The Sum – Meaning of the Week: Positive

“The first responsibility of leadership is the creation of meaning.” —Warren Bennis.

Word of the week is POSITIVE.

As in posit your own terms.

As in position yourself.

As in having an optimistic outlook for the sake of your health, happiness, and success.

Yesterday I arrived at my Arizona home to find my car had a dead battery. I didn’t have time to deal with it because I needed to get across town to see my sister (thanks to all of you who sent good wishes after I mentioned her kidney transplant last week—she’s not out of the woods but doing much better).

So I hopped into a Lyft and pulled out my cell phone to catch up on what had happened while I was traveling. I knew my whole team was hard at work putting Take The Lead Day together and that my usual overload of messages would be on steroids. It was.

My driver, however, began ruminating out loud about how he used to be very interested in politics and now is feeling disengaged. “I don’t know why,” he said, ”but I think there is so much negativity out there right now that I just can’t deal with it.”

I understood exactly where he was coming from.

It’s human nature to disengage from the difficult, the painful, the things that seem to be out of our control.

And yet, there is always one thing we and only we can control: we can choose how we will engage in the world. At that moment, I felt extreme gratitude that I can choose to engage with a positive frame of mind. I can choose to be optimistic, believing that for my own health and well-being, I have not just the ability but the necessity to define my own terms and position myself rather than be merely reacting, or being defined and by others who might not have my best interests at heart.

Hence my word of the week: positive. Your choice to take it or leave it. If you choose to take it, and I hope you will, here are three ways I hope the word “positive” will benefit you.

Posit Yourself

At Women Moving Millions (see The Sum September 18), Diane Whitty, global head of philanthropy for J. P. Morgan Private Bank delivered this eye-popping point: “Women are the largest emerging market. Bigger than India or China.”

Well then, that’s just one reason why we can define our own terms secure in the knowledge that we have value and the world needs to know it. My Power Tool # 2 frames it this way: define your own terms—first, before anyone else does. Who owns the narrative of your life, your skills, and your experience?  Only you.  Take the time to do an inventory of who you are, what you know and understand.  Strategic thinking can help not only in the work itself but in navigating through the cultural biases and issues that, let’s face it, are not going to suddenly evaporate. This is what you bring, as only you can, into the office, the lab, the boardroom, the Senate floor.  Master it, own it, and unpack it when you take that seat.

Position Yourself

This week, Fortune releases its 20th Anniversary Most Powerful Women list—a listing of the 50 most powerful women in all fields. When they first compiled the list in the late 90’s it wasn’t easy to find 50 women with substantive power. There were only two women in the C-Suite.  Now thirty-one more have claimed that title—with three since dropping out as their company shifts.   There are new names this year like Geisha Williams, the CEO of PGE and the first Latina to join this group of dynamic women.

I especially love this absolutely accurate but rarely expressed positioning of the stale work-life balance debate from Sara Furber.  She’s the long-time Wall Street executive who will shortly head up IEX, the brand new stock exchange that challenges the way business has been done.  She told The Guardian  “Looking back one of the biggest things I wish someone had told me is it’s inversely correlated. The higher-profile, more responsibility roles, the more flexibility you have to structure your life the way you want. You have better people working for you, you have more authority, you are setting when the meetings are, what the agenda is. That control is really empowering.”

You might not make that Fortune 50 list but your superpower is in how and where you position yourself.

Cultivate an Optimistic Mindset

If you don’t already subscribe to Christina Vuleta’s “Next Step” newsletter, here’s where you should. You’ll get a weekly jolt of feminist businesswoman inspiration along with practical tips on how to apply it to succeed in your chosen life. This week, she reported on the Create & Cultivate Conference, where HBO star Issa Rae gave some wonderful advice that women in any industry can use.  Her final tip:  “Recognize your value and take your seat at the table.“

As I said in my letter to the New York Times this week (yes, a humblebrag here, but I deserve it, yes?), “If we don’t redefine power and embrace it intentionally, women’s voices will remain faint in politics and elsewhere.”

And I am eternally optimistic that we will. A positive attitude is the healthier way to be for starters.

 Optimism is a mindset we can learn—these interconnected pieces are worth the read to understand why our brain has been wired to spot the negative (dangers) and how we can reset our outlook to be positive.  The author of the piece, Loretta Bruening, head of the Inner Mammal Institute and Professor of Management at California State University East Bay, says the benefits are not just so we can don rose-colored glasses.  When we reset to be positive, we give our brain a chance to assess what is really in front of us and  to act with agency.  We can move ahead and we can face the not-perfect outcomes with next steps.  In short, we can remove the impediment that negativity puts in our path.

Have a positively wonderful week, and Power TO you!

Welcome to The Sum, where I share my take on the meaning of sum of the week’s parts. I want your voice too. Leave comments here or @GloriaFeldt


Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

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