Hey there friends!
A couple weeks back (if you follow me on the GRAM) you saw I was in the process of reading the book, Cowgirl Power by Gay Gaddis. I'm always on the search for new books, especially those in the leadership development, business and female empowerment sections.
Lucky for you - I have a sneak peek of the first chapter. Check it out below!
Personal Power is the Answer
Bessie Herberg’s portrait embodies the essence of cowgirl power. She looks you straight in the eye, walks in with her hat firmly planted on her head, and exudes a sense of personal style and fashion. While many of the cowgirls in this book are pretty rough-and-tumble types, Bessie tells us that it is OK to be a bit of a fashionista if it helps your career and, of course, if it is authentically you. I can tell you, Bessie was authentic! Her character, appearance, and talents gave her personal power.
She is also one of the more than 450 women who worked for Wild West shows and rodeos between 1890 and 1943. These cowgirls were among the first professional athletes in the United States. They learned their horseback riding and roping skills while growing up on farms and ranches, doing the same work as their fathers and brothers.
When the opportunity came to travel, and make the big time, in many cases on an international stage, they didn’t blink an eye. They were decisive and said, “Let ’er rip!” They rode in the arena and competed with anyone on the rodeo circuit. When recognizing the best of the best, these gals didn’t let gender get in the way of a win. They drew on their own personal power and led the way for us all.
As I studied the powerful cowgirls of our past, I was energized and emboldened, yet humbled. They provide just the kind of role models I believe we can all learn from. The cowgirls will inspire you and help you see a path that perhaps you hadn’t seen before. Let them be your guides. Let them speak to you like no one else can, through their courage, kindness and deeds, competitiveness and authenticity.
CHALLENGES WOMEN FACE IN THE WORKPLACE TODAY
I wrote this book because I wanted to help today’s women, especially young women, and more of my cowgirls’ strength and personal power in their work and family life. I have watched young mothers go through their pregnancies and then face the realities of having a job and a new baby. I have seen very capable women not be as forceful about managing their careers as their male counterparts. I have seen women lose their ambition to take C-suite leadership roles. But I have also seen women who somehow managed it all and succeeded beyond all measure. Why does it work well for some and not so well for others?
I have spent a lot of my time over the past ten years encouraging women to pursue careers in business. I am a member of Paradigm for Parity (P4P)—a coalition of women who want to speed up the pace of gender parity in C-suites and on boards. In 2016, P4P published a white paper, which is a thoughtful list of recommendations of changes that business leaders should make to help the cause. I have attended countless seminars on women’s issues, discussing changes that need to be made. I wholeheartedly support all of these initiatives.
But I am struck by one thing; none of these initiatives say anything about what women need to do to help themselves. All of the recommendations in the Paradigm for Parity white paper1 are things that others should do. There are no recommendations for individual women. The research studies and magazine articles about women’s pay, admission to the C- suites, and being passive and not assertive are endless. They are the most powerful indicator of what is wrong. They do not ask women to buck up. That creates a huge gaping hole in the dialogue. For women to excel in their careers, they need to take on most of the responsibility themselves. By only focusing on what other people should do, they weaken their credibility.
That is not the cowgirl way.
As I researched the issues, I found other challenges women face. Women say they have a hard time seeing themselves as leaders. They struggle with their self-confidence. Fortune, the New York Times, Forbes, and Inc. all have countless stories about women’s lack of condense. Women’s issues with hesitating to asking for deserved promotions and equitable pay are well known.
Here are these smart, capable women who are struggling with work-life balance issues, issues about their inner strength. They have trouble seeing themselves as leaders. Many are dissatised with their senior leadership at work. Many are dissatised with the work environment and culture.
My problem with all of this is that no solutions are ever offered. The most frequent recommendations are that management needs to try harder, recruit more, and do better training. That companies should put more value on diversity. People have been advocating all of that for twenty years with little, if any, impact. I even read one article entitled “7 Ways to Build Your Confidence” that suggested women eat better and exercise more. Give me a break!
The more I thought about it, the more perplexed I got. Why have women not excelled as well as men in the work environment? Why are there so few senior women executives and so few women board members of major corporations when women outnumber men today in college educations and perform well academically?
