“The first responsibility of leadership is the creation of meaning.”—Warren Bennis. 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.
The Sum of this week is voice.
To put a positive spin on it, we’ve had many examples of the power of a woman’s voice.
It started last Sunday during the Tony Awards, when best actress in a musical, Bette Midler, kept speaking her piece long after the escalating music signaled she should get off the stage. She took her time, thanked the women who came before her, and imperiously waved the orchestra off, declaring she had the floor. The way she took her time and space to make her voice heard felt outrageous and liberating at the same time. Her assertive presence must have made Amy Cuddy proud.
We’re accustomed to seeing women engage not by such screeching vehicular feats of daring, but equally intense though too often silent tests of their personal agency. Cultural norms die hard. May this one rest in peace.
“The first responsibility of leadership is the creation of meaning.”—Warren Bennis. 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.
It’s about power this week.
Of course with me, every day of every week I’m obsessed with women’s relationship with power. That’s because it’s so central to the decisions women make to aim for those higher salaries and leadership positions, elective offices, and grander entrepreneurial ventures – or not. The relationship is so profound, it’s almost spiritual, and often fraught with ambivalence.
The news of the week reveals the two kinds of power I talk and teach about as the basis for changing the power paradigm: power over versus power TO.
“The first responsibility of leadership is the creation of meaning.”—Warren Bennis. Welcome to the first Sum, where I’ll give my take on the meaning of the sum of the week’s parts. I want your voice too. Leave comments here or @GloriaFeldt.
The Sum: This week it’s all #WonderWoman. And #WonderWomen. #WW for short. We’re all around. And, wow are we needed. Here are 3 ways we can flex those superpowers:
1. Spend Our Money and Time Intentionally
Calling all #WW, here’s why it’s important to get behind the new #WonderWoman movie by going to see it this weekend: Supporting success at the box office by buying tickets, especially in its first weekend, will increase the probability we’ll see more female superheroes women and girls can relate to in pop culture. And the more #WW we see, the more of us will become #WW.
My father, Max Feldt, stood 6’ 3” with a personality so big (and the towns we lived in so small) that the postal service once delivered a letter to me addressed only: “To the eldest daughter of Big Max, Stamford, Texas.”
Family lore says he roared, “Who said I wanted a boy?” when reminded that prior to my birth he’d boasted HE was having a son. (No ultrasound back then, folks.)
Daddy was the dominant influence on my life—eventually. It wasn’t till I delivered his eulogy, when I was 50 years old, that I realized he had given me an entire philosophy of life and leadership.
He had many aphorisms I refer to as his Maxisms, including this all-purpose one he repeated to me on hundreds of occasions:
You can do anything your pretty little head desires.
Are you wearing Spanx? Me too. And yes, there is a connection.
In the 1970s, feminist leader Betty Friedan urged women to throw away their girdles and we cheered. Today, Sarah Blakely has become one of the few female billionaires by getting us trussed up once again—in Spanx.
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.
I mean, I could barely stand to look at their bleeding, skinned-up hands or wrap my head around the thought of 19 days without a shower. I definitely didn’t want to know their often-reported bathroom details—though that had to be yet one more example of how much easier it is to be a man than a woman in this world.
(Incidentally, the first woman to scale El Capitan via a different route called The Nose was Beverly Johnson in the 1970s—you knew I had to look that up. She was also the first person to cross the Straits of Magellan solo in a kayak.)
My newfound fascination could be because sports professions have been on my mind since meeting U.S. Bouldering Team member and professional rock climber (who knew there could be such a career?) Sierra Blair-Coyle at the Play Hockey Like a Girl event cosponsored by the Arizona Coyotes hockey team and Take The Lead.
Would workplaces become more balanced and society more equitable if women exhibited more confidence? Katty Kay and Claire Shipman created a stir with their book The Confidence Code and their article, “The Confidence Gap” in The Atlantic. To continue this important conversation, we were honored to have Shipman speak to the Take The Lead community in July about how personal confidence relates to women advancing in the workplace and in society. Yes, women face very real barriers, no matter how confident we are, but leading with confidence expands our possibilities in ways that change our lives and the lives of other women. (Like this quote? Tweet it!) Did you attend this event with Shipman? What did you learn? This confidence question will surely be an ongoing conversation, so we’d love to hear your thoughts!
