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The Power of #SisterCourage

Issue 95 — May 27, 2019

Twice on the same day last week, the heads of groups that work to advance women financially, socially, and in business bemoaned to me the lack of collaboration among women’s groups. Paradoxically, but not surprisingly, the individuals with whom I met in both instances were asking Take The Lead to participate in their new ventures.

And in each instance, I had two thoughts simultaneously:

1. Yes, of course I want to help; I want to be part of this effort because it advances my mission and that of my organization.

2. But what’s in it for us? How will it advance our mission and bring more resources to our programs that give women exactly the skills and breakthroughs they need for success? At one point, I said I was starting to feel like The Giving Tree in Shel Silverstein’s famous book of that name — being asked to give until there was little left of us with few offers to reciprocate.

From many years in movement building, I’ve learned a lot that is eminently applicable to building organizations and endeavors of any kind. First off, to be successful, both of these competing points must be addressed. It turns out that they aren’t so paradoxical after all, but it takes work to harness the power of Sister Courage.

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Where do we start? How do leaders bridge the gap between idealistic goals and building movements that make genuine change?

I believe a leader is someone who gets things done. But none of us gets it done alone, and sometimes that is the most difficult thing to stay “woke” about.

That said, women can use to our advantage the fact that we are more likely than men to attribute our success to some combination of luck and help we have received from others.

There’s an often-overlooked nexus between sisterhood, individual courage, and the courage and power of women and like-minded men working together to achieve gender parity goals. Sister Courage. Brother Partners, too, but let’s focus on how women can work together, first.

I spoke at Credit Suisse America’s Women’s Network last week. It’s inspiring to see the next generation of female leaders in an industry that is still male dominated. If you are interested in being one of #50womencan Change the World in #Finance Sister Courage cohort, we’re launching this fall. Go to https://www.50womencan.com/finance to learn more.

As the success of the all-female talk show The View has found in becoming a must-do platform for presidential candidates, we don’t all have to agree about everything to make progress happen.

We do need to understand, though, that every other group works together to advance its own interests. Yet women have been much slower to grant ourselves the privilege of worthiness to put our interests first. And if we are to continue our progress towards equality and parity from the boardroom to the bedroom and all points in between, we must commit ourselves to think and act with #SisterCourage.

These words are carefully chosen.

I say Sister because individual women who want — and deserve — the chance to thrive must act like sisters. We must share experiences and support one another because we are women, and because it is in our best interests as unique individuals and as members of a group to do so.

Don’t isolate yourself or think that you have to do it all yourself. Reach out to ask for help when you need it, and offer help when you see someone else needs it. As recent research has confirmed, there is power in the pack. Women who support other women are more successful all around. We all need our girl gang, coven, network, sisters.

Remain open to the benefits of working together with others who share your values and intentions, even if not all your methods or opinions. Think expansively about the power of the infinite pie. Abundant resources exist if we have the insights to recognize them.

One of my personal favorite Sisters in Courage is the actor Kathleen Turner who is always ready to take action to advance women.

I say Courage because making change always takes courage. Giving women an equal chance to succeed at work requires setting seriously big goals and going for them by making the business case in a forthright and persistent manner.

Speaking up in the public square also takes courage. The courage to raise the issues. To use the power of your voice to overcome the pushback from those who say it can’t be done, or those whose best interest lies in your not being able to do it.

Changing the gender power-balance in the workplace, politics, or relationships takes extra special courage. Owning power responsibly takes even more courage. When we talk about giving women an equal chance, we’re talking about the most profound power shift towards equal justice in the history of humanity.

We grow courage muscles by using them. So practice intentionally doing at least one thing every day that scares the hell out of you. And you’re sure to lose the fear and grow those muscles faster if you work with your sisters.

Finally, I say Sister Courage — putting the words together — because by working together, we become bigger and stronger than the sum of the parts. Does this mean you must continuously give without thought to what you will get in return? Not at all. In fact, the opposite.

Once you are clear on your own goals and have found your sisters who share those goals, you can go forward together with clarity about where you both or all benefit, and clarity about where your paths may diverge. We each bring something unique to the party. And while I’m not suggesting that every act is selfishly transactional, it’s nevertheless only fair that we get something we need from our efforts to contribute to the larger whole.

What destination do want to reach? What problem to solve? What resources do you need and where will you find them? Define a goal you will use the Sister Courage movement building principles to achieve and three strategic action steps.

As anthropologist Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Together we are bigger and stronger than the sum of our parts. It’s the essence of my Leadership Power Tool #7: “Take Action: Create a Movement.”

So be a sister. Have courage. And put the two together into a strategic plan to act with sister courage to achieve your goals.

GLORIA FELDT is the Cofounder and President of Take The Lead, a motivational speaker and expert women’s leadership developer for companies that want to build gender balance, and a bestselling author of four books, most recently No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Former President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, she teaches “Women, Power, and Leadership” at Arizona State University and is a frequent media commentator. Learn more at www.gloriafeldt.com and www.taketheleadwomen.com. Tweet @GloriaFeldt.

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