I love men, I do. And I love reading their books that tell me to hustle and crush it and kill it. But, here’s the thing: I’m not a man, and that means that I get to operate with a much broader and well-nuanced set of tools that I am afforded as a woman. Sure, we get paid pennies on the dollar (#equalpay!), but we also have multitudes within us that we let lay fallow if only take advice from one sex.
Watching the USWNT win the World Cup got me reflecting lately about how I learned to be a leader, how I found my voice, how I shaped an identity that was forged in my own experiences but modelled after those I admire. Time and time again, I came back to the women in my life. It got me thinking that we could use a Badass Women’s Book Club fashioned around these lessons, not just the ‘what’ of our goals – money, title, power, prestige – but a more layered look at the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ too, things like impact and flexibility. These are my suggestions for a starter (wolf)pack. Some are old, some are new, all are transformational:
Everybody’s Got Something by Robin Roberts
I wanted to start here because Robin Roberts starts her own book by passing along a key piece of wisdom from her mother: “Everybody’s got something.” And by that, she means that no one is perfect, no matter how much they make it seem so from the outside. This is beautiful; each of us is unique, both in the challenges we face but also in the strengths that we bring to the table as well.
In this book, Robin takes us on a journey through her life so far, which includes triumphs over barriers, but also the difficulty, pain, and heartache of beating breast cancer only to then five years later go through a bone marrow transplant to overcome a rare blood disorder. She chose to follow her mother’s advice to “make her mess her message” and let us have a front row view of it all, live and in real time. In that process, we got to see how her “something” could have stopped her in her tracks but instead gave her even more strength.
Presence by Amy Cuddy
So, you’ve got something. Now, how do you galvanize it so that you can show up in those biggest moments in your life? They say happiness is an inside job. Guess what? So is presence. The problem, however, is that we are only shown one model: big, tough, brute strength. What is there was another way, your way?
Harvard professor Amy Cuddy teaches us how to use our body language, our behavior, and our mindset to quiet the inner demon and find our inner champion, whatever that might look like for you. You might remember her internationally acclaimed TED talk on “power poses” but in this
book she goes beyond that and brings both the science as well as the techniques we need to perform at our best, and help others perform at theirs, too.
Fearless Leadership by Carey Lohrenz
Turning to the kick in the ass portion of the list, I’d like to introduce Carey Lohrenz, the first female F-14 fighter pilot in the Navy. If you look up the word “badass” in the dictionary, I’m pretty sure Carey’s picture is right there. And I’m pretty sure she’s in a leather dress, too.
Carey knows a thing or two about high performance environments and fearless leadership, and she’s boiled it all down in this book to three fundamentals that we can all live into: courage, tenacity, and integrity. What’s special about this book is that Carey translates these lessons not just for Fortune 500 executives, but for everyone, at every level of their career, offering advice on how to set a bold vision, bring people together, executive effectively, and stay resilient.
On the Edge by Alison Levine
Another member of the badass pioneer club is Alison Levine, who captained the first all-female American expedition up Mount Everest. She’s also climbed the highest peak on each continent, and skied both the North and South Poles. Casual. Alison tells the story of the climb up Everest, coming so close to the top, and having to turn back around just a few hundred feet from the peak.
She describes the decision that she had to make as the captain whether to try for the top in rapidly declining weather conditions, making a life or death decision that getting to the top isn’t success, but getting back down (alive) is. That’s not a decision made with ego, it’s one made with nuance. And, oh, yeah, she went back up again, and this time made it all the way. Both times were successes, and her explanation of why will leave your interpretation of your own goals forever changed.
Own It by Sallie Krawcheck:
Listen, if you are going to grab the power, you are going to need some money. We as women have a complicated relationship with money, mostly because money has also been a male construct in our world. But why is that? Why do men get marketed to differently than women by financial services companies? And what are the effects of that on our long-term financial security?
Sallie Krawcheck, who had an enviable career on Wall Street before founding Ellevest, a company redefining investing for women, answers these questions and provides the understanding you need to own your own future by having control of the financial part of your story. And, in the process, also talks about how the future of work includes women in different ways than ever before and that, if fact, it is up to us to show up with everything that we are as women in order to ensure that the workplace fulfils its transformation. I, for one, am ready to take up her challenge!
Wolfpack by Abby Wambach
And then there is the matter of the people with whom you surround yourself. Do you have a wolfpack? I do, and I’m lucky that it includes Carey Lohrenz and Alison Levine, above. Abby brings the lessons she learned as a two-time Olympic gold medalist, FIFA World Cup Champion, and the highest all-time international goal scorer for male and female soccer players, to bear in this manifesto on women in the workplace and beyond, introducing us to the new rules of leadership development which include harnessing our personal power and unleashing it through our shared experience. She pushes us to demand the ball, lead from the bench, make failure our friend, and champion each other. I’m down for this revolution!
Whiskey in a Teacup by Reese Witherspoon
What’s this? A cookbook and interior design book on the Badass Women’s Book Club recommendation list? Well, it’s Reese Witherspoon, champion of women and amplifier of women’s voices and stories, so you know there is more to it than meets the eye. Reese’s grandmother Dorothea always said that a combination of beauty and strength made southern women “whiskey in a teacup.”
They may be delicate and ornamental on the outside, she said, but inside they’re strong and fiery. So is this book, filled with fried chicken and biscuit recipes and instructions on how to hot roller your hair, but also all sorts of musings that will inspire you to find your power while also holding on to your femininity, in whatever combination and form that takes for you.
Limitless: How to Ignore Everybody, Carve Your Own Path, and Live Your Best Life, Laura
So, you know what you need to do, and you know how you need to do it. But, maybe you still feel like you can’t do it because there are people in your life who will have all sorts of feelings and opinions about your stepping out to be the very best version of yourself, and maybe one that doesn’t comport with their expectations? Look no further than my book, then, for permission to stop giving votes to people in your life who shouldn’t even have voices.
Worried this all sounds a little too much ambition, a word that has gotten a bad rap of late? If having more power, more leverage, more money, more access, more voice allows you to show up better for the people you love and the causes you hold dear, then I say it’s not your ambition, it’s your responsibility.