How to Write a Biography of a World Leader

When writing a biography, you want to make sure that the story you tell is more than just a list of facts about the person's life. Biographer Supriya Vani shares her top tips for writing a successful biography.
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As a peace activist and human rights campaigner, I have a different approach for writing biographies. I only choose leaders who are compassionate, charismatic, mindfully humble, easy to talk to, and who have major aspirations to contribute to world peace. My idea is to not come up with a mechanical biography, but an inspirational biography. A biography which is not just a biography, but something more than that. To be honest, anyone can write a biography with enough research material, but will that impact the future generation? Inspiring the younger generation is the main essence of my work. Before writing a biography, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Why do you want to write a biography on a world leader?
  • How will your biography impact society?
  • Will your biography contribute something more than a book?

(Through Another’s Eyes: An Auschwitz Survivor Inspires His Biographer)

I always like to interview the subject of the biography before writing about them. I have interviewed all the women Nobel Peace Laureates, several prime ministers, and presidents, so I write on womanhood to push women's role in peacebuilding.

Here are my personal tips to write an impactful biography of a world leader.

How to Write a Biography of a World Leader

Stage 1: Decision Making

Before writing the biography, make sure you can resonate with the qualities of the leader to ensure you’re writing a positive biography. This ‘decision-making stage’ is when you listen to all the speeches of the world leader. For example, the historic speech "Ask Not What Your Country Can Do For You" by John F. Kennedy's Inaugural Address, on January 20, 1961, still gives me goosebumps. In my first book, Battling Injustice: 16 Women Nobel Peace Laureates, I interviewed all the Laureates, including the first woman President in the African continent, because their speeches and goals resonated with my personal goal to serve humankind. This practice of listening to all the past speeches will give a better understanding as to why you want to write about a particular leader. For example, before interviewing Nobel Peace Laureates like Malala Yusufzai, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbbowee, or world leaders like Jacinda Ardern and Jullia Gillard, I made sure to understand their inner drive and their future goals for the betterment of humankind.

Jacinda Arden: Leading with Empathy by Supriya Vani and Carl A. Harte

Jacinda Arden: Leading with Empathy by Supriya Vani and Carl A. Harte

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Stage 2: Research

An extensive amount of research is necessary, get hold of every book, article, and interview about the leader. This will help to create a timeline and also be sure to keep track of the leader’s government website and social media accounts (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) to stay informed about their government actions and policies.

How to Write a Biography of a World Leader

Stage 3: Personal Interviews

Approach the leader for interviews and be sure to take the time to understand the leader as a human being and not just a politician. Interview the leader’s family, friends, colleagues, and collaborators for a deeper insight. As far as the leader is concerned, ask questions about the leader’s childhood because that will give you a foundation to understand their personality. For my latest book, Jacinda Ardern: Leading With Empathy, I made sure during my interview with Jacinda to ask about her childhood:

Supriya Vani: I would again come back to your childhood on this because I feel that a building that is going to be huge and magnificent is known by its foundation. And I feel that you laid the foundation of your personality when you instantly empathized in your own childhood with the children on the streets of New Zealand without shoes on their feet or anything to eat. Would you agree with me that you could observe all these things because you were born an empathetic person.

Jacinda Ardern: I would like to believe that it is something that is an inherent trait for all of us. It’s about having the space to be empathetic, and I think the more that we have situations where our children and our young people grow up in circumstances where they themselves are living in deprivation or are living in violence or are living with mental distress… How can we expect them to demonstrate empathy and compassion for others when their situation and circumstances, you know, are what they are. And so, for me, making sure that children have their needs met is also part of ensuring that we can build an empathetic and compassionate society that’s inclusive, tolerant, and diverse as well, because otherwise we breed resentment and we breed an insular approach, where people instead worry about their own needs, if understandably. So that, for me, I had the privilege to be empathetic. But it shouldn’t be a privilege. So it’s probably that the two, you know, go hand in hand.

Stage 4: Personal Views

Don’t hesitate to form your own opinions and add those thoughts to the biography. If the Leader is well-loved, then make sure to justify in your book why your biography is more than a biography and indeed is a tool to bring a positive change in society. In my books, I ask questions to the leaders on humanitarian subjects to inspire the younger generation. For example, in my interview with the President of Iceland, Kathrin Jakobsdottir, when I asked her how she feels in politics. Can women take to politics as comfortably as men do? She was quite candid in her confession. She informed me, “Well, politics is difficult. You know, it’s a difficult job.” I am entirely satisfied to share with the world at large my belief that when more and more women would be elected as heads of governments, it shall palpably impact the lives of people across the globe for the better and it is highly satisfying to note that 'better' is a relative term and not absolute.

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