February is Heart Month. I had the honor of keynoting, and Take The Lead cosponsored, an American Heart Association Go Red for Women Leadership Forum event in New York. This disease is insidious. And because women are less likely than men to be symptomatic, it’s critically important to know our risks and symptoms. Here’s the essence of my speech.
I was in my office when I got the call. I heard the ambulance shrieking into the parking lot as I ran downstairs with my heart in my throat. Vicky, a devoted employee in her late 40’s had had a heart attack at her desk. All the right things had been done. But to no avail. Vicky died instantly, no previous signs of heart disease.
In memory of Vicky, it’s a special honor for me to be here with you today. Thank you, American Heart Association and the Go Red campaign for elevating this serious public health issue. Thanks to your work, we can prevent where possible and treat early where necessary.
I thought a lot about this Forum’s aim to spark conversation around how senior level executive women can leave a legacy so their successors live longer and healthier lives.
I am not a medical professional, and having been CEO of a health care provider for 30 years, I know what I don’t know.
So today I’ll talk with you about something I do know from my research and my personal journey: women’s relationship with power and leadership.
In particular, How to embrace your power TO live with a whole heart.
The power TO concept is a radical departure from the outdated patriarchal “power over” approach of leadership that has been the prevailing model for hundreds if not thousands of years. Many women told me they don’t want that kind of power. Making a transformational change in our definition of power cracks the code that has kept women stalled at 18% of top leadership positions across all sectors for almost two decades.
When I teach leadership power tool courses and workshops, I see how this shift in thinking both reduces stress and motivates women to aspire to the very leadership roles that position us to change unhealthy systems we did not design.
Let me illustrate—no, I want you to illustrate:
In those “power TO” moments, you are living with a whole heart. You are vibrant. Perhaps not fearless, but definitely courageous. You have chosen power over fear.
Am I asking you to take on more stress and hardship? No way.
I want to give you an eye-opening and liberating way to shift your thinking about power from Power Over which is oppression to Power TO which is leadership.
From my own experiences in what could hardly be called a stress-free career —I would love for the Heart Association to study this—I conclude that embracing one’s Power TO with a whole heart can greatly help reduce stress.
When we live in the power over framework, we think power and resources are a finite pie. In reality we can make more pies and when it comes to power, the more there is the more there is, Further, if I help you, we both end up with more power.
When we are not embracing our power TO, we can’t live with a whole heart. We lack a sense of personal mastery and intentionality. Other people are defining us. We are disconnected from what’s in our deepest hearts. And that is inherently unhealthy, depressing, and stressful.
So let me offer 6 simple steps—Power Tools— to help you embrace your power TO live with a whole heart.
- Define your terms. This releases you to choose power over fear. You are setting the terms of the debate. Your personal ROI is not measured in fame or fortune, but in whether you have integrity of purpose, brand, and vision for what you want your life to mean. As Audre Lorde said, “When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”
- Love your stress. Without stress there would be no learning, no invention, no progress. Failing to embrace our power causes stress: the stress of inaction, not taking charge of one’s own fate, not declaring a clear agenda and taking responsibility. Address it: “Hello stress. Will you be the sand in the oyster that creates the pearl? Thank you.” Because it isn’t about whether we have stress. It’s about how we embrace the stress and let its energy fuel our power TO. And the more we are aware of our power TO, the more we feel in control of our lives—and that in turn reduces anger, stress, and depression.
- Take action. I was fascinated with the men who free-climbed El Capitan. Why? Because I used to be timid but now get off on action, especially on doing the impossible and scaling the unscalable. We grow our courage muscles in the same way we grow we grow our physical muscles: by using them. If the challenge seems too large and you get stuck, simplify, and deconstruct it. I visualize an onion and peel back each layer one by one.
- Take action TOGETHER. Going it alone isn’t a winning strategy. Those two climbers on El Capitan knew that. Women tend to isolate themselves when they are stressed. Find your sisters and take action together.
- Use what you’ve got. Relax. What you need is always there if you have the wisdom to see it and the courage to use it.
- Wear the shirt. The fastest route to self-esteem is to stand up for what you believe. That’s being authentic and having integrity. It is liberating. People who are in touch with that aspect of their power TO tend to make better health choices and be more resilient, according to both mental and physical health researchers.
So, think again about when you are most in tune with your power TO. Close your eyes for a moment and conjure up what that moment was for you.
Now open your eyes, and go forth to embrace your power TO live with a whole heart.