In continuing with our series on going from passion to career, I have just the person to describe firsthand how this is done. I have great pleasure in introducing my friend, Merry Farmer, a published fiction writer. Merry Farmer has long cherished her passion to be a writer. Her passion is in romantic novels and she is a great fan of romantic Bollywood movies as well.
Pursuing her passion, Merry is now the proud author of several romantic novels.
In this interview, Merry provides some great insights, specifically the value of having clear focus, finding support from others that have traversed the same path before you and putting out high-quality work. She has shown that it is quite possible to go from writing passion to career. You need to add two important things to it: a burning passion and confidence in your ability to do it.
What, in your experience, are the three most important qualities of a leader (think about this as something that will make you automatically look up to the person who possesses these) – rank the most important one first.
1. A willingness to lead by example
2. Thinking outside the box to come up with innovative solutions
3. A positive attitude, both in terms of optimism about what they are trying to accomplish and enthusiasm for the path they need to take to get there.
Have you ever felt pulled back at taking on a task or assignment that includes managing and leading people? What are the 3 most important factors that prevented you from taking the initiative?
1. Fear of failure or making a fool of myself.
2. Listening to people who told me that I couldn’t do something.
3. Lack of knowledge about how to get started and how to proceed.
Is leadership overrated? Aren’t good managers enough?
Some managers are good leaders when a situation calls for keeping an idea that has already been born on track. But a true leader goes far beyond just managing their tasks and their people. A true leader conceives new ideas and puts their inspiration to work for them and for others. What makes a leader different from just a manager is their ability to see long-term goals and connections between the moving parts of a project and how they can fit together and make a better product or system than what they had before.
What would be your advice to a budding leader? Which areas to concentrate on?
Watch and listen to what’s going on around you. Whether it’s an opportunity waiting for you to grab it, a new idea about to take off, or the knowledge you need to start your dream project, you need to be aware when you’re starting out rather than charging aggressively forward without knowledge. This is especially true when networking with other people. Listening to what people want and looking for ways that you can help, especially when you can help each other, can lead to wonderful things.
Is there any technique or something that you’ve deliberately practiced to hone your leadership skill?
As a writer, the best way for me to hone my leadership skills in a highly competitive field is to make sure that my writing is the best it can be. It is my product, and there are a lot of similar products out there. I never rest on my laurels or assume anything I’ve written is perfect. I always have room for improvement and I seek out the opinions of trusted professionals to find ways to improve. There is room for creativity in what I do, but not room for ego. Once I’ve taken the opinion of professionals into consideration, though, it’s up to me to make my books the best they can be. Readers respond to that.
How would you categorize your leadership style?
My leadership style has evolved into a combination of knowledge/skilled and coaching/mentoring. I love taking the success I have worked for and teaching others how to do the same.
Who is your idol? Who did you look up to? Why?
There is a romance writer by the name of Courtney Milan who I adore. Not only are her books incredibly original and entertaining, she took huge risks with her career that have paid off. She left her contract with a major publisher to self-publish her books before that was a popular thing to do. And she’s been very successful at it! Not only that, she is brilliantly intelligent and willing to share her knowledge and experience with others. She also speaks truthfully about the pitfalls of writing and how hard it is to succeed. She has a great combination of authority and willingness to help others.
What are the things that you try as a leader to avoid?
I try to avoid getting myself into a situation where I have to be authoritarian. I’m not good at it, and even though I’m still a leader in those sorts of positions, I’m not as effective. I’m more comfortable leading by example and teaching than I am organizing and directing others.
Would you consider anything that is still in progress with your development – if you had the time and resources to develop just one more skill to add to your repertoire, what would it be?
A lot of leadership is learned through experience, and I am still growing and expanding in those areas. It took me a long time to learn what my strengths and weaknesses were so that I could effectively lead. Trying to bite off more than I can chew and take on bigger tasks than I am ready for has been a problem in the past, but one that I have (hopefully) overcome. A skill that I would still like to develop, though, is being more forward in asking for the things I need without letting the fear that I am bothering someone get in my way. Most people are willing to lend a hand when they can, and fear should never stand in the way of asking for what you need.
What is the biggest challenge you ever had to face as a leader and how did you overcome it?
My biggest challenge is knowing my limitations, especially when it comes to organizing and working with other people. That’s not to say that I am not capable of organizing a group and keeping them focused on a task. Quite the opposite. I’ve faced challenges in dealing with individual personalities, especially conflicting personalities in a group, and bringing a diverse group of people together for a project. You can’t control people’s personalities and you can’t demand that they behave out of character. Doing so will only earn you pushback. The challenge was and always is finding ways for people with different opinions to work together and facilitating the process. To do that, as a leader, you have to be able to listen and see past any conflict to spot the benefits each person can bring to a project.
What is your biggest leadership success story? Either your own where you led a team, or where you followed a charismatic leader, or just anything that comes to mind.
My greatest leadership success story comes not from my writing experience, but from my theater experience, actually. I directed a play several years ago that involved a large cast and crew. We had all been a part of other productions where the director had been rigid and dictatorial in her style. I chose to trust my crew heads, though, to trust that the actors would learn their parts and have creative ideas about how to interpret the script. I was able to listen to their ideas and allow them to make the characters their own while still keeping the integrity of the style of that production intact. I made a few adjustments and my cast and crew were willing to make their own adjustments when they saw that I would give them their own creative freedom. The result was a fantastic production in which the cast and crew had a great time and came away with fond memories, and which audiences enjoyed and came back to see multiple times.
What would you advise budding leaders to guard against?
The biggest thing that budding leaders need to guard against is a false sense of their own power and importance. No matter who you are or how you have found yourself in a position of authority, it is vital to remember that you don’t know everything. Leadership comes from more than just being appointed to a position. It is a responsibility to guide and develop your team, and that can only happen if you remember you are a part of a functioning whole, not someone set above it.
Specifically, do you have any strategy for “setting a goal and achieving it”?
In the short-term, I set publication dates for my books well in advance of finishing them, or even writing them in some cases, so that I can worth within the structure of a deadline. I happen to work well when I set deadlines for myself. I’m disciplined about keeping them. It also helps to have other people, like my editor, involved in the deadlines I set. It holds me accountable for the work I do. In the long-term, I have written out a mission statement to help keep my ultimate goals as clear as possible. My mission statement is “I will take whatever actions necessary to allow me to write as much as possible for as long as possible.” This is a useful statement because it defines what is important and what is not important. It is important that I work hard and publish as frequently as possible and that I market my books in order to achieve enough sales income to allow me to eventually quit my day job and focus on writing. But this mission statement also prevents me from getting distracted or disappointed when my writing peers achieve milestones that I would want, like winning contests or landing on bestseller lists. I don’t need to win contests or be on the top bestseller lists to achieve my goals and make a living off of my writing. It’s good to have a clear statement to remind me of my goals so that I don’t get discouraged by the success of others.
How did you manage the naysayers especially when the path you choose is not the common one. I am sure you had lots of advice (from well-wishers) asking you to take up a regular job – beaten track), how did you stave those off, and stay on the course that you felt was for you?
I’m very lucky in that I come from a family of successful artists. None of the arts are traditional, “normal” jobs, but several family members have taken those paths. On the one hand, it’s great to have close role models who have proven that you can succeed in a non-traditional field. On the other, it has meant that I have people close to me telling me I can do it every step of the way. That has been helpful in times when members of the other side of my family or coworkers have tried to discourage me. I strongly recommend that anyone who is trying to succeed in an unusual field find a supportive peer group within that field so that they can all bolster each other.
Image Merry Farmer: (c) Merry Farmer