I recently sat down with Rose Ors, CEO of ClientSmart, to talk about my career and the insights gained in writing my book, Take Six.
Rose Ors: What led you to write the book, Veta?
Veta T. Richardson: At various points, people I have mentored have suggested that I write a book about the principles that have guided my professional life. While flattered, I was not confident my insights merited writing a book. Then you interviewed me for Curious Minds and encouraged me to write the book. As a professional writer, your opinion resonated, and for the first time, I seriously considered the idea. As if the universe was listening to us, two weeks after our conversation, ForbesBooks approached me about writing a business book. I was ready to acknowledge that I had something of value to share, and I said yes to myself and to ForbesBooks.
Rose Ors: So, you followed one of the habits you talk about in Take Six: Take credit.
Veta T. Richardson: I did, Rose. I accepted credit for having something worthwhile to share.
Ors: Another habit you recommend is to take risks. Being a first-time author is a significant risk. How did taking this risk make you feel?
Richardson: Initially, it was extremely uncomfortable. I experienced the widely recognized fear of the blank page. I had lessons to share, but I didn’t know where to start. The thought of sitting in front of my computer screen and figuring out how to begin was intimidating. That said, it was also exhilarating to embark on something new. As I talk about in the book’s section on taking risks, stepping outside our comfort zone to try something new is energizing.
Ors: What was your actual writing process?
Richardson: I started by applying one of the habits I recommend in the book: Take a hand. I admitted I needed help in writing the book to make it the best it could be. So, I met with three excellent ghostwriters. After learning about each of these writers, I chose Debra Hilton who is based in Melbourne, Australia. First, it was moving to learn about Debra’s work to improve the lives of women and their families in rural Africa. Then, I was wowed that she had ghost-written seven New York Times bestsellers.
Debra and I worked remotely for six months, talking for hours every Thursday evening for me and Friday morning for her about what should be in the book, then writing and rewriting our many drafts. It was a profoundly satisfying business collaboration that has grown into a deep friendship.
Admitting you need help can be humbling, and sometimes all of us can be a little too proud. Feeling comfortable taking a hand is about knowing there is no shame in seeking and accepting help. It is also about recognizing that, in so doing, you cultivate genuine and long-lasting relationships.
Ors: You took the unusual step of publicly acknowledging Debra as your ghostwriter by asking her to write the foreword to Take Six. Why did you do that?
Richardson: Part of “taking credit” is acknowledging the contributions of others. Having Debra write the foreword was my way of crediting and thanking her for our collaboration.
Ors: In so doing, you also reinforced the message in the book about the benefits of “taking a hand.”
Richardson: I hope so. It’s an invaluable habit, especially when extended both ways.
Ors: Why did you frame the advice in your book as “habits” versus principles or tenets?
Richardson: As we were writing, I initially referred to my advice as principles. Debra asked why I didn’t call them habits. My immediate reaction was that Stephen Covey had cornered the “habits” market with his bestseller, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Once Debra helped me get past my mental roadblock, I realized that “habits” best captured the message I wanted to convey to my readers.
Ors: In what way?
Richardson: “Principles” conveys a conceptual framework—a way of thinking. “Habits” are rooted in action—part of the day-to-day nitty-gritty. Applying a principle suggests consciously deciding to use it to address a specific situation, whereas a habit automatically kicks in as a natural response to a situation. My hope in writing the book is that those who read it will make the six habits I recommend an integral part of how they navigate their personal and professional lives.
Ors: What has been the reaction to your book?
Richardson: The response has been overwhelmingly positive. I was especially moved by a note I received from one of the first law school students to receive a scholarship from a program I helped start in 2005 when I was President of the Minority Corporate Counsel Association. This student is now the general counsel of a company in Boston and the mother of two lovely daughters. In her note, she shared how the advice in my book was the advice she still needed to hear and heed. She then credited my influence as a factor in her getting her to where she is today. Reading her note moved me to tears. It felt so gratifying.