Today marks the launch of The Leader’s Climb, a novelized business tale by Bob Parsanko and Paul Heagen. Susanna spoke with both authors on the process of publishing and writing a book. Congrats to Bob and Paul!
Susanna: What was the inspiration for The Leader’s Climb? Why did you embark on this process of writing a book?
Bob: I had this book idea in the back of my mind for years, and I knew I couldn’t write it. I’d even contracted with a couple people to write it and, while they very much appreciated the lessons learned, they didn’t know how to write the book.
Then Paul came into my life. I was helping him with some coaching issues. He asked me how he could pay me back and I said, “Write my book! You’ve written books before.” And that was really the start to this. It was a win-win. Paul had something to offer to the relationship, and I hope and trust that he feels he got something in return for it.
Paul: Yes, it’s worked out really well. I was doing coaching without realizing I was dong it and Bob has really encouraged me to move more purposefully into that area. Clearly he’s been doing it a lot longer, so the concepts in the book that underpin the story, were really something that characterized a lot of Bob’s work over the years. I learned a lot from that. And in turn, I’m just a frustrated author that wanted to write a story, so it worked out pretty well.
Bob: What inspired me was just seeing a lot of really good executives over the last 20 years go through struggles. The book is all about the struggles they face. These are well-intentioned, very good executives, but they’re also human. Life starts going too fast, they start fighting too much, and start forcing too many decisions. This is a pattern I’ve seen over, and over, and over again. And I happen to think I’ve established a pretty good way to slow people down, get them to lean into their challenges and not fight them. Creating multiple options before forcing the wrong decision was a process I just inherently used over the years to free people from these struggles and get them back up above the water line. The pattern was very real, very consistent.
When I shared that with Paul, and that that was the gist of my coaching work, he related to it very well and I think that together we created a story around a struggling executive that addresses those issues and helps him through them in our methodology of awareness, acceptance, abundance.
Paul: We met at Bob’s place called the “Cottage,” where he did a lot of his coaching work and I remember discussing whether or not to write the book as a novel or “tale” versus a traditional business book. I was the one that came to Bob and said, “Let’s make this thing a fictional story.” The reason for that was that this issue of awareness, acceptance, and abundance is not just a matter of principle, it’s what people really feel is in their daily lives. I felt very strongly that I wanted to create a story where people say, “Oh my gosh, that me.” That was the genesis for writing a story that really hits people.
As David Dotlich said in his foreword, it’s this whole notion of sitting down on a Saturday afternoon and reading the whole book that makes it different; it’s a slower pace. Which is actually part of our message. This is not a business book to push through where you say, “I’m going to skip this chapter, quickly read that chapter, that matters, that doesn’t matter.” We do a lot of filtering in our lives, but this whole notion of the story, with all the relationships going on, was designed to really absorb people in this experience of what it means to be more aware, more accepting, and more abundant in terms of what you’re trying to do in your life.
I had a CEO friend just yesterday send me email. He basically said, “You sneaked up on me, Paul. It was just a great story but I realized that you had basically taught me principles that I might not have otherwise slowed down and paid attention to. I might not have picked up a book that talks about awareness, acceptance, abundance, but in reading your story, I got it.” And that’s what we were trying to do.
Susanna: For each of you, what’s been your favorite part of writing and publishing a book?
Bob: My favorite part was working with Paul on the project. He could put into words what I believed.
Paul: I think a risk for any writer is that you get so absorbed in the creative exercise of writing, and I think what Bob brought was a purposefulness. He helped to make sure that the principles we really wanted to come through actually came through. It was a good discipline. We had the words awareness, acceptance, abundance up on the wall, and at the end of the day that’s why we wrote this story. We wanted to make sure that people walked away with a much deeper understanding of what those things mean in their lives.
