Lessons in Chemistry  

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I love to read. Most weeks, I’ll get through one or two books. Usually these are light, trashy crime novels that I can read for ten minutes at night before I drop off to sleep or business books that I listen to via Audible as I walk, drive or train to work. 

Audible recently recommended Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus. The synopsis overviewed that this book would share the career journey of Elizabeth Zott, a remarkable female chemist in the 1960s. Trusting Audible, I assumed it was a biography. I was wrong—it was a love story! 

As someone who prefers business biographies and crime thrillers, I was annoyed that I’d wasted my precious Audible credit. However, one uninspired day, I decided to give something different a try and was immediately hooked. I even went on a three-hour walk just to finish listening to it. 

Now, it wasn’t the love story that got me hooked (well, not entirely), but the leadership lessons. The Cliff Notes are: 

Elizabeth Zott, a brilliant, beautiful and underestimated chemist, falls in love with an equally brilliant – but successful – male chemist in the 1960s. But before they get their happy-ever-after, he dies in ridiculous accident leaving her an unwed single mother. 

Sadly, the issues Elizabeth faces as a fictional working woman and mother mirror the real issues, we still face today 60 years later—discrimination, sexual harassment, pay inequity, disrespect, and lack of access to resources and information.  

From this romance novel I wanted to share my takeaways for leaders. Here are my top 5 leadership lessons from this book. 

1. Asking for help isn’t cheating 

Asking for assistance isn’t weakness; it’s smart. We don’t always have to do it on our own. Asking for help or advice or an introduction doesn’t mean that you don’t have to do the work, it just means that you’ve fast-tracked a solution.   

Men are often criticised for the ‘old boys club’ but I say good on them. Men refer, sponsor, mentor and do business with each other. If you can try to get into one of those ‘men’s clubs’ great or even create your own. 

2. Know your value 

We are all many things to many people. In my case I am a mother and wife (my most important positions), a CEO, an entrepreneur, a coach and an author. But what I am most passionate about is building – people, careers, businesses and communities.  I love talking to people, sharing ideas and creating. This means that I would wither and cry if I had to sit on my own looking at numbers on a spreadsheet all day. Stay true to your passion and believe in yourself. Elizabeth found fulfilment when she followed her heart. 

3. Find your tribe 

The most successful people have a tribe of trusted advisors who challenge, share, consult, advocate and cheerlead for them. Who are the people in your network who can help, coach, mentor or challenge you, and be there for you when things get hard?  

When you are in a position to help others, do it and pay forward the generosity you were shown. Supporting others is not a barter or a trade. It is a gift to be given and accepted graciously and without guilt. 

4. Be a role model 

What motivated Elizabeth to go back to her calling and stand up for herself was her commitment to be a good role model for her daughter. She wanted to show that a woman can be successful, support herself, support others, demand respect and make a difference in the world. Stand up for yourself and be the change you wish to see.  

As a woman with sons, I have been asked, several times, why are you so passionate about women’s rights when you don’t have daughters?  The first time I was asked this I was surprised, the second time flabbergasted.   

Who do I want to be role model for?  My sons who deserve to work for the best leaders in industry NOT only the best male leaders. For my clients who deserve to be the most successful with the best employees leading teams and making progress, not only the best male employees and for women like me, who deserve to be successful, to thrive and to be financially secure and independent. 

5. Never give up 

Some days are hard. Some days are really hard. Some days it is near impossible to get out of bed and care for everyone with a smiling face. Some days you have to bunker down and put yourself first, over and above the needs of others. That’s ok! Take that moment, but the next day get up. Put one foot in front of the other and never give up! 

So, it turns out Audible was right in its recommendation. I won’t doubt it again!  

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