# 206: Too Rich to Be Courageous?
Story behind the Passage
Currently as I am preparing my “educational turn,” if you want to call it like that, I get a lot feedback on the topic of feminism. It is so funny because when I call a seminar “leadership,” then women are not that interested. If I call it “feminism,” then women are very much interested. To be honest, the literature will differ in these circles but the topic is exactly the same. Empowerment is all about learning and taking leadership. But women are afraid of this, I just have to say it again. And, yes, as I say that, it includes myself. Yes, this is stereotypical but yes, we also know that there is empirical evidence for this. I just have no clue how many books and empowerment programs it takes to finally “make” women lead.
They have to do it themselves, that is the point.
There seem to be so many reasons why women do not lead and all these reasons are just as valid as any other personal reason. Nobody can judge you just because you do not want to lead or because you always have a good reason why you cannot lead. The essence in the end, i.e., the visible result is: Women do not lead. Of course, as you know by now, I am sparing you a lengthy and sophisticated definition of leadership here. You all have some common image in your mind of that leadership might mean. Yes, it could mean taking responsibility in a company. It could also mean running for some political office. It could mean founding a business. Whatever — it means all these things where you simply MOVE one step ahead without asking anybody for his/her approval — you just DO IT.
Since I see that so many people — not just women — seem to have a problem with that, I just have to think about the reasons for this again. And, no, leadership is not easy. But you can learn it. And, no, not everyone has to lead. There are some people who never think about it, never want it. But, please, could you then all shut up in these debates about women’s leadership or a different culture of leadership? This is really bugging me. Since the passage above appears in the chapter “Seek and Speak Your Truth,” I am gonna share my truth about what I suspect is going on.
“Instead, true leadership stems from individuality that is honestly and sometimes imperfectly expressed.” There you go. That is all it takes. You need to be yourself and you need to stand up for that, and you need to open your mouth and say whatever is your subjective truth. It does not sound that complicated but it is not happening. And, of course, reading this in a book by Sheryl Sandberg probably will not change a thing. Why? Because my experience is that women love talking about these books but they never change anything about their own behavior. Or, some do, but the overall effect is still negligible. Am I saying then that books like this one do not help? That talking about stuff like this does not help?
Yes and no.
Maybe I have outgrown the talking crowd already, I do not know. Maybe I just never realized how much I am not a talker but a doer. That is part of my revelation, by the way. I always thought I was not such a good executor when I compared myself to some management guys and leaders in other fields, including the university. It took me a long time to understand that I am actually more of an executor than most of them and I need to stand up for this more. Not merely in front of them — in front of myself. We are making ourselves smaller than we are, of course. It is only a natural reaction of others if they then perceive us that way. That is the principle of resonance that I have talked about so often already.
Is it not resonance that makes me write about women who do not lead?
Do I want to lead?
Am I courageous?
So, let me finally move to my title which I have not even mentioned yet. But it is the essence of what I think constitutes the major problem in our society: We are too rich and probably too safe. What I mean by that is that all strong women — leading women — that I know, especially in entrepreneurship, have gone through some really shitty times in their lives at some point. These shitty times can be of many different colors, mostly they involve a mixture of emotional, financial, and even physical suffering. If you have gone through this, you usually arrive at some point which we commonly refer to as the bottom or ‘point zero,’ as I usually call it. What I mean by that is: You have the feeling or you definitely know that you cannot sink any further. There is nothing to lose, you are there already, it cannot get worse.
This is exactly where leadership emerges.
If you have reached that point, you have usually learned one very important thing: If you do not change the situation, nobody else will. This is the essence of leadership. You initiate some kind of change. In addition, and that is important too, you have usually lost all unnecessary bullshit ego concerns. These concerns usually involve thoughts such as “what do other people think about me if I do xyz”? Or: “What happens if I fail?” Or: “Actually, I do not think it is worth trying….” Again, all these thoughts do not come up anymore if you have reached the very bottom. There is nothing that can get worse. It is such a huge strength that comes out of all this.
The reason why I am saying that we probably are too rich is because money and crisis usually correlate. People might have many emotional burdens but the real moment when they finally start moving is when it is clear that they will have 0 money left the next month — maybe this month. Even if you then just make it to the unemployment agency, that is a sign of self-leadership. You are admitting that something is terribly wrong and you seek help. So, what I am saying with this example is that leadership does not always involve emerging as the big hero or head of some company. It can mean something that feels quite terrible. But the important thing is: YOU DO IT!
I really think that the money issue is a big reason why many women simply do not jump. And the perfectionism is another one, of course. As it says in the quote, “imperfection” is the key. This is what makes us human. If you want to lead, you can only do that, at least successfully, if you are authentic. And authentic means that you make mistakes. That is something that perfectionists cannot bear. Of course, here is a perfectionist writing but as you can also see, you can unlearn perfectionism. Perfectionism is nothing inborn. It is a result of social conditioning. People who you think are in power explicitly or implicitly suggest that you have to be perfect in order to do a particular job. You simply accept that without questioning it. And the end is that your self-esteem shrinks down to zero and even below. This, in turn, leads to the very opposite of women’s leadership — it leads to more of the same.
I usually try to end on a positive note and I also do so today, even though it might not look like it. But I really hope that the financial disaster that is at least affecting some groups of society as a consequence of the pandemic will take away the safety net for some people. I know this sounds cruel but I really think that these tragedies open up room for empowerment. I do not just think of money, I also think of personal loss and mourning. If you have made the experience that everything is lost and you have to start anew, who could stop you? There is nothing to lose. You are more than ever aware of the fact that you have one life only on this planet. If you dream of taking leadership, if you dream of bringing about change, if you want to lead others so they can learn from you — lean in!
And stop reading blogs like this one — they lead nowhere…
1) What is your take on my provocative thesis that being “rich” makes you less courageous?
2) Do you think that books and “Lean In” circles can really make a difference? If not, what does?
3) Is there a leadership position you would like to have? What is the first step that will get you there?