Meet the Finalists for the 2022 BookLife Prize Nonfiction Contest
Author Charlie Gilkey chose Authentic Leadership: Embracing Your Archetypal Gifts by author and success coach Angie McCourt. Gilkey praised the book's “provocative, insightful, and radical ideas.”
What has your experience as a transformational facilitator and certified success coach taught you?I took a sabbatical for about 18 months to write my books, launch a podcast, and create the Best.Self.Activation App. On my journey, I realized we are in a place of possibility to experience the unknown depths of who we are. To be truer in collaborating inclusively and creating more impact with less effort. It’s not easy to change what we have been taught as managers and leaders, but I’ve found it makes a profound difference. This approach has guided both clients and team members to unlock non-traditional gifts that help their teams navigate through challenging times; create and innovate in a more profound way; and build trust more deeply.
Do you have a foundational philosophy that guides all aspects of your coaching?
One of my guiding principles is being open to possibilities. In myself, my clients, my team, and friends and family. We each have a talent; we just may not have discovered it yet or it has been lying under our surface waiting for us to unlock it. There may have been something in our past that caused us to ‘push it down’ to protect ourselves from embarrassment, outshining others, or failure. I view the archetypal gifts in this way as well.
What was the motivation for writing Authentic Leadership? How did it come about?
Prior to my sabbatical, I was a tech exec for over 21 years and witnessed strong leadership in ways that were not traditional yet super impactful and innovative. The pandemic led to the breaking of robotic routines; created the space/time to go deeper within ourselves; granted freedom to focus on key areas of life we were not fully connected into; and gave permission to determine what we really want and need. We the people found we wanted more from our work (meaning, flexibility, balance in energy/effort spent), and more from our leaders (connection, trust, acknowledgment, investment). The book came from looking at possibilities that we have not tapped into yet.
What surprised you most about the experience of writing the book?
This is my second published book. During the writing of my first book, Love Your Gifts: Permission to Revolutionize Authenticity in the Workplace, the idea for this one came through strongly. My first book was a total learning experience including simply how to write and publish a book (structure, editing, publishing). Authentic Leadership felt so much simpler; it flowed and was more inclusive. My favorite surprise was how much the voices and stories of my contributors uplifted the book.
What are your own authentic leadership gifts?
My authentic leadership gifts coming out of my years in tech were that of "Connector," "Clarifier," and "Multiplier." My role as Connector benefited my leadership both internally, cross-company, and in the community at large. As you can tell in my book, I’m not a fan of assumptions, so my Clarifier gift has ensured I've remained critical in my leadership style. Multiplier for me really came in with teams and structures I’ve built and influenced. When I looked at companies after my sabbatical, I found that Microsoft's leadership principles, coaching emphasis, cultural alignment, and growth mindset were a fit for my desires and needs. Having been in my role for just over six months, I’ve found an unexpected archetypal gift emerge: that of "Nurturing Leader."
Guest judge Lynn Melnick selected Boundless: An Abortion Doctor Becomes a Mother by Christine Henneberg. She said the following about the book: “Boundless is a marvel, at once deeply personal and very relevant to our current cultural moment.”
Can you explain the thought process behind naming this project “Boundless”?The thematic tension between boundaries and boundlessness appears over and over again in my medical training, my marriage, and in my own feelings about pregnancy: a desire to wall myself off from vulnerability and fear and sacrifice, while also wanting to experience the love and connection of family. Boundless is a very personal book, as opposed to an explicitly political one. But writing it absolutely affirmed my belief that the body of the pregnant person, precisely because of its unique, boundless state, must lie beyond the reach of any externally imposed law or morality.
Boundless could not be timelier. Can you address very recent threats to women’s bodily autonomy that have unfolded since you published the book?
One of the terrible ironies of the book—and its title—is that since its publication, boundaries have become an unavoidable part of being pregnant in America. State borders and other arbitrary laws trap women in pregnancies they do not want or cannot support, or that even threaten their own lives. To be clear: abortion has never been readily accessible or affordable to any but the most privileged American women. But Dobbs has deemed the pregnant woman’s body an entity that warrants surveillance and control by the state. When I think about the pregnant women I care for, their lives and their families, nothing could be more chilling.
You mention “shame” in various capacities, as it is “diverse and pervasive,” and you relate the shame women may feel while at your table to that you feel as a writer. Can you share a little more about this?
I wanted to be a writer long before I went to medical school. But when I call myself a writer, I still feel like an imposter, someone claiming a title she hasn’t really earned—particularly when I encounter the stigma associated with self-publishing. Motherhood has, for so long, been treated like a validation of womanhood, a kind of credential a woman can hang on her wall to prove herself worthy of the space she takes up in the world. One form of shame I see in my patients is the feeling that they have failed at some aspect of being a woman. Sometimes when I see patients crying on the table, I recognize a part of myself in them—my own secret aspirations, my perceived failures and shortcomings. This recognition is an opportunity to extend a deep compassion toward the patient and to myself: You are enough, without anyone else’s validation or approval.
What are some final answers you come to when you ask yourself questions about choice, control, agency, and ambition?
Anyone who has ever been pregnant or a mother knows: choices can be great when you have them, but a lot of the time, you don’t. Or you can only choose between two unappealing, even devastating options. This is particularly true for Black, brown, and indigenous women in this country. In Boston Review in 2021, I wrote that I believe in something called “contextualized autonomy,” which is my own phrasing of a concept that comes from the Reproductive Justice movement. This form of autonomy “demands an unrelenting trust from society… in the woman’s ability to make her own decisions about her life, her goals for her future and for the futures of children, even in the face of difficulty, complexity, and constraint. This is the autonomy I try to uphold for my patients every day.”
What do you hope most resonates with readers?
