Written By: Leslie Snavely
I am an avid fan of the musical Hamilton, seeing it for the first time locally at the amazing Eccles Theater in Salt Lake City. Since then, I have seen it another two times including a memorable trip to New York to see it on Broadway with my family.
I found myself captivated from the opening scene, where all the characters were introduced through the opening song “Alexander Hamilton,” to the closing scene where Eliza Hamilton sang about telling her husband’s story in “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story.” The artistic demonstration was on point as well as the actors, dancers, and of course Lin Manuel Miranda’s writing and vision.
Beyond the artistic demonstration, I am captivated by the story and the lessons that can be learned from this history. I believe that ‘Hamilton’ the musical has 3 lessons that we can learn as women in leadership.
DON’T THROW AWAY YOUR SHOT
This theme is present throughout the entire musical. Early in the show, Hamilton commits to not throw away his shot through one of my favorite songs. His commitment is instead to take his shot— to make a difference and to shape the future of our country. It is this commitment that leads to the decisions that ultimately lead to his death in a duel with Aaron Burr.
The lesson for women (and probably for everyone!) is to ‘take the shot’ and commit to making a difference. As you listen to the song, you hear Hamilton’s confidence in what he can do to drive change. In real life, for most professional women, taking the shot you have sounds easier than it feels in the situation.
As I work with up-and-coming professionals within my team, I often see women who are highly skilled not raising their hand for new opportunities, whether it be new projects, positions, or promotions. This behavior, amongst other things, has led to the gender diversity challenges in more senior positions in corporate America.
To understand this challenge, Bain & Company and LinkedIn completed research in 2016 via a survey of 8,400 professionals. One of the things they learned is that, “Women are less likely than men to seek out an opportunity if they know their supervisor might not be fully supportive.” Women aren’t as willing to take the risk of the new opportunity without the encouragement. This often is characterized as a confidence gap.
This concept is particularly important early in life/career. Jack Zenger, an inspiring author and researcher, and CEO of Zenger Folkman, has shared in his research that this confidence gap early in a career is particularly stark between men and women, and thus early opportunities for growth may be missed by women not “taking their shot.” This early career gap shows up as missed opportunity to make a difference as their careers continue.
Hamilton would have advised differently to women in their careers. His advice was to ‘not throwaway your shot’ when you have it. In the musical, he encouraged the audience to know what you stand for, to recognize that you have a gift to give, and to jump in even if there is risk in the move.
TALK LESS, SMILE MORE
In the song “Aaron Burr, Sir,” Aaron Burr gives Hamilton the advice “to talk less, smile more.” He proceeds to sing, “don’t let them know what you are against or what you are for.” Hamilton doesn’t agree. He sees this as Burr’s weakness. As the musical continues, this misguided philosophy from Burr drives Hamilton to support Jefferson for President versus supporting Burr whom he believes stands for nothing.
Although smiling (and listening more) is a good thing as it enables you to gain perspective from others, I am with Hamilton here. It is critical to take a stand for what you believe and to communicate your point of view (talk more). Often, I see women in business struggling to bring their unique perspective to the table and sometimes even to form their unique perspective.
The lesson in leadership is to find the balance. Listen to learn from others, form your point of view, and communicate it clearly—even if the position isn’t popular. For women, if a confidence gap is already a challenge, it is hard to do. Our work is to take Hamilton’s advice. Maintain your unique perspective and approach, and share it within your team.
Diversity of perspective is critical in decision making. For organizations to make the best decisions, differing perspectives need to be valued and encouraged. If I could write the lesson in leadership in the spirit of Hamilton, it would be “talk less, listen more, but take a stand for what you believe.”
THERE IS ROOM FOR ALL
In “The World Was Wide Enough,” Aaron Burr sings about his duel with Hamilton. The song begins with an emotion-fueled countdown to the shot, and Burr closes with a somber ballad about how he, “Should’ve known the world was wide enough for both Hamilton and me.” In Lin-Manuel Miranda’s visionary scene, you feel the emotion in Burr’s voice. Fear first, regret second.
As I think about becoming an executive leader, I remember moments long ago in my career where I felt like it was either me getting the opportunity or someone else, and I found myself thinking of it competitively. Often this created internal storytelling, me thinking about it as “her/him” OR “me.” This competitive energy, although good when it comes to business challenges, is ineffective when directed towards people. The stories in my head got particularly bad when it was two women vying for the same opportunity. I had a feeling that only one of us would be allowed at the table, as our styles and perspective were so different from what was “valued.” I have learned over time how ridiculous this was, that there isn’t a scarcity of opportunity. It hurt my effectiveness.
There is so much room, so much opportunity for everyone. Instead of being competitive with each other, my job is to support and help strong, confident, smart, resilient women (and men) up the ladder with me. No fear, no regrets. Thank you, Alexander Hamilton, and Lin-Manuel Miranda for these leadership lessons. Happy upcoming birthday America.
‘take the shot’ and commit to making a difference.