The Sum  — The Meaning of This Week: Fierce

Word of the week is FIERCE


(with thanks to Melissa Soalt for suggesting it)As in holding one’s values stronglyAs in having the courage to “wear the shirt” for those valuesAs in not backing down in the face of controversy or challenge I’m the granddaughter of four immigrants who came to America fleeing oppression. They treasured their right to participate in the democratic process fiercely, and would never have considered failing to vote in any election. I became a fierce, even sappy, patriot as a result.My maternal grandparents’ dry goods store was one of the few that served African Americans as well as white people. This was in the part of Texas close in culture to the deep South, where I spent my formative years. But though they weren’t flaming social activists, as people who had known oppression, I have to imagine they had more than the average empathy for another oppressed group.I get the mindset of Alabama, both sides of it, and the clear racial divide between voters in their U.S. Senate election held this week. I get that it is scary for people who have held power for centuries to grapple with a changing, more diverse world. I probably lived next door to similar people and knew them as kind and helpful neighbors.But as someone who believes fiercely in the value of all citizens to have an equal chance at the American dream, I was simultaneously elated to see the high African American voter turnout on behalf of a candidate who had spent much of his law career fighting for racial justice, and appalled at the white women who, though also belonging to a group that has traditionally been discriminated against, don’t seem to realize that their privilege does not protect them.I suspect we saw more white women voting for the more progressive candidate because more of us do identify with the underdog. I credit the women of the #MeToo movement for using the fierce power of their voices to awaken a fierceness in many others.But though it was a smaller percentage of white women than white men, I’m still embarrassed that 63% voted for a clearly racist, sexist candidate. I’m pretty sure my grandparents would have been appalled too. And they would have joined me in thanking African American voters, especially the women whose fierce participation in the democratic process carried the day.They wore the shirt On the day of the Alabama vote, I had the opportunity to pre-record a webchat with leadership expert and executive coach May Busch.  She had asked me to give a tip for the people who will be participating in her upcoming online Summit.When I told her I wanted to share my Counterintuitive Power Tool #6: “Wear the shirt,” she said, “Then we must title your segment “The one thing you must know to be a great leader.”And indeed, it is. It takes fierceness to wear the shirt—for me, a metaphor for revealing your core value, the one that energizes you, the one that you believe so fiercely that you will walk away from a job or a situation if staying with it requires you to violate your value.I talked with May about the benefits to leaders or those who want to be seen as leaders of wearing the shirt of their convictions:

  1. People follow people with a point of Even if they disagree with you, they will be more likely to be attracted to you and your leadership if you hold strong values and reveal them by behavior consistent with them.

  2. The fastest way to self- esteem is to stand up for what you believe.

  3. You are authentic, comfortable in your own skin. You feel a sense of lightness and ease when you are true to yourself. You practically bounce; you are lighter than air because you aren’t weighed down trying to be something you’re not.


My shirt says “Well behaved women rarely make history,” made famous by historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. It’s a reminder that to make change often requires me to be comfortable being viewed (especially as a woman socialized to be “nice”) as someone who makes waves. It means one must be courageous enough to step out of old patterns to bring about equality and leadership parity for women. And it has a little humor, which reminds me not to take myself too seriously.

Leadership Power Tool #4: “Embrace Controversy”

On December 16, I’ll have the pleasure of speaking at the Yale Women’s Campaign School’s training in how to run for office. The good news is that we’re seeing a huge upsurge in the numbers of women running. Because, after all, if you don’t run you can’t win, and then you can’t complain about the dearth of women in office, right?The incredible Patricia Russo leads that program and my great friend and Take The Lead Founding Partner Kerry Giangobbe is a board member. I’m speaking on “The 7 C’s of Controversy.” That’s because politics is rooted in controversy, and if a candidate or elected official can’t embrace it fiercely for the good it can do in elevating the issues they care about, she or he won’t be a successful political leader.If you want to learn all of the 9 Leadership Power Tools, check out my new online self-study course Power to Lead. It starts February 4 and will give you four weekly lessons on transforming power, learning the 9 Power Tools, negotiating with confidence, and creating your own Strategic Leadership Action Plan. Because it’s online and self-study, you do it on your own time and pace, and you’ll have access to the content for at least 6 months to give you plenty of time to review as needed. However, during the first four weeks, I’ll interact with you personally on our private Facebook page, including a Facebook Live each week. It’s a great way to refresh and relaunch yourself professionally in the new year. I FIERCELY hope to see you there.And finally, it’s the end of year and we look forward to the coming year and how we are going to take on the challenges.  In this year of #metoo we are on the cusp of great possibility and change.  But only if we commit to changing women’s lives so that the old power dynamics that have held us all in place for so long will truly shift.  Please consider making a donation to Take The Lead.  We are nonprofit, nonpartisan.  We believe that all women deserve a fair and equal share.  Your gifts make women’s leadership parity possible. TAKETHE LEAD prepares, develops, inspires and propels women to take their fair and equal share of leadership positions across all sectors by 2025. It’s today’s women’s movement — a unique catalyst for women to embrace power and reach leadership parity. Join us online, sign up for our newsletter and have insightful news and advice delivered weekly, and check out our Virtual Happy Hour, our leadership programs and other offerings.