One way we achieve leadership parity at Take The Lead is by working with women across all backgrounds, generations, and professional fields. And we’re proud to collaborate with a larger resurgent women’s movement. One way we create connections among women is through our online Take The Lead Community. If you haven’t signed up yet, please do so to network and get honest, actionable advice from other accomplished women having valuable conversations. Soon we’ll be adding a mentoring component you won’t want to miss.
Remember! Please take a moment in the comments section to tell us what’s bugging you, highlight learning topics you want to see in our webcasts, courses, or blog, and suggest experts you admire. You can also tweet us at @takeleadwomen using the hashtag #takeleadwomen2015.
Was she conflicted in her relationship with power? Just the opposite as the quote above indicates. How did she get that way and what can we learn from her on Election Day 2014?
My systematic research into many women’s ambivalent relationship with power began during the 2008 election season, when I wrote an article for Elle magazine about why women do—or as I came to find out, more often don’t—run for office.
At the rate women are advancing in Congress, it will be 60 years before gender leadership parity is reached. But more astounding is what I found in 2008 that stopped me short: it’s no longer external, structural barriers, though some do still exist, but internal ones that hold women back from fully embracing their political power. And there are far more similarities than differences in how this dynamic plays itself out in the seemingly divergent realms of work, politics, and personal relationships.
The personal is, was, and always will be, political.
I wanted to learn more: to understand what internalized values, implicit biases, assumptions, and beliefs about ourselves we as women haul around, like worthless cargo, hindering the full attainment of our potential as leaders and doers—what intricate personal and cultural constructs of power, the silent sinews that bind not only our political intentions, but our work lives and even our love lives.
Paradoxically, I’ve spent most of my adult life working for justice and power for others—African Americans, poor kids, other women. Not, as Jerry Seinfeld would say, that there’s anything wrong with that. In fact, I feel blessed to have been able to make my life’s passion for social justice into my life’s work. And my path is not so different from gendered behavior regarded (and rewarded) as laudable—being nice, putting the needs of others first.
Which is the point. Fighting for others seemed worthy. Fighting for myself, or something I wanted, did not. And many younger women today tell me they experience similar reticence, even as they seek role models and mentors to teach them differently.
Yet all effective leadership is rooted in the language of power and the willingness to embrace the power one has. If women are ever to complete our staccato journey to equality, we must join the discourse and become deliberately fluent in power’s meanings and nuances.
While the men around us operate as though they own the world—because, for the most part, they do—women have to work consciously to assume that place of intentional power and agency. Women’s inner struggles parallel the pushme-pullyou history of our social and political advances.
It’s this relationship with power—almost a spiritual factor, rarely acknowledged by the metrics or even the philosophers, which I’ve witnessed in myself and countless other women—that fascinated me and propelled me to undertake writing my book, No Excuses, ultimately leading me to cofound Take The Lead. For until we redefine our relationship with power, we will stay stuck in our half-finished revolution.
And that matters for two reasons.
First, we will remain able to excuse and justify our lack of progress by pointing outward rather than owning our part of the responsibility to take the harder road of pushing forward courageously as Chisholm did.
Second, until we can stand confidently in our own power, we won’t be able to lead ourselves or others with intention. If we allow that to happen, both women and men will remain constrained within lives of limited gender stereotyped possibilities, lives that keep us all from achieving our full human potential.
The Right Honorable Kim Campbell, former prime minister of Canada (and the first head of that nation’s government), put it this way: “Look, power exists. Somebody is going to have it. If you would exercise it ethically, why not you? I love power. I’m power-hungry because when I have power I can make things happen, can serve my community, can influence decisions, I can accomplish things.”
Why not you, indeed? Why not any one of us?
And if a courageous woman like Shirley Chisholm could blast through seemingly impermeable barriers to run for president half a century ago, surely each and every one of us can at a minimum honor her memory by voting today and every Election Day.