Lead from the Outside by Stacey Abrams [Book Summary – Review]

When it comes to achieving success, the cliché saying that every opportunity opens up to someone who works hard is not a reality for every person. People who begin from the “outside” (everyone from women to people of color, members of the LGBTQ+ community to every individual who has historically been unrepresented in the rooms of power) are denied equal chances in the competition.

Stacy Abrams, who is the first black woman to be a candidate for governorship from a major party, knows what being an outsider means. Yet throughout her successful career as an entrepreneur, political, and nonprofit, she realized that being different gave her staminal vigor.

The following eight chapters reveal her hard-earned advice on how to discover secret paths to being a leader, triumph over systematic inequality, and overcome internal misgivings and external biases.

The chapters below will show you

  • how a template bestowed Abrams lasting determination;
  • the reason why people need to have a purpose of possessing a “Work-Life Jenga” rather than a balance between work and life; and
  • how organizing the steps that can lead you to power enables you to attain your goals.

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Chapter 1 – Being ambitious is the first and foremost thing to do while walking on the road of being a leader If you’re initiating your action as an outsider.

When the Rhodes Scholarship Committee in Jackson, Mississippi, asked applicant Stacy Abrams how the award would alter her life, Abrams was petrified for a moment. Abrams, a recent Spelman College graduate, hadn’t considered it deeply. In reality, despite her professors’ insistence, she almost refused to apply at all. She knew that she was not willing to risk losing if she applied for that distinguished award, and she was sure that she would lose. Never before has a black woman guaranteed a seat in the Mississippi nomination.

The dean of Abrams’ college persuaded her to apply, stating if she passed Mississippi, it was nearly certain that she would be the winner. And she passed Mississippi and so she was chosen to continue further to the finals several days later.

Ultimately, they did give her the scholarship. Still, that defeat defined the life of Abrams, as it gave her the strength to try again. Realizing that she could expand the scope of her goals, she began studying at Yale Law School, the most prestigious school of this discipline in her country and a determiner of the rest of her career.

As Abrams realized, being ambitious means being willing to exceed what feels benign to you. She advises women, minorities, and every single individual who has been deprived of power throughout history that the place of ambition must be determined. Deep down, one should ask herself or himself what she or he wants.

Abrams first did this thing when she was a freshman in her college, in the stupor of a bitter breakup, and sitting in the computer lab. In a haze of nerves and introspection, she decided to use her energy in her professional life. She immediately wrote down the goals for the next four decades on a spreadsheet. This spreadsheet aided her to understand through experience what it means to desire something by visualizing victory. And she still uses it even now.

Once you decide what your goal is, think about why you want to achieve it and how you will achieve it. Organize your plans for a reason, not for anything, and give consent to change the road. One of the items on Abrams’ spreadsheet included a goal of becoming mayor of Atlanta at the age of 35. But she finally realized that she was paying too much attention to her job title and that her vision of serving communities devastated by poorness and racial discrimination was far beyond Atlanta.  

We are prone to plan our aims by looking at the possibility of success instead of our desires. However, desire is what assists us in stepping forward from the purpose stage to initiation. To determine what your passion is, write down five things (whatever comes to mind) that you would choose to do for the rest of your years.

Chapter 2 – Even though the fear that is felt by minorities is complicated and malignant, one can face it and take advantage of it.

One of the biggest barriers to minorities becoming aware of the desire is the belief that they are too “alien” to have leadership status. When Abrams became a candidate for the governorship, even a significant number of her closest friends and supporters stated that Georgia was not eager to welcome a black woman to that position.

This was not because of their inadequate qualifications. It was quite the opposite because, at the age of 29, she started working as deputy city attorney for the City of Atlanta and after five years was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives. Just four years later, she became the Democratic minority leader. Still, the feat was unbelievable, as her country’s history had never before seen a black woman as a major party gubernatorial candidate.

If all outsiders were afraid to go against the norm, everything would stay the same. For this reason, first identify what you fear and then start conquering them. Perhaps ambition is a blade with two edges: Being successful allows you to distinguish yourself from minorities. However, failure makes it more difficult for those like you to ascend. Perhaps, inside yourself, adopting cliches has caused you to feel suspicious about your capacity.

These fears are deep-seated, real, and not easy to ignore. We can control how we approach them. Let’s look at Abrams’ experience as a minority leader. Although it was her duty to tell the truth to the ruling party, she could not be too assertive in her criticism of the Republicans’ behaviors. If she did so, she would run the risk of being stereotyped as being annoying as a woman or being too savage as a black person. She also worried that she would appear like a weakling if she embraced her innate introversion and considerate nature.

