VHH Recap: Omega's Carla Goldstein On How To Redefine Power

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Take The Lead’s June Virtual Happy Hour featured Carla Goldstein, chief external affairs officer at the Omega Institute and co-founder of Omega Women’s Leadership Center, in conversation with Take The Lead Co-Founder and President Gloria Feldt. You can watch the full conversation here.

On her trajectory to leadership:Goldstein’s social consciousness was sparked at a young age as the child of civil rights activists in 1960s New York City. When her mother broke away from the traditional civil rights movement in part because women were not accepted as contributors to the conversation as men were, she moved with her mom to Florida. It was this transition from an integrated poor-to-working class neighborhood in New York City to a heavily segregated city in Florida when her eyes were opened to the diverse complexity of injustices.Her mother’s response to this racism and injustice was to work for change, to be independent. Goldstein emphasized how essential family and community contexts are in shaping individuals. When she was in college in Florida, the Equal Rights Amendment was pending and Florida was one of the decider states, and she realized that hysteria is what happens when a marginalized group starts to make advance. This was the beginning of Goldstein’s lifelong commitment to create change. She has since worked as a lawyer, a policy maker, the vice president for public affairs at Planned Parenthood of New York City, and an advocate for over 25 years before coming to Omega.On changing the nature of power:When she arrived at Omega, she found the conversation was about answering the question, “As women gain more power, how do we change the very nature of power?” For the majority of history, power has been defined as a masculine concept, cultivated and established without the inclusion or consideration of women. Now that that is changing, rather than assimilate to the cultures of power that have already been established, it is important to change the way power is perceived, experienced, and exercised. The task at hand asks women to redefine power, not just learn how to live within the limitations of an unrepresentative power structure. This is where the Omega Institute’s call to #DoPowerDifferently comes into play.In order to redefine power, women have to adapt to the power structures in day to day situations and decide if they want to risk challenging that power structure. To start this process of decision making, Goldstein stressed the significance of personal assessment and self reflection.[bctt tweet=“As women gain more power, how do we change the very nature of power?”]On turning the conversation inwards in order to make effective decisions:Women have to make constant calculations in discerning how to react to power structures in their careers. Goldstein outlines three examples of what women might do when faced with a challenging power structure. The “revolutionary” takes large risks to challenge power when it is being used unfairly, the “infiltrator” tries to change the system from inside of it, and some are overwhelmed and quiet in the presence power that they disagree with. We fluctuate between these three roles on a minute-to-minute basis depending on the scenario.She highlighted that “leadership is about getting very clear for yourself how you want to take risks, how you can be effective.”  She added that asserting power is something that must be done with thoughtfulness and care.“We have to be politically and strategically smart about it. When we are using our power in ways that don’t lift another person or good idea up, we need to #DoPowerDifferently. And the only way we can do that is through self reflection and deep friendship with oneself. You need to be able to forgive yourself for it and start to think about how you might transform it.”On the power of knowing yourself deeply:  According to Goldstein, “Because we are all human beings, the more you know yourself, the more you know other people. And the more compassionate you are to yourself, the more energy and compassion you have for other people.” Making time to turn inward and cultivate a positive relationship with oneself is something that women frequently disregard as a selfish activity. However, taking care of yourself is no waste of time. The well being of all things are interconnected, so your wellness will benefit your co-workers, family, and friends.Goldstein suggests meditation, writing, walking, tai chi, gardening, or any contemplative activity to start building a relationship with yourself. Once you feel you have a firm grasp of your inner life, you can more effectively make those difficult discernments that are required of leaders to redefine power.On the tools to transform power: In addition to knowing yourself and taking time to dedicate to wellness, she recommended these two tricks to change the way you think about power in your life.

  • The Power Flip: Flip the power role of the person you are talking to. Considering how the interaction would be different if the power roles were swapped can help you determine if both you and the person you are talking to are using power fairly and effectively.
  • Role vs. Soul: Make a list of the 15 roles you play in your life (i.e. mother, daughter, aunt, boss, sister, neighbor, friend, worker, etc.). Next to it, list the 2 or 3 values that are most important to you. Decide where those values are most applied in your life (i.e. The value is “truthfulness” and you find you are most truthful at home and least truthful at work). Ask yourself why that is and start reflecting to get to know yourself better.

Register for Gloria Feldt’s weekend course on the 9 Leadership Power Tools at the Omega Institute from July 22-24 here.