Secrets to Leadership, Business and Life
Do women face a unique relationship with power?
Do successful women pay a “popularity penalty”?
How do women unlock their personal power?
Nancy D. O’Reilly, PsyD, is a clinical psychologist, author, speaker, and an expert in empowering women. She is the founder of Women Connect4Good, Inc., and for seven years she has interviewed influential women for online podcasts available on her website. Her new book Leading Women: 20 Influential Women Share Their Secrets to Leadership, Business and Life is aimed at helping women maximize personal power and improve their self-esteem and business success.
I recently had the opportunity to talk with her about her research and findings about women’s leadership, influence, and power.
Now Is the Time
Despite some of the statistics you cite about income and other inequalities, you have a strong optimism about “now” as a wonderful time for women. Why the optimism?
I’ve been working for women empowerment all of my professional life. When I went back to college, and then during my doctoral research, very few people were talking about women empowerment. I felt very lonely.
Now, everywhere I look, people are talking about empowering women: self-help books, networking and mentoring groups, even the media. And why not? Women buy 85% of goods and services; it’s time for our voices to be heard. And as women are getting better at working together, I see a movement in which we claim our power and help one another create a better world.
“Successful women pay a popularity penalty.” Would you explain that a bit more? What should a successful woman do?
When a woman is successful, she risks denigration by her competitors, the media and other women and men. Studies show the more successful a woman is, the less “likeable” she is perceived to be. Look at a Hillary Clinton, when she was the most popular woman in the world and running for president, she had to deal with comments about her dress, her hair, how old she looked. It constantly undermined her credibility. Lois Phillips, one of my Leading Women co-authors, describes how women can build their credibility at the beginning of a speech, which men rarely have to do. Their credibility is assumed just because they are at the podium.
Think About the Next 15 Minutes
“Stay present” is part of your advice to empowerment. How does one stay present? What are the benefits?
You can’t control yesterday or tomorrow and it’s a waste of time to fret about what we can’t control. When I met the Dali Lama a few years ago, he predicted that the future of the world lay with the western woman. But, he cautioned, we would need to “wake up.” That means stay present and concentrate and focus on now.
In Leading Women, I tell the story of a woman I interviewed who worked on a ski patrol rescue team. They focused on only “the next 15-minutes” when working to get a person off the mountain. To solve your problems and live your life, it’s best to keep your attention on right now. I meditate every day, which helps me turn on my senses and really experience the world around me. My mind wakes up, I’m better at solving problems, and I’m a whole lot happier.
Cultivating the Spirit of Gratitude
I love what you say about thankfulness: “Gratitude awakens us; we see our opportunities and rise to our challenges, instead of obsessing about our barriers and failures.” In what ways can we cultivate this spirit?
I keep a gratitude journal. It only takes a few minutes to write down six things I’m grateful for before going to bed and after waking up. If I go to sleep thinking about all the good things, I welcome more of the same into my dream state and wake up refreshed. Try it. Start off your day with six little positives — they don’t have to be big things. “I’m grateful for this warm, soft bed” is fine. Gratitude can empower you to greater success.
Tell me about the 19 contributing authors. Each added a view that was unique, yet supportive of the overall message of the book. How did you choose them?
Over the years, I’ve interviewed hundreds of people for my podcasts, “Conversations with Smart Amazing Women.” I wanted to reach a wider audience with this wealth of information and the 19 women I selected shared the mission of my Women Connect4Good, Inc. foundation. Each offered concrete steps to help women empower themselves. These women had survived the trenches to become leaders in their fields.
3 Ways to Lead a Life of Influence
Your book is filled with advice for women to lead a life of influence. Off the top of your head, would you share just three ideas that help women lead?
First of all, don’t let fear stop you. As Susan Jeffers wrote in her landmark book, Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway. Sheryl Sandberg asked women to say what they would do if they weren’t afraid and then challenged them to do that thing. When we do things even though we are afraid, we grow.
Second, accept and claim your power to lead. My Leading Women contributor Gloria Feldt wrote a chapter about how women shy away from power. We don’t seek “power over,” yet when we imagine the “power to” accomplish our purpose, we claim our power to join with others.
Third, be your authentic self. There are still women who mimic a masculine, top-down style of leadership that is alien to most women. Studies show that women’s natural skills help businesses succeed. We develop relationships, collaborate, negotiate and share both the information and the glory.
What’s your hope for the women who read this book?
This book shows how other women have had the courage and gained the skills to overcome obstacles. I hope they will use these tools to join together with other women and men to pursue their passion and purpose. It’s a women-helping-women movement and together we will change the world.
Leading Women: 20 Influential Women Share Their Secrets to Leadership, Business and Life