After careful consideration, Abrams decided to rely on what had served her well in the past: her skills as a conversationalist. First and foremost, her colleagues in the Democratic party were disappointed that she did not intensely degrade the policies of the Republicans. However, she convinced them with her effective speeches with her sharpness, instead of her tone of voice. Just like Abrams, consider how you can preserve your original self while analyzing what’s around you. You can’t break every mold. But you can prove that being different is valuable.

Write down your most positive and negative aspects and give examples of them in action. What are your reasons for liking or disliking these aspects of yourself? Then note, in your opinion, what other people would describe as your most positive and negative aspects and why. 

Chapter 3 – Reaching power is possible for outsiders by sending a Trojan horse to conventional systems.

In 2014, the Democratic Party was not quite strong in Georgia. No Democratic governor had been elected for 15 years. In 22, they had not voted for a presidential candidate from the Democratic Party. Abrams was the minority leader of a small assembly of House Democrats and couldn’t do anything effective to urge people for change.

Then she began to use creativity. The very same year, Abrams established the New Georgia Project, a nonprofit dedicated to 800.000 voters of color in her state who had not registered before but were suitable for registration, with Lauren Groh-Wargo. Their inclusion on the list would change the political landscape of Georgia, which is expected to become the first state in which minorities are majority in the Deep South by approximately 2026. In the months immediately before the 2014 election season, Abrams acquired 3,5 million dollars, and applications of 86.000 new voters were submitted.

But that action was disrupted on Election Day because 40.000 of those applications were unlawfully canceled by the state’s Republican secretary. However, this did not stop the movement and as of 2018, 200.000 new voters were registered.

Abrams herself knows that meritocracy does not apply to those who cannot experience system-related equality. Let’s take a look at the average return on investment of a four-year degree in the US. It is 55,869 dollars for a middle-class white family. Yet it is 4,846 for a black family. And getting a job is also a difficult thing for people from outside. Although there are public job postings, the gates of various industries are locked by watchmen who do not expand their inner spheres by accepting people for jobs solely on recommendation.

If you want to get inside, look for secret paths leading to the entrance gate. Go for finding connections that are not too evident, such as an alumnus of your school who is working for the company you want to work for. Ask these connections to mentor you. Or contact groups like Lesbians Who Tech, which organize events across the country and explain how they got into the industry.

Make your first move to cross the threshold with volunteering or internship. While doing these, go beyond what they want you to do and become aware of what else you need to do. Then argue why it is essential to have a standing role. 

Ultimately, know that being humble and having misgivings about oneself are different. Abrams was protecting herself from praise by saying something like anyone could when she was still fresh in her career as a legislator. But one of her colleagues later warned her that if she kept saying that she was not exceptional, people would seriously begin to believe her. 

Chapter 4 – Find what sort of aid is necessary for you and create a committee of mentors.

Abrams’ appointment as Atlanta’s assistant city attorney did not please her team. Members of the team were quite close to each other, and one of them wanted the post for herself before Abrams took over. In the legal department, she was younger than the others, coming from a corporate tax law firm, and the last time she had been a leader of something, she was at the university. 

After trying for weeks to make herself accepted by the other members and failing, a mentor she never anticipated gave her a hand. That person was Laurette Woods, the legal department’s finance manager. Woods, who studied human resources, helped Abrams see what she was doing wrong. Eager to prove that she belonged in that department, Abrams acted arrogantly and did not try to get to know her colleagues in person. Over the following months, Woods showed Abrams ways to build leadership, how to supervise people working under her, and how to improve her personal touch.

Woods was far from an ordinary mentor, as Abrams was above her in the legal department hierarchy and did not provide Abrams with expert opinions on legal matters. Still, Abrams trusts her to redeem her burgeoning career.

People from the outside and minorities are often blocked by complicated hardships that require them to seek guidance from a variety of sources. However, before you seek out a mentor, you need to introspect and make sure you are qualified enough to be worth your time and investment. Analyze your personality and in what ways you are strong and in what ways are not. Being self-aware will help you create original connections and apply advice from others in your career.

Then build a network of those who can advise you by being purposeful about what you are seeking. Maybe just one backer is enough for you. For instance, this person may be someone close enough to you that they speak highly of you to someone else from the inside. Or perhaps the mentor you need is someone with whom you have a more intimate relationship. Your mentor should not have a similar background as you. The differences between you and your can help you analyze situations from multiple perspectives.

A mentor who is appropriate to a situation is a good pick when you need a short-term audience. A peer mentor is an associate who knows your particular hardships and someone you can back up. 

Let your mentors help you. This is important. As the person being mentored, you must plan the mentorship you desire. Don’t wait for your advisors to reach you by setting a schedule to get the work done. Make sure that the questions you ask are valuable questions that can only be answered by them. Ask for what you need without expecting them to lend a helping hand. Only you understand what your condition takes.