A reader once asked me if I set out to ‘change people’s minds’ about abortion with this book. I definitely did not. My hope is that readers of Boundless will recognize the tension we all sometimes feel: of wanting the safety and protection of boundaries, and realizing that in life, and certainly in pregnancy, boundaries can and do blur and disappear. What then? The fear and the awe of that question is what I hope resonates with readers—and the recognition that each of us should have the full power to answer it for ourselves.
Guest judge Brooke Schedneck selected Acts of Compassion by Linda and Michael Spangle. Schedneck said this about the book.“Acts of Compassion provides much-needed reminders about the basic necessity and importance of compassion for all of our lives… Compassion, linked with understanding and connection, is a powerful way to experience the world and the Spangles’ toolbox is a welcome reminder of the ways we can all improve.”
What was your central motivation for writing Acts of Compassion?
Michael: Compassion promotes behaviors that unite marriages, families, and communities. In a nation perceived as growing in polarity, compassion demonstrates a willingness to live in peace and harmony. Compassion influences the quality of life for ourselves and the lives of others we touch. We wanted to help people be kinder and more understanding in our world. By sharing lots of stories and examples, we tried to make it feel easier to show compassion to others.
Linda: We each brought different perspectives to an understanding of compassion. Each of us had stories to tell and a desire to invite the stories of others about ways compassion influenced their lives. As a professor, Michael wrote a lot of the text in an academic style. I have worked as an editor and book coach, and I rewrote a lot of the content in more common consumer language.
How essential was it to do outside research for this work?
Linda: The research helped validate many of the principles as well as educate readers on the depth of compassion work. Both of us have significant backgrounds in theoretical understanding of compassion and a long history of working with others in sharing compassion.
In your personal lives, does it feel easier or more difficult to apply what you’ve written?
Michael: The work on this book has made us a lot more aware of our own behaviors, especially the tendency to be judgmental about others. Now we try to remind ourselves that “we don’t know their story.” We are also more sensitized to situations where compassion can make a difference.
Linda: It’s also made it easier for me to “allow and accept” the way others live, including some of my own family members. I’m a lot more patient with people, even difficult ones such as bad drivers or grouchy workers.
Could you both define compassion in your own words?
Michael: Compassion is sensing need in others and responding to that need with the gifts that we have.
Linda: Compassion is caring for others and showing that every chance I get. Even though it challenges me, I love the idea of giving seven minutes of compassion, when I do this, it’s very rewarding.
What do you hope your readers ultimately take away from the reading experience?
Michael: We hope readers will have more awareness that little actions count. We each have the ability to influence others in a positive way and we each can make a difference in making this a better world.
Linda: It’s not that hard to show love and caring to others. Even the smallest word or gesture can completely change someone’s life.
Guest judge Tara Teng called author Will Hall's Outside Mental Health: Voices and Visions of Madness “a profoundly humanizing documentation of personal stories and experiences that gave me more insight into what it is like to live with the institution of American psychiatry.”There are so many diverse voices featured throughout your book. How did you connect with the individuals whose stories are featured?
Doctors diagnosed me with schizophrenia and predicted a lifetime of medications and symptom management. They told me to give up stressful jobs, lower my expectations, and let go of my hopes for the future. This message was like being put under a curse: a self-fulfilling prophecy, just as devastating as the voices, altered states, and isolation I suffered from. So to break the spell I sought out the patients' movement. I discovered counter-narratives of hope in survivor activism, rights advocacy, and dissenting science, and discovered the connections between psychosis and trauma, poverty and social isolation, creativity, and spirituality. I heard inspiring testimonies from people doing what doctors had told them was impossible.
Could you explain the thought process behind and the importance of your book title?
Being "outside mental health" means leaving behind stereotypes, labels, and biological determinism and having a real discussion based on listening. Even with all the neuroscience, medicine still hasn't solved the mind-body problem of consciousness, the mystery of madness, or the meaning of human suffering. A conversation narrowed down to "medicate your illness" vs "ignore your suffering" is not a real conversation. We need literary, philosophical, artistic, spiritual, and even political curiosity about strange mental states, states that have been with us since society began and reflect larger truths about who we are as humans.
How much did your personal experiences with mental health inform the book?
Writing Outside Mental Health helped me embrace my mental diversity: it was crucial for my healing when I came out as a person diagnosed with schizophrenia who hears voices and goes through altered states. I learned a lot from the gay liberation movement. Being LGBTQ used to be seen as a problem, it was "inside" mental health, labeled a disease. LGBTQ people were mistreated and killed in medical prisons across the country until society finally started to listen to people themselves instead of all the medical experts speaking in their place. It's the same with emotional and mental distress called schizophrenia, bipolar, and psychosis. Key to liberation is to hear people's stories and to get personal experiences out into the open.
What misconceptions about mental health and “madness” do you hope to address in the book?
It used to be that most people were expected to recover from extreme mental health conditions and move on without medication. Then pharmaceutical profiteering took off in the 1980s, and today the expectations are upside down. We are told these are lifelong conditions that require chronic disease management, meds for life, and lowering expectations of anything more than very limited functioning. Outside this narrow view of "mental health" we see that many of us do better - much better - without medications. "Madness" is a special expression of the varieties of being human, not some "mental health problem" to be treated.
Do you see a brighter future in store for those who have struggled with mental health? Are we entering an age more accepting of mental diversity?
I wish that I could say yes, but I want to be honest: we are all on this bus together, and the bus is headed over a cliff. Our only solution is caring for each other. The solution isn't a new pill or theory; the solution is to adapt to human diversity, to accommodate the rich variety of human abilities and mental differences, and to make space in society to take care of each other better, outside all the rat race and individualism and productivity and pressure to show up and put on a happy face. We need a new world.