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Lead from the Outside

How to Build Your Future and Make Real Change

By Stacey Abrams
15-minute read
Audio available
Lead from the Outside by Stacey Abrams

Lead from the Outside (2018) is a handbook for outsiders who are seeking a seat at the table. Stacey Abrams outlines how the underrepresented and disenfranchised can harness their ambition and ingenuity to gain power, offering advice on money matters, overcoming fear, and hacking the system.

  • Women, BIPOC, LGBTQ+ folks, and anyone who’s been historically denied leadership roles
  • People interested in American society and politics
  • Anyone who wants to make a difference

Stacey Abrams is an American politician, voting rights activist, lawyer, and author. She served in the Georgia House of Representatives from 2007 to 2017 and was minority leader from 2011 to 2017.

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Lead from the Outside

How to Build Your Future and Make Real Change

By Stacey Abrams
  • Read in 15 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 9 key ideas
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Lead from the Outside by Stacey Abrams
Synopsis

Lead from the Outside (2018) is a handbook for outsiders who are seeking a seat at the table. Stacey Abrams outlines how the underrepresented and disenfranchised can harness their ambition and ingenuity to gain power, offering advice on money matters, overcoming fear, and hacking the system.

Key idea 1 of 9

If you’re starting from the outside, the first step on the path to leadership is embracing ambition.

When the Rhodes Scholarship committee in Jackson, Mississippi asked applicant Stacey Abrams how the award would change her life, she froze for a second. Abrams, who’d just graduated from Spelman College, hadn’t actually thought it through. In fact, she almost didn’t apply, despite her professors’ urging. She knew that if she applied for the prestigious award, she didn’t want to lose – and she was sure she wouldn’t win. A Black woman hadn’t ever secured the Mississippi nomination before.

It was the dean of her college who ultimately convinced her to apply, saying she was almost guaranteed to win if she got past Mississippi. And get past Mississippi she did; she was selected to advance to the finals a few weeks later.

Ultimately, she didn’t win the scholarship. But it was a defining moment for Abrams because she summoned the courage to try. She realized that she could widen the scope of her aspirations – leading her to eventually attend Yale Law School, the most exclusive law school in the country, which would set the course of her career.

The key message here is: If you’re starting from the outside, the first step on the path to leadership is embracing ambition.

As Abrams discovered, ambition means permitting yourself to stretch beyond what feels safe. Her advice for women, minorities, and anyone who’s been historically denied power is to locate your ambition. Ask yourself: What do I want?

Abrams first did this during her freshman year of college, reeling from a painful breakup and sitting in the computer lab. In a haze of indignation and introspection, she decided to redirect her energy toward her professional life. Abrams urgently typed her goals for the next 40 years into a spreadsheet. This spreadsheet helped her to visualize success and experience what it was like to want things for herself. And it’s something that Abrams still uses today.

Once you’ve figured out your ambition, consider why you want it and how you’ll get there. Organize your plans around why, not what, and be willing to change course. One of the items on Abrams’s spreadsheet was to be the mayor of Atlanta by the age of 35. But she ultimately realized that she was too focused on the job title and that her vision – to serve communities ravaged by racism and poverty – stretched well beyond Atlanta.

We tend to map our goals based on the likelihood of success rather than our passion. But passion is what helps us go from goal setting to taking action. To identify your ambition, write down five things – and it can be anything – that you would choose to do for the rest of your life.

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