Writing is Rewriting: After you push your first draft out of your head, there will be tons and tons of rewriting and spit polishing. It truly is a marathon, which is why many more writers start books than finish them. It’s exhausting. So it pays to plow forward, making progress some days and regressing others, but always honoring the work and the investment in time it entails.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Bill Treasurer, the founder and chief encouragement officer of Giant Leap Consulting, a courage-building consulting firm. For over two decades Bill has worked with leaders across the globe to drive out fear, build confidence, and use courage to transform their organizations. The author of five books, Bill has worked with such renowned organizations as NASA, eBay, Lenovo, Saks Fifth Avenue, UBS Bank, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?
I got into leadership development and courage-building because I did a bad job of leading! It’s true. I was the captain of the U.S. High Diving Team and I was responsible for leading a team of young athletes for our amusement park clients. We were part of a troupe of high divers who would dive off of 100-foot platforms into small pools that were only 10 feet deep!
One day after an exhibition in front of 2000 people, I lit into our team for what I saw as a subpar performance. I came down hard — like a Speedo-wearing dictator! After my tirade, all the divers walked away in shame. But one stayed behind and said, “If you ever talk to us like that again, I’ll walk. I care about this team and myself too much to ever allow anyone to yell at us like that. You suck at leading.” Ouch!
The truth only hurts if it should, right? I knew he was right, and I had no skills to fall back on as a leader. So I picked up a book on leadership, then another, then another, and got interested in the topic. Before long, I became more effective, and I decided to go to graduate school to learn more about good leadership.
Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?
So much of my career has been interesting that limiting it to one story is impossible. What strikes me as most interesting is that everywhere I go in the world, regardless of the country or culture, people uniformly agree that courage is essential to business and leadership. In my courage-building workshop, I ask a number of “table topic” questions, one of which is “what’s driving the need for more courage in your organization right now?” I’ve never once met a group that didn’t have a full list of things going on in their organizations necessitating the activation of people’s courage.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Once, while giving a keynote to over 100 U.S. Navy brass, I tripped on the stage and fell flat on my face. Then I quickly stood up and made like I was a gymnast who just landed a big move, arms raised in triumph!
I learned to use all you’ve got. Lean IN toward your embarrassment! At the end of my talk, I got a standing ovation, I’m convinced it was partly because of how I handled my face-plant. 😊
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I always have lots of plates of opportunity spinning forward.
I’m in the early stages of co-designing a comprehensive courageous leadership development program for a communications company based in Arizona. I love designing programs that are long-term in nature, like this one that will be two-years long. Long-term programs are tons more transformational than shuffling people through a one-day leadership workshop, which have about as much leadership nutritional impact as eating a bag of cotton candy.
In addition to my leadership work, my company is developing some neat products. One product is a deck of coaching cards to help managers have more effective coaching conversations with their teams and direct reports. They’re called “Q Cards” because they have powerful coaching questions, ranging from mild to hot. We use an icon of chili peppers to designate how “hot” the question is. The more difficult the question, the more chili peppers it’s assigned. It’s a cool tool for helping managers and executive coaches plan for a transformational coaching conversation.
What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a great writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study) Can you share a story or example?
Three words: Trust the muses!
It really bothers me when people advise writers to write about current trends or to address a specific need. That seems fake to me. You’re not writing as a writer, you’re writing to make money, which is the wrong motivation, if you ask me.
I don’t decide when to write. The muses decide when they want me to write. I wrote my first book because I couldn’t not write. The muses grabbed me by the collar, sat me down in a chair, and started singing in my ears. Once that book (Right Risk) was done, I was convinced I’d never write another book. Then, after about two years, the muses said, “Hey buddy. You think we’re done with you? Not a chance.” And they started singing again.
Write because you’re compelled to write. Not because some publisher told you, “There’s a big market for X, Y, Z. Go write about that!” Call me old school, but I believe a real writer doesn’t write to fill someone else’s spec.
Can you share the most interesting story that you shared in your book?
My favorite story involves my then 5-year-old son. My wife had picked Ian up from pre-school and whispered to me that he had been selected as the class “leader for the day.” She encouraged me to make a big deal of it. So I did. I told him how proud I was of him, gave him a big high-five, and said, “Hey little buddy, leader for the day is a big deal. What did you get to do as class leader?”
He looked at me with his bright eyes, shook his head “yes” with pride, and said, “I got to open doors for people!”
Those seven words floored me. I had studied leadership for two decades. I had done my master’s thesis on leadership. And with those seven words, my 5-year-old son summarized what leadership boils down to: opening doors for others.
Within two days I started writing Leaders Open Doors. Of my five books, it remains my favorite because it comes from a place of purity, innocence, simplicity, and goodness. The book was easy to write and fell off of me like a piece of fruit.
What is the main empowering lesson you want your readers to take away after finishing your book?
Courage is the first virtue of life and leadership. Activating your courage will help you confront fear, take on greater challenges, be more honest and transparent, be more authentic and vulnerable, and speak your mind with confidence. If you want to live a life that has impact and meaning, and if you want to lead in a way that brings out the best in others, put your courage to work!
What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming a bestselling author? How did you overcome it? Can you share a story about that that other aspiring writers can learn from?
