36 pages 1 hour read

Stacey Abrams

Lead from the Outside: How to Build Your Future and Make Real Change

Nonfiction | Autobiography / Memoir | Adult | Published in 2018

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Summary and Study Guide


Lead from the Outside: How to Build Your Future and Make Real Change is a self-help book and memoir by Stacey Abrams, the former Democratic leader of the Georgia House of Representatives and the first Black woman to be a major party nominee for a governorship. Having served as minority leader in the Georgia House of Representatives for six years (2011-2017), the first woman and first Black person to hold this position, Abrams maps out pathways to leadership for minorities and other outsiders. Abrams addresses an audience of “we,” namely outsiders, whom she counsels and advises. Workbook exercises and resources at the end of each chapter underscore Abrams’s intention to help readers help themselves toward a brighter future.

The book was published by Henry Holt and Company in 2018 under the title Minority Leader. The paperback edition was published by Picador in 2019 with a new preface by the author. This study guide refers to the ebook edition of the paperback.

Plot Summary

Throughout the book, Abrams advocates for bold action despite fear and failure. She argues that minority leaders—that is, those outside of traditional power systems who aspire to lead—must begin by freeing themselves from doubt. She says that the world will offer them innumerable reasons to retire their ambitions, but leaders must counter this pervasive negativity by giving voice to their desires. Accordingly, in a workbook activity called “Ambition Exercise,” she asks readers to consider what they want from life, why they want it, and how they might achieve it. Answering these questions is a necessary step toward realizing one’s ambitions. Abrams is careful not to underestimate the potency of doubts. The second chapter on “Fear and Otherness” seems an answer to the first, as it acknowledges that daring to want more is easier in theory than in practice. Abrams encourages readers to listen to their fear and to move intently from anxious immobility toward the dynamism of self-knowledge and self-acceptance.

A chapter called “Hacking and Owning Opportunity” demonstrates the difficulty of working within established systems that were not built for outsiders’ easy navigation. She says that successful minority leaders “hack” the system, which is to say they find a way to accomplish their ends outside of traditional means. In “The Myth of Mentors,” Abrams uses foils, characters with contrasting attributes, to describe ways in which individuals sabotage themselves through self-doubt or ensure their success through confident action. She says that broadening one’s understanding of mentorship is an untraditional means of gaining access to the resources and information one needs to advance in one’s field. Abrams outlines four types of mentors: situational, sponsor, advisor, and peer. A situational mentor provides support related to one’s field, discipline, or specific task. A sponsor, by virtue of their position, provides access to resources and opportunities. An advisor advocates for their mentee and contributes to their long-term personal and professional development. A peer mentor, engaged in a similar role or circumstances to the mentee, provides keen insight into shared experiences.

In “Money Matters,” Abrams offers statistics indicating the influence of money on social mobility and recounts her struggles with financial illiteracy. Money mistakes, she argues, are part of the journey toward power, and at each stumbling block, one should endeavor to learn a better way forward. In place of a worksheet at the end of this chapter, Abrams offers links to readings about personal finances, financial literacy, and fundraising. In “Prepare to Win and Embrace the Fail,” a worksheet entitled “Trying Again” asks readers to reflect on past mistakes and consequences and to consider who might have the knowledge they need to dispel ignorance in their personal or professional life.

In “Making What You Have Work” and “Work-Life Jenga,” Abrams offers a tool called power mapping that can help readers gain perspective by clarifying their goals and thus finding a solid way forward. These tools help minority leaders practice patience, as their journey to achievement may take time. When life intervenes and upsets carefully laid plans, minority leaders must be gentle with themselves as they shift their priorities to meet their evolving needs.

Finally, in “Taking Power,” Abrams returns to the idea of passion as a guiding light that steers minority leaders through personal difficulties and professional disappointments. Challenges will come, but confidence in one’s power to overcome them will enable one to achieve beyond their expectations. Abrams’s message is one of advocacy and determination: Everyone has a contribution to make to society, and although some must struggle to make their voices heard, they must try and try again.