Let Yourself Be Seen

JK Rowling Offers Leadership Wisdom to Harvard Graduates

Recently, in her commencement address to Harvard Graduates, author JK Rowling said she “wanted to talk … about the benefits of failure” and “extol the crucial importance of imagination”.

Her choice to speak to the students on these two things – failure and imagination, made me curious. I have often found that, as a golden thread through leadership, messaging and culture, is this idea of failure, imagination and awareness. Time and again we see failure, the imagination and resourceful to overcome that, and a resulting “ah-ha” moment that refines us.

Failure allows us to first lead ourselves, define, and refine. Imagination allows us to innovate and evolve. Awareness equips us to lead others.

“We all have to decide for ourselves what constitutes failure, but the world is quite eager to give you a set of criteria if you let it.”

JK Rowling

This is self-leadership. We decide what defines failure, and if we don’t, the world will do it for us. She goes on to share that for her, “rock bottom became the solid foundation” she rebuilt her life. For Rowling, failure stripped away the inessentials, causing her to commit 100% to finishing the only thing that mattered to her – and for those of you who are paying attention, this made her one of the best-selling fiction authors of all time.

As leaders, we can be constantly bombarded with non-essentials. The beauty in what Rowling shared is that we can learn from her experience, and choose focus, rather than hit rock bottom to discover it. We can create a culture of purpose and intentional outcomes, and ironically, that comes in creating an environment safe for failure – failure as an opportunity to learn.

Rowling painted for the students the idea of failure as a tool to really knowing themselves – which is the truest form of accomplishment, and something that won’t be found on their resumes. But knowing themselves is only part of the equation. It seems next we must then use imagination to create empathy, because with this empathy, we can create a new reality. Rowling says, “Unlike any other creature on this planet, humans can learn and understand, without having experienced. They can think themselves into other people’s places.”

The sad truth is that just because someone can do this, they don’t always choose to. We must have self-awareness in order to have empathy. We need empathy to effectively lead others. But, we must first lead ourselves, and we learn to do this through failure and imagination.

Failure is an opportunity to learn, but we can’t attach to it. Instead, we need to create a safe and productive space where all of our creativity, talent, perspectives and truth can be shared to create even more possibilities. When we confront the fear of failure head on, we are then able to innovate and thrive.

Boldly Living Leadership is our experience-based leadership cultivation platform. We excel at engaging willing leaders in programs that help them create purpose, and powerfully tell their stories in a way compels their people, customers and other stakeholders to align with their organizations. Contact Bruce Wilhelm, bruce@boldlylivingleadership.com

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