Carving out time and space to write. I’ve got a full business and home life. I travel all the time for business. I’ve got three teenage kids at home, and a spouse that expects me to be present and engaged. Writing becomes a lower priority to all that.
How I’ve overcome this is when I set out to write a new book, I block out calendar days that are just for writing, and often I will do the writing in my favorite local coffee houses. But the most effective thing I do is rent a cabin in the mountains for at least one week of concentrated writing. I live in the mountains of western North Carolina, and there are some amazing natural spaces. During my cabin-cloistered writing excursions, I’ll go for long walks, push out a bunch of words, go into town for a meal, go for another long walk, push out some words, etc. And my family usually joins me at the end of the week for a nice weekend of family time.
Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?
I love the spiritual stuff, like Emerson, or Anthony DeMello, or Father Richard Rohr. Emerson’s essay on “Self-Reliance” remains one of my all-time favorites. It punches me in the face every time I read it. It holds me accountable for honoring my writing gifts.
I also draw inspiration from non-fiction leadership books, but not the books everyone else reads (like Good to Great), but the more esoteric reads. My favorite leadership book of all time is Obedience to Authority by Stanley Milgram. It shows how easily people get manipulated into following bad leaders and violating ethical boundaries just to please them. The Road to Jonestown, by Jeff Ginn, is another favorite and explains the backstory of Jim Jones, the leader who led over 900 people to their deaths, through murder and mass suicide.
It’s important for a leadership writer to be clear that while good and ethical leadership can transform the world for the better, bad and unethical leadership can lead to genocide and annulation. The choice of what a person will do with their leadership power is hugely consequential.
How do you think your writing makes an impact in the world?
First, it impacts my own world. Meaning, it slows me down to let me process my life and codify my belief system. So it forces me to not sit on life’s fence. Writing helps me clarify what I really believe.
I hope that others can recognize themselves in my writing, and that my words vibrate with congruency with the readers’ own longings, values, and truest desires. On occasion, I also hope my words do what Emerson’s words do to me: punch people in the face to startle them into living bravely and congruently with their deepest value system.
What advice would you give to someone considering becoming an author like you?
Find your golden silence, then wait for the muses to show up. Then take dictation and write down their song. Beautiful stuff will come out of you when you do that.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1. Trust Yourself: You’ll meet with a lot of naysayers when you’re righting about something. When writing Courage Goes to Work, more than one person said, “What qualifies you to write about that?” Some people will only read a non-fiction book if the author has a Ph.D. after their name. As for me, I’d rather read a book with original ideas from someone somebody who has a unique perspective than a smarty-pants researcher who has studied the topic from an Ivory tower. Emerson called those people “spectators merely.”
2. Writing is Rewriting: After you push your first draft out of your head, there will be tons and tons of rewriting and spit polishing. It truly is a marathon, which is why many more writers start books than finish them. It’s exhausting. So it pays to plow forward, making progress some days and regressing others, but always honoring the work and the investment in time it entails.
3. Write About What You DON’T Know: Sometimes the best writing comes from an exploration of a topic you want to know more about, versus relaying your own “expertise.” I wrote a book on risk-taking because I was fascinated by the topic, not because I’m an expert risk-taker. The research led me to Dr. Michael Apter, a world-renowned scientist. I was so engaged with the topic that I invited myself to visit with him, to which he agreed, and spent two days at his home at the feet of a risk-taking dojo! Some of your best writing comes from not knowing about something, and going on an odyssey of discovery to learn and share.
4. Don’t Strive to Impress the Reader: For my first three books, I would use big SAT words and intellectually constructed paragraphs. Then I wrote a book that required an innocent tone, and style simplicity. That book taught me that my writing style early on was about trying to impress the reader and convince them that I was smart. Now I know that’s not my job. My job is to write in my authentic voice, saying things as I would say them out loud. I still craft sentences, but no longer to impress the reader, but, instead, to share insights clearly in the hope that my words will resonate and strike a cord. I now believe writing to sound smart is stupid.
5. Grammar-Schmammer: Your own imperfect writing voice will resonate with people more than a perfect sentence that holds together grammatically. I once had a writing coach tell me to change a sentence that included the words, “Sometimes it’s good to experience all of lives’ wonderful bad.” It was part of a paragraph that was encouraging the reader not to be a prudish goodie-two-shoes, and to even do transgressive things sometimes. “Life’s wonderful bad” was exactly what I meant, thought it might not have been grammatically pleasing. I kept it in! Don’t make choices based on good grammar. Make writing choices based on how richly the meaning will be conveyed by what you say, authentically.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
My movement would be about encouraging every person in the world to tap into his or her inner wisdom at the start of each day by finding their golden silence. In the connected world, people are becoming entirely too disconnected from themselves. We are tethered to our devises as if they were IV drips keeping us alive. If the entire world could start each day with 5 minutes of quiet meditation, the world would be transformed for the better. Each person would see that the answers to their most pressing questions aren’t in a search engine, they’re in their own heart. I’d call it the “Listen to Your Heart” movement!
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Thank you for sharing all of this!
About the author:
Chaya Weiner is the Director of branding and photography at Authority Magazine’s Thought Leader Incubator. TLI is a thought leadership program that helps leaders establish a brand as a trusted authority in their field. Please click HERE to learn more about Thought Leader Incubator.