The Power TO Live With a Whole Heart


February is Heart Month. I had the honor of keynoting an American Heart Association Go Red for Women Leadership Forum event in New York, which Take The Lead co-sponsored. Heart 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 forties, had had a heart attack at her desk. All the right things had been done. But to no avail. Vicky died instantly, with no previous signs of heart disease.In memory of Vicky, it’s a special honor for me to address this topic. I thank the American Heart Association and the Go Red campaign for elevating this serious public health issue. Thanks to their work, we can prevent where possible and treat early where necessary.I thought a lot about the Go Red for Women Leadership 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 I’ll discuss something I do know from my research and my personal journey: women’s relationships 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 The power TO concept is a radical departure from the outdated patriarchal “power over” approach of leadership that has been the prevailing model for hundreds if not thousands of years.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 have 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 6 simple stepsPower Tools—to help you embrace your power TO live with a whole heart.SunsetWomen

  1. 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.”
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.