Each week we are reminded of the importance of a larger story unfolding among women. Regardless of where we call home, we are all part of a global sisterhood collectively writing a new narrative. Every time we hear news about the global state of women, it is an invitation beckoning us to be part of a larger purpose. This message of a global sisterhood especially resonated with me last year. The following is an excerpt from my new book titled Your Lion Inside.
What is Truly at Stake
On February 23, 2017, I was leading a three-day training program for a group of corporate women identified as high-potential leaders for a global company of 180,000 employees. We were in a quaint village a few kilometers outside of Paris, France. For three days, we worked on enhancing their executive presence, building their leadership brand and improving their overall communications skills. As with many sessions like this before, the bulk of the work was in reminding each of them how talented they really were. The Narrative had done quite a job of dimming the light – the power - within. My job was to be a mirror that allowed each of these women to see in themselves what I could so clearly see: talented women with an unbelievable amount of power waiting to be unleashed.
It came to the last day of the program, and Aki, a talented young woman from India, was preparing to present a speech. Throughout our time together, I had noticed an unusual characteristic in Aki: any time she had something to say, she would simply start talking and wouldn’t stop until everyone else in the room had no choice but to be quiet. It did not matter who was talking or what the subject was. It was quite disconcerting at times. I was baffled about how to address it. As I was helping Aki get ready to go out on stage and give her presentation, I asked her about this communication technique. In those few moments, I could see and feel the intense fear surrounding that subject for her. She was having difficulty articulating why she communicated in that manner. In that awkward moment of silence, I finally understood what was really happening.
That characteristic – the very one that the rest of us in the session were baffled by – was a sign of strength in the region of India where she was from. It was what she had to do EVERY SINGLE DAY TO EVEN HAVE A CHANCE TO BE HEARD. She literally had to steamroll over the men in her culture simply to get a word in edgewise. It was the only way she ever had a voice. Time did not allow for reflection; it was time for her to present to the class.
Aki walked slowly to the front of the room to begin her presentation. As she started to speak, her voice began to shake and the tears started to fall. She was visibly shaken by our previous conversation. No one spoke a word. My heart was breaking with hers. It was a moment of truth unlike any other I had experienced in my twenty years of training. The class was baffled about what was unfolding. After a moment of heartfelt consideration, I walked onstage, stood next to Aki, and told the class about our previous conversation.
Then the magic happened.
I watched as this group of women from seven different countries came together to support Aki in that moment of uncertainty. Rashida, a brave leader from the U.K., said with absolute conviction, “Aki, we know you don’t have this kind of support in your world, but I want you to know you have it right now. And it does not have to stop with this training class. You are one of us, and we are right here to encourage you every step of the way.” The powerful commentary continued. For the first time in her life, Aki was experiencing a professional sisterhood. She took a deep breath and composed herself. Emboldened by the strength of the women surrounding and supporting her, Aki delivered her presentation with power. It was an amazing moment that transcended age, race and nationality, defined by the transformational power of sisterhood. It is a sisterhood that truly has the power to change the world, one woman at a time.
On the long flight home, as I was replaying the powerful moments of the program in my mind, it hit me. I now knew what was truly at stake. I finally understood what the Sisterhood had been trying to tell me all along.
If those of us living in countries today that allow us the “freedom” to fully embrace our power don’t do it, then our sisters like Aki in other countries don’t have a chance.
We are part of a much larger collective story, playing out day after day across the world. I returned home with a renewed passion to inspire every woman to fully embrace the power she does have. I am on a quest to inspire women across the globe to shift their lives from the weakness of the red zone to the power of the green zone. To shift from living life small - like a kitten – to a life fueled by the power of a mighty lion. When we find ourselves tempted to give in instead of lean in, think of Aki and sisters like her around the world. Every single day, we can choose to embrace the power available to us. Because in fact, we are lucky to have it.
A week after the program, I received an email from Rashida, the British woman who had supported Aki so powerfully . . .
“I am traditionally a bit of a cynic when it comes to leadership coaching, but you reset my views . . . you made me realize that us ladies can be who we are: strong, empathetic and supportive for each other without losing respect. A genuine and heartfelt thanks. I don’t normally work well with other women, especially when it comes to receiving feedback. You somehow created a constructive, supportive and safe place for us to try out new techniques without fear – and with a group of women who are usually deeply competitive in the room - it was quite something to see!” R.G. from the U.K.
We each can shift our focus from fear to faith – in ourselves and in each other – once we understand the well-being of women around the world is truly at stake. No action is too small. No gesture too insignificant. The story is no longer simply about us.