This high school experience is why I help some leaders gain power and others use it responsibly

Hi Friends,

This week: a personal story about power and my heart, what I’m reading, and a marital example of minimum effective dose. Hit Reply and let me know what you think.

Why I help some leaders gain power and others use it responsibly

Master difficult conversations

Learn my best tips for staying cool under pressure and elevating your leadership in complex times.


I’ve never shared this publicly. In high school, by outward appearance, I was successful and healthy. A top student. Varsity athlete in two sports (granted: small school). No drugs of any kind. Amiable (for a time, my nickname). Yet, on the inside, I was hurting.

The reason? Day after day, year after year, a group of boys teased me mercilessly. On Tuesday, it was about my big head of hair (yeah, go figure). On Wednesday, why only an “ugly girl” would like me. On Thursday, how I completed assignments a week early. Not cool.

Today we call this bullying. Back then it was just how things were.

While it was happening, I don’t remember sharing it with my parents or any other adults. Nor do I recall any teachers stepping in. Most painfully, my best friend not only didn’t have my back, but he regularly joined in the ribbing.

Nobody was there to listen to me and validate my experience. Nobody to say, “Amiel, there is nothing wrong with you.” Nobody to advise me how to respond.

The heart that was wounded then is the same heart that shows up today at work and in the rest of life. This is why I pay attention to power dynamics and how they affects people. It’s why, when I encounter someone getting the short end of the stick, I long to see them stand up for themselves—for their own dignity and health, and for the good of all. And it’s why, when I work with someone who takes up too much space or abuses their power, if they want to change, you’d better believe I’m going to help them.

What I’m reading

Working by Robert Caro, famed biographer of Lyndon Johnson and chronicler of how people gain power and use it

The following excerpt captures brilliantly what happens when I interview my client’s colleagues about what she is like to work with:

“My interviewees sometimes get quite annoyed with me because I keep asking them ‘What did you see? If I was standing beside you at the time, what would I have seen?’ I’ve had people get really angry at me. But if you ask it often enough, sometimes you make them see.”

Minimum effective dose

A corrective for things in life you tend to overdo

When my wife speaks to me from across the house…

  • Overdose: “Julie, I can’t hear you. You’re two rooms away, and there’s music. How could you possibly expect me to hear you?”
  • Minimal effective dose: “Julie. I can’t hear you. Could you please say that again?”

Cheerfully real,
Amiel Handelsman

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