The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho follows a young shepherd in his journey of fulfilling his Personal Legend. This young shepherd, Santiago, faces numerous challenges from both external forces and from his own desires.
The novel is an untraditional lesson in leadership. Most leadership books outline exactly what you need to do to better yourself. The Alchemist’s lessons are in line with the theme of the book: you can only find the answers you seek within yourself, no one is going to answer them for you. Santiago must look inside himself to realize his life goals and overcome the difficulties on his path. Friends and teachers may help guide the way, but ultimately Santiago reaches his goal by himself and through his own perseverance.
A major lesson taught is to trust yourself. Santiago must interrupt “good omens” on his own and trust his intuition to recognize them. A good leader can trust their instincts and be able to be confident in their decision. Not every decision in life is going to be black and white. Emotions are a reliable and legitimate reason to make a decision. Of course leaders also need to recognize when they are bias as well, which influences a feeling about a decision. Making a decision based on feeling could also be out of place if you are making a convenient decision. A good leader knows when they are afraid or biased and works out these feelings before making a decision.
In The Alchemist, Santiago meets an Englishman who only reads throughout their entire journey to the oasis. Santiago and the Englishman try to teach other about their interests. The Englishman watches and learns from the dessert like Santiago and Santiago reads the Englishman’s books. In the end, Santiago summarizes all the books with a statement: “all things are the manifestation of one thing only”. The Englishman did not learn anything and was frustrated his life’s work was summed up in a single statement. The Englishman misses that the best way to learn is to experience life for yourself. He never actually does anything he reads about. This causes him to miss everything around him. Learning requires more than reading, it requires doing. A leader exemplifies action, they learn from first-hand experiences and relate these experiences to new ones. They do not replace what they have learned with real-life knowledge. A book is a representation of what one person knows and their opinions about their experience, this may not be true for you.
“. . . Making a decision was only the beginning of things. When someone makes a decision, he is really diving into a strong current that will carry him to the places he had never dreamed of when he first made the decisions.”
– The Alchemist, P. 70
Leaders must also adapt and persevere through challenges in their path. Santiago was robbed, beaten and distracted. His straight path through Africa to Egypt was not a reality. His path was changed and paused several times. He ended up spending a year in one place and several months in another. He initially thought that his journey would be short. Leaders are faced with unforeseen challenges on their journeys and must adapt. Great leaders find the strength within themselves to move and seek creativity to solve the unanswerable challenges. The harder the path, the more worthy the goal is to obtain.
Reviewed by Krista Kull