen would kindly interrupt with his signature phrase in a light but serious manner to try again.  

The Lesson:  As leaders, we often find ourselves over our heads. Build a network of expert resources who can help you push through challenges and believe you can do more. 

Should the arrow go up or down?”

Steve C. and I stared at the cover options for his book. A longtime industry friend, Steve, and I were writing books at the same time. We would breakfast monthly to compare notes on the writing and publishing experience. We kept each other on pace.   He had his outline before mine. I had a publisher first. We would also help each other get unstuck. He was now stalled on choosing one of two cover designs with arrows – one finishing up and one down. “Up, Steve, Up,” I said, “time to move on.”  Later Steve returned the favor by telling me to step away from my manuscript. “It’s done,” he concluded.

The Lesson:  Having a fellow traveler or peer coach along the way gives us momentum and perspective. Helping others move ahead can also help us see our lesson to learn.   

“Add another Santa Claus joke to the chapter.”

Courtney B. served as my editor and helped fine-tune the final version. The manuscript improved with every revision:  sections reorganized, paragraphs cut, and sentences reworked. Most were welcome changes but not the suggested second Santa Claus joke. I started the chapter about responding to feedback by describing a video of Santa Claus recording a promotional “ho, ho, ho” line.   The studio staff kept blasting old St. Nick with improvement suggestions round after round of re-recording until he was a wreck. My point was that feedback is easier to give than take.

My editor liked the opening and proposed a second Santa joke at the end of the chapter. I was uneasy about the addition as it wasn’t my voice or tone. It was too cute and a bit cynical for me. I didn’t take that gift of feedback.

The Lesson:  Seek good counsel, listen well, and think about it. But we shouldn’t mindlessly comply with whatever we hear.

“Lighten up and have fun with it.”

Michael Bungay Stanier is a bestselling author and speaker with world-class generosity. Fortunately, he offered to write the book foreword and record it for the audiobook. He also pointed out that my opening chapter about how we lose our coachability came across as a lecture. That wasn’t my intended voice. He suggested a rewrite that would respect readers and also provide a bit of lightness. As a fan of his writing style, it was the right suggestion to stay humble and human as an author. And have some fun along the way.

The Lesson:  Check the tone when working with others. Not the tone we think we give, but what is coming across to others. Our authentic self and a connection to our common humanity resonate best.

“I don’t like how you did the footnotes.”

An unnamed book award judge provided this criticism while informing me that “Coachability” would not make the cut for recognition. Becky R., my wise and genuine book coach, advised me to apply for a few book awards. While gratifying to receive my share of winner letters, the “footnote judge” notification stung for a while. I finally had to coach myself that I didn’t write the book for everyone. I chose to follow my favorite author’s style and put the research references and commentary at the back of the book, not cluttering up the flow of the chapters. 

The Lesson:  Feedback can sting. Sometimes it lands a good point that we need to hear. And sometimes it’s just noise. The trick is to give each input the attention it deserves and not let the noise linger.

“Cut the clutter and get to the good stuff.”

The editor had completed her work and signaled the green light to move on to book layout. Then another editor’s voice told me not yet. Early on in the writing process, I studied writing advice books. The voice of the late William Zinsser, author of the million copies bestseller, “On Writing Well,” turned on the red stop light in my mind. “What would William say,” I asked myself. He responded, “One more round of streamlining so the readers won’t suffer, Kevin, and get to the ‘good stuff’ sooner.” One month later, with 15% of the fluff trimmed, my imaginary writing coach approved. “Coachability“ was on its way. Later, I heard the best “good stuff” as readers commented on how the book was a valuable and easy read.

The Lesson:  Seek a wide variety of voices for inspiration and wisdom, living or otherwise.

As with creative leadership, writing a book may be regarded as a lonely venture. But we know the best journeys are rarely traveled alone. There are friends along the way to help us— voices for wisdom to improve and encouragement to keep going. We just need to pause and listen to the lessons being offered.

PS. My apologies to Mr. Zinsser, as this note should have been edited one more time. The point is well taken.