Chapter 5 – One of the greatest impediments to being a leader is money. Cope with it with the help of Overcome it by gaining financial literacy.

After receiving her law degree from Yale, they offered Abrams about six figures to work at a large corporate law firm. However, while Abrams was still renting houses and cars, her colleagues were able to buy sumptuous cars and houses. While the starting salary was fascinating, the same could not be said for the credit score. 

Before starting her new job, she realized that it was essential for her to complete a personal welfare application, a detailed record of every wrong move of hers in the previous years, without excluding credit defaults, which included taking the Georgia bar examination. During her academic career, she was able to pay tuition, accommodation, and other fees thanks to scholarships. Despite this, Abrams borrowed money for the remaining expenses. The rest of her living expenses and the financial aid to her family wiped out the loan money. The remainder of the amount was not usually sufficient to pay the credit card debts.

As she prepared to sit at the bar, Abrams knew it was time to deal with her financial decline. That meant she had to spend the last of her student loans and a large chunk of her law firm signing bonus paying off credit card bills. This also meant improving her knowledge of her financial condition.

It is difficult to keep your finances in order when system-based biases hinder your initiatives. Thus, what can be done? Start with analyzing your previous financial actions without fooling yourself while accepting that there are obstacles that put deterrent pressure on you. Being aware of yourself is crucial to preventing the problem.

After this, develop a plan to get out of debt if you have it. You may have to sacrifice something in this brief time. Find a side toil to earn additional money, and be realistic about how much you can give to other people if they ask for financial aid. Get help from a one-on-one financial advisor or start reading Personal Finance for Beginners.

Then you can start to become financially fluid. Knowing how internal financial decisions are made will increase your reliability as a leader. You can develop financial proficiency by being a volunteer at a local organization such as the PTA or by taking classes on financial management at your local university.

If you are fundraising for a project or charity, do not fearfully hesitate to invest. Women and individuals of different ethnic backgrounds often ask whether they are suitable for getting help, but actually, many investors do not expect an assured profit. Instead, they expect endeavor and a high prospect of accomplishment. Ultimately, be certain that you know the particulars of every aspect of your plan, such as how much you need and the precise thing that it will sponsor.

Chapter 6 – Be prepared to both achieve and fall and master the ways of not being right.

During his first year working as a tax attorney in private practice, Abrams volunteered to work on a critical avenue of research. This was the case of one of the largest non-profit organizations in the US that was subject to tax audits by the IRS. It was as if Abrams had solved the problem after thinking about laws and regulations for hours.

Abrams’ senior partner planned a teleconference for a certain time with the client to show the report of Abrams. However, at the last moment, Abrams noticed she had left out a line that strengthened the IRS’s view and left that organization in financial danger.

Abrams feared that telling her partner frankly about the huge mistake she had made would terminate her career. She struggled to rationalize not admitting her mistake. Maybe they would ignore her work, or maybe the explanation would satisfy the IRS. Finally, half an hour before the meeting, she told her partner that she had misconstrued the code. He looked frustrated but said he was happy with the fact that she told him this and gave her a new case file.

Minorities have no luxury to content themselves with lower standards in dealing with tortuous situations. Most of the time, there is an additional feeling of pressure on them to know the truth on every single occasion. However, if something gets into trouble, it is still a better alternative to take responsibility and not deceive ourselves about errors; If you fail to do this, it may cause you to pay a heavy price eventually. The greatest leaders choose to do what is right, even if they trip and fall.

Influential leaders also know how to admit when they have made mistakes. When they are not certain about something, they integrate it into a learning method to say they do not know that thing. Use the knowledge you acquire from erring to learn how to take steps forward.

Minorities are usually expected to lower their voices. They are told to stay in their circle and not shake anything. However, to become leaders, they must abandon docility and begin to be courageous. Although falling cannot be prevented when taking risks, it can also transform them.

Try to make the most of your errors by taking note of three situations in which you roll the dice. Ask yourself what the results were and whether you would do it again. Then think of situations where it pays to act as if you know the answer to something. How did you achieve that? What occurs when you say you know the answer, and what occurs when you say you do not? 

Chapter 7 – Adopt a “Work-Life Jenga” by systematizing your time by being frank with yourself and in a strategic way.

Abrams disagrees with the practice of balancing work and life. According to her, this attitude thinks that equal time and attention should be given to every endeavor in our lives, which is unrealistic and leads to self-disgust when it is not fulfilled.

Every person has to handle unexpected responsibilities from time to time. Even the most elaborate plans are subject to life’s intervention. Abrams proposes accepting this fact and then approaching managing your time like a game of Jenga, where you collect blocks of equal size to build a nest tower, then pull them out singly and place them back on top. Make potentially the greatest calculated moves to prevent the metaphorical tower from collapsing, and reconstruct it if it does.

