Take the Lead Launch Event Excites and Inspires

Huddled around my laptop computer, two friends and I watched the livestream of Take the Lead’s February 19 Launch Event. We all agreed that Carla Harris, a Wall Street investment banker and gospel singer, not only was the most inspiring and exciting speaker, but shared the most valuable pointers on what we women need to do to be leaders in our worlds.Take the Lead launch at Gammage HallFirst of all, she said, genuinely be yourself. She shared that when she first became an investment banker, she thought she needed to hide the fact that she was a gospel singer because it might detract from the serious business image she was trying to project. But she soon discovered that when she was true to her own personality, spirit, and character and revealed all the parts of who she was, people gravitated to her and respected her for her authenticity. This has certainly been my experience, too. The more I’m completely myself, the more the people around me are completely themselves, and the quicker we build the connectivity and trust that are the foundation of powerful, productive relationships.Next, Carla said, “get comfortable” with taking risks. Don’t wait until you’re sure you know how or you’re certain of what will happen—plunge in and learn by doing. The worst that can happen is that you fail, and that’s then an opportunity to become smarter and wiser from the experience. Carla emphasized the importance of being courageous enough to abandon a practice that you’re used to succeeding at in the past but which may no longer be the way to win in changing or new circumstances.Carla’s spot on that to be a leader you must be willing to take risks. But I think she’s off target when she says that you need to “get comfortable” in doing so. In my experience, taking risks is nearly always scary and uncomfortable. If you wait until you’re comfortable, you’re likely never to act. The trick is to tuck your fear and discomfort into your pocket and move forward despite them.My most valuable take-away from Carla’s talk was her urging to consciously and intentionally shape people’s perceptions of you. This was a new idea for me, and I can’t wait to put it to use.  Carla told us to identify three adjectives that we want other people to use when they describe us, particularly when we’re not in the room and they’re being completely frank in their characterization. Then, and this is crucial, start speaking and acting in ways that are consistent with those three descriptors.  Carla shared with us how she shifted people’s perception of her as being soft to being tough by taking every opportunity she could to demonstrate her toughness.Here’s an example of how I’m going to put Carla’s advice to work. I’m in an acting class.  Not surprisingly, I and all my classmates have been very concerned about looking good and getting it right. But I want to lead the class toward becoming a safe place in which people can take risks, dare to fail, and not worry about being embarrassed. So I’d like my classmates to see me as being gutsy, accepting, and empathetic. I’m going to start this campaign at our next class, where our assignment is to act out (in pantomime) a situation in which we have to sit down for a reason and then stand up for a reason. Our goal is to have the class understand what we are doing and why.  I was going to do something safe, like getting into a car, driving, and then getting out. Thanks to Carla, I’m not going to do that. I’m going to act out going to the toilet.Gloria Feldt, Co-Founder and President of Take the Lead, opened the Launch event by exhorting the thousands of women (and some men) who were watching to advance Take the Lead’s exciting mission of having women “take their fair and equal share of leadership positions across all sectors by 2025.”Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook and author of Lean In, delivered the Launch event’s keynote address. She pointed out that we women chronically underestimate our own abilities and are stopped by the thought that “I can’t do it.” She warned that if we wait until we’re completely confident before taking on a challenge, chances are we’ll wait forever. Be ambitious, she urged, take risks, and don’t let fear get in your way.I must admit that I did not find Sheryl as exhilarating as Carla or as motivating as Gloria. I know that millions of women have been inspired by Sheryl to “lean in,” but I wish she had spent less time promoting her own organization, Lean In and more time talking about the work of Take the Lead, whose launch had provided her with this platform to reach thousands of women around the world.