Bob: Paul you bring up a good point. What we probably learned through the process, the biggest challenge for us, was to get down to a more detailed outline, with both the lessons learned and the flow of the story. That was the toughest part — getting the message right. And it led to rewrite, after rewrite, after rewrite. That was frustrating for both of us. I recall going out of town for a weekend with you and just holing up in a hotel suite for three days to hammer out rewrites.
And the lesson for me, if we were to do this again, is just to have more clarity up front. Have a more detailed outline up front that explains exactly what those lessons are, and what is the flow, and match them up the first time. It would have gone smoother, but we couldn’t have learned this unless we went through the messy process the first time around. Would you agree?
Paul: Yes, absolutely. I’m a wine guy. I brought a really nice bottle of wine to that hotel thinking we would have time to relax. And we had to work so hard on that book that we never opened the bottle of wine. I like to think that we’re dealing with a very discriminating audience with the book. Detail matters, flow matters. So we were very careful about making sure we introduced characters and concepts at the right pace.
And, if I can harken back to Erika, one of the reasons that she liked the book when we sent it to her was that, as she said, “It’s written more like a European art film than a Hollywood thriller.” That was good. There are too many books, particularly too many business fables, that get a little too heavy-handed and it’s too obvious what they’re trying to say. We really wanted to be subtle, be patient, to draw people through the story, help them discover the concepts, not be lectured on them. That created a real discipline. We were very patient when we introduced character and conversation.
What are some of the most meaningful scenes in the book that meant the most to you Bob?
Bob: We talk about awareness, acceptance, abundance, but the truth is, among equals, awareness stands out among all others. A thought came to me as we’ve been talking, this phrase — “we want to slow people down enough to hear themselves think” — is a nice encapsulation. Without the awareness, nothing works. The first step is to slow down enough to hear yourself think. As soon as that happens, options and opportunities sort of naturally follow. I think we hit that point quite a few times throughout the book.
Paul: I would agree. Frankly, the scene that I’m proudest of is when Adam is out on the back porch with Duncan. Adam’s wife has taken their son to the airport, so it’s just Adam and Duncan. It’s such a cool conversation and it really gets at what we’re doing. There’s a revealing level there between the two of them as far as talking about their lives that simply does not happen in the hectic pace of daily life. In the quietness of sitting on that porch, where both Duncan and Adam say some things about their lives that are just hugely profound, that can only come out in a moment of quiet and reflection. It’s almost my hope for everybody that they’ll take the time and that they’ll go deeper in their relationships around them that matter the most. We all have a reason for doing what we do. When we can understand those reasons with each other, we’ve really reached a different level, not only in our lives, but also in leadership.
Bob: And to add to that, it’s very important to us that this book is a holistic book, meaning that you can’t separate the person from the professional, from the organization that he or she runs. You have to have all three of those spheres in balance in order to get to something better than where you were when you were struggling. Paul recalls Adam sitting with Duncan; I think about the breakthrough that Adam had in the relationship with his son after 18 years. And again, the same process applies: slow down, recognize what’s in front of you, accept that, then create abundance. I’m probably most proud of that relationship being healed through discussion.
Paul: If at several points while reading the book, the reader almost wants to close the book for a moment, close his or her eyes, and just think, then open the book again and read – well, we’ve accomplished something bigger. We really want this book to be, as one reviewer put it, a pause for reflection and self-discovery. I would take a lot of pride if people didn’t just go through it quickly, but rather took time with it, closed it, and reflected about what it meant to them.
Susanna: What’s next for both of you? Any more books in your futures?
Bob: Let’s get this book, and this message, out first and see what kind of impact we can have on the lives of people, in our case, senior executives. If I were to write another book, I’d only do it with Paul’s help because I could never write the book that Paul was able to put into words. I think he’s a terrific writer.
Paul: Thank you, Bob. We’re not trying to prove anything with this tale. It’s a genre that’s been done successfully in the past. But as we’ve been sharing the book with friends and business associates, we’ve been getting fabulous response. We’ve heard it’s a great story, to the point where perhaps the fable is a really good vehicle that we should continue to use to share other concepts in the future. We’ll see!