On September 21st, I’ll be releasing my first book titled, The Substance of Leadership: A Practical Framework for Effectively Leading a High-Performing Team. Having spent 25 years in the U.S. Marine Corps, including flying jets off of aircraft carriers and serving in combat, I’ve done a number of challenging things in my life. But writing and publishing my first book is near the top of the list.
Recently, several people have asked me, “What inspired you to write the book? What was the process like? And what do you hope people will get out of it?” Those are all great questions that I love answering, so I decided to share my thoughts here.
What Inspired Me to Write the Book?
Although I started writing 18 months ago at the beginning of COVID lockdowns, my journey really began a decade ago. Just after I transitioned from the Marines to the private sector, a friend asked me if I could speak to a group of corporate executives about how to lead a high-performing team. I was honored that he asked and agreed to share my thoughts.
I quickly learned how hard it was synthesizing three decades of leadership lessons into a 45-minute speech. But after reflecting on the most important lessons I learned as a follower, junior leader, and commanding officer in the military, I eventually developed a concise and practical framework that I believed captured the essentials of how to effectively lead a high-performing team. Then I wove in some personal stories to help bring the concepts to life, and shared them with the group.
That speech led to dozens more opportunities to share and expand the framework through discussions with thousands of leaders across a wide range of industries over the past several years. Often, someone would approach me afterward and ask if I’d written a book. At first, I couldn’t even imagine writing a book. But after hearing many people say to me, “Thank you for simplifying leadership into practical terms and showing me where to focus,” or “I wish my boss could hear this,” I was moved to give it a shot.
What Was the Process Like?
I have a whole new level of respect for authors, because writing and publishing a book is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. In addition to many long hours spent researching and drafting the content, each blank page of the manuscript seemed like such a daunting mountain to climb. Although I’ve never been a procrastinator, I suddenly became one.
At first, I had no idea how I was going to fill up an entire book. Then I soon realized I had the opposite problem: how to synthesize and organize everything that I believe matters most about leadership into a book people would actually read. At that point, self-doubt kicked in as I wondered, Is anyone actually going to read this?
This self-doubt compounded my perfectionist tendencies, making the process even harder. I also knew I needed to write conversationally, which isn’t natural for me given that most of my prior writing experiences were academic requirements. There were times when I was sure I could see my professor’s red ink circling words on my computer screen while I typed.
Perhaps hardest of all was overcoming the fear of throwing my personal experiences, emotions, and thoughts about leadership out there for the whole world to consume and critique. But my mind kept coming back to one thought: If this book helps one leader out there to lead better, and the life of someone who works for that leader is enriched, then it’s all worth it.
Throughout the process, I learned three important lessons which are directly related to why this journey was so challenging for me: structure the book with your head, but write it with your heart – as if you’re having a conversation with a trusted friend or colleague; get out of your comfort zone and be vulnerable, so readers can connect with you emotionally; and wrap every key idea in a story to help bring the concept to life. Gratefully, I was blessed with an amazing editor that pushed me in these three areas to write the best book I was capable of delivering.
What Do I Hope People Will Get Out of It?
The framework I build and unpack in the book is designed to help leaders unlock a deeper understanding of three things: the essential fundamentals of leadership; how they can apply these fundamentals in a practical, focused way that will maximize their leadership effectiveness and elevate their team’s performance; and how they can help the people on their team reach their full potential and find fulfillment in their work. In the words of legendary football coach Vince Lombardi, I hope it will help leaders at all levels be “brilliant at the basics” of leadership.
From the beginning of this journey, my goal has been to help leaders be more effective, so they can generate greater positive impact in the world and help those they lead to have a more rewarding and fulfilling life. The main reason I wrote the book is because I know how hard leadership is. Leading well demands personal accountability, self-sacrifice, and self-discipline. It requires courage and perseverance. It entails tremendous time and energy. And it takes extraordinary focus. The pressure can be unrelenting, the challenges can seem insurmountable, and it’s often a lonely job. Bottom line – the burden of leadership is heavy.
But I can’t think of many endeavors in life where you can have more impact and make more of a difference in people’s lives than the profession of leadership. Every day you have the opportunity to help individuals and teams reach their full potential. And that’s why I’m excited to share this book with the world.
The Substance of Leadership will be available September 21st on Amazon. Ten percent of net proceeds will be donated to the Semper Fi & America’s Fund, a top-rated Veterans charity dedicated to providing assistance to combat wounded, critically ill, and catastrophically injured members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families. Check out my website for more details.