The balance between work and life is against prioritizing what you think is most essential. When our priorities change, it often means that we focus more or less on different things. In the case of Abrams, taking office as a legislator required her to put aside publishing her romance novels, which is one of her hobbies. She longs to write stories that come to life in her head and thinks that one day she shall continue to do it. Yet now things that she should give priority have changed.

Thus, how can you designate what you will give priority to? They should give your mind and heart vitality and not be fueled by fear or judgment. So, in this way, you can realize what is truly important to you, not what you have been told you desire.

It is also useful practice to prioritize tasks by their degree of value and urgency, as President Dwight D. Eisenhower did. Abrams modified his method utilizing these four categories: Gotta Do, Need to Do, Oughta Do, and Might Get Around To. 

The things you need to do are very essential and need to happen immediately. In the meantime, when a sudden issue arises, to create bona fides, you should perform extreme endeavors to fulfill the things you are required to do early. Let’s take Lindsey, who worked for Abrams for years, as an example. She had to take leave from work to deal with a serious problem, and Abrams bestowed her with limitless leave because she consistently stepped forward and showed credibility.

If you have to rush to meet someone’s needs, this is what is called Oughta Do. And ultimately, things you may handle have no critical urgency or importance.

When you focus on what you are good at and stop holding tight, it becomes simpler to be productive with your time. Ask yourself whether you are inevitably responsible for doing the job. If you are not and someone else can do it just as well as you or in a more satisfying way, refrain from the task.

To realize what is most necessary for you in an easier way, write a newspaper headline about your future three to five years from now. And then write a newspaper headline about yourself seven to ten years from now. 

Chapter 8 – If you want to be powerful and alter your life for real, you have to use creativity while using your resources and face yourself. 

It is not impossible to change things even when we lack resources. Restrictions imposed on outsiders and those with minority status can often fuel creative initiatives.

As Abrams continues her third in the Georgia legislature, majority Republicans planned to introduce many dangerous bills on Passage Day, when bills must pass the House or Senate to survive the rest of the legislative season. There seemed to be a chance for the Democrats. However, Abrams’ idea was to hinder the process at least a little. After checking the chamber’s rules, he found that each member was given 20 minutes to question each bill. Although no one can generally make the most of their time, if they gave each of the 75 Democrats 20 minutes, the process would be greatly decelerated. 

As a result, delays caused some of the more controversial bills to be canceled. Although the Democrats were outnumbered, they managed to have an impact thanks to Abrams’ creative skills.

Even though you cannot go into war without arms, you can find ways to use what you have with the help of a small amount of talent. Make a list of the commodities you have: Maybe you have accession, knowledge, the capacity to cancel your association, or familiarity with the situation.

Do not forget not to let your status fixate your range of effect. Ashley Robinson worked as a field staffer for a campaign run by Abrams. Her job was to interview people and record the data she collected. However, she did more than what her assigned task required when she noticed and recorded several revealing facts about the voters. Her move stimulated Abrams to reorganize her teams. Robinson’s performance made such an impression on Abrams that she assigned her to many other projects and finally made Robinson her chief of staff when she became a minority leader.

Another way to direct change is to uncover what brings you profit and ensure that your mission complies with the circumstances. Accept that power comes one step at a time. Because people in power are not going to leave their seats with ease. Imagine what is possible in the short range and how bigger victories can grow into small achievements. You can benefit from a social justice strategy named power mapping, where you understand who is responsible and how your interactions with these people can help you make your goals real.

In the last exercise, use Abrams’ spreadsheet and create a map of your goals. In five columns, note down what you want, why you want them, what tactics you will use to achieve them, what kind of aid you need, who can mentor you, and ultimately, when you aspire to achieve it.

Lead from the Outside: How to Build Your Future and Make Real Change Stacey Abrams Book Review

To make a leap from outsider to leader, look to master ambition, opportunity, fear, money, access, and failure. Never lose courage in your goals. If you are willing to master fear and take advantage of it, know that you will triumph over it. Send a Trojan horse to conventional systems and benefit every single opportunity. Do original work with few sources. Acknowledge the fact that being victorious does not happen instantly, thus be ready for the long-term endeavor. 

Applicable tip:

Create headlines about your life.

Suppose you are a newspaper reporter and you write headlines of about 10-15 words about your own life. Write headlines for the next 3-5 years and include your successes both personally, professionally, and in the community. Then write newspaper headlines about yourself in 7-10 years. Visualize ultimately solving a problem in your community, your family, or on the Earth. Tell what this solution is and how you managed to bring forth it. These practices will be your helpers in determining the things you should prioritize for your Work-Life Jenga. 

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Savaş Ateş

I'm a software engineer. I like reading books and writing summaries. I like to play soccer too :) Good Reads Profile: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/106467014-sava-ate

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