At first, I thought, it has to be the baby thing. Women have babies as their careers start to develop, and babies come along and derail the career. However, I realize that there are many successful working mothers, so we cannot put all of the emphasis on children being the root cause of women’s apparent lack of success.
I have been a can-do, confident, and a little outrageous person my whole life. So why did I not experience this lack of self-confidence, when so many other women do? Where did my moxie come from? I just powered through the baby issues. Sure, it was tough and challenging, but I never considered leaving the business world. Not once.
As I worked through these questions, I began to see all of these issues as symptoms of a larger issue. I came to one simple revelation — that we all have been talking about the wrong issue. All of these challenges are symptoms, not the real problem. The real problem is that many women do not understand how to build and use personal power as instinctively as men do.
WHAT IS PERSONAL POWER?
Max Weber defined power as “the ability to control others, events, or resources; to make happen what one wants to happen in spite of obstacles, resistance, or opposition.”
Our traditional perception about power in business comes from authority, hierarchy, almost a military-like top-down approach to business. For some situations, like the military, that works great. But for today’s collaborative, creative economy, it can be counterproductive at best.
The power I am describing is not bestowed on you by someone else, it comes from within yourself. It comes from inspiration, charisma, and leadership. It comes from friendship, team work, an open heart, and an abundance of goodwill. It comes from humor and character and grit.
We will not find our power reciting statistics about how little progress we have made. Or whining about lack of direction or mentorship. Or lecturing on what someone else should do. We will find our power with our skills that are perfectly aligned with the drivers of today’s economy — collaboration, innovation, and emotional intelligence.
We will find our power in financial success, profits. Power in imagination, creativity. In empathy, mentoring, leading. Power is there for the taking, and more often than not it comes from connecting with people and offering a hand up. This is a vast, largely untapped source of power for women to draw on that is completely natural, authentic, abundant, and accessible to all, regardless of their position in life.
I am advocating a more thoughtful, strategic approach to building personal power and believe it is the single most important issue facing women and their careers today. This is a new perspective to see our skills, emotions, and intellect in ways that help women appreciate their innate strengths and build upon them. This new perspective about what personal power is will enable women to take on the business world with confidence, self-assurance, and moxie by being who they really are.
When women learn to see these strengths in themselves, they will quickly see that they are just as capable as the men in their organizations, perhaps more so.
WHY IS POWER IMPORTANT?
If you understand business negotiations, you know the answer. Most of your interactions with people in your life are negotiations. Maybe not negotiations in the classic business sense, but negotiations nonetheless. Where are we going to lunch? Are we going to have children? Where are we going on vacation? I deserve a promotion and a raise; do you agree?
We all know it is best to negotiate from a position of strength. You can find strength if you change your perception about what personal power is.
Let me give you an example. There is a guy at my company who has invited every new employee to lunch during their first week on the job for over ten years. No one ever asked him to do it, he just did. He had no authority, no direct reports. But by his act of kindness and genuine interest in people, he became one of the most respected, powerful people in our company. He always knew more about what was going on than anyone else. There is an old saying in Texas, “If an owl tells you something, you can take it to the bank.” He earned that same authority.
Someone told me recently that personal power is all the things you do at work that are not in your job description. That sums it up pretty well.
Cowgirl power is about developing what already exists in you. It is not a quick or easy answer. It does not get around hard work and dealing with tough issues. It is not a shortcut. But it is about taking personal responsibility for yourself and not being too reliant on others. It is about methodically building your skills and knowledge so that you get better and better. Growing your competencies is the only authentic way to become authentically assertive.
I am not advocating that all women should pursue challenging business careers. I admire moms who choose to stay at home and focus their energy on their kids. Some of those moms start their own small businesses that give them a lot of flexibility. Many are the backbone of our communities, serving as volunteers across so many worthy organizations that could not exist without them. Still other women enjoy their jobs without having aspirations of taking on executive leadership responsibilities. Many of them have different values that are not compatible with the C-suite. I get it.
Building your personal power increases your options. What you want to do with your life is your decision. I want you to have many wonderful choices at every stage of your life.