Book excerpt: "On Becoming Fearless"

About the Author
Arianna Huffington is the editor of the Huffington Post, a nationally syndicated columnist, and author of eleven books, including the international bestseller "Picasso: Creator and Destroyer," and "Pigs at the Trough." She lives in Los Angeles with her two daughters.

Here's an excerpt from her latest book:

"Fearless About Leadership and
Speaking Out

The Power of One

"In 2003, I ran for governor of California, part of a large field of candidates that included then Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante and the ultimate victor, Arnold Schwarzenegger. As exhilarating as the experience was, it also had its bruising moments.

None more so than the big televised debate Arnold dubbed “the Super Bowl of debates" (perhaps because it was the only one he took part in).

Throughout the debate, whenever I was making a point — indeed, whenever I opened my mouth — Bustamante, in his deep baritone, kept repeating, “Yes, Arianna. Yes, Arianna." Occasionally he would throw in an eye-roll. It was a condescending refrain, weary and bored, as if he could barely summon the energy to tolerate a typical nagging woman. It was the equivalent if “Take two Midol and you’ll feel better in the morning, honey."

Schwarzenegger expressed his displeasure at having to debate a full-throttle female by suggesting that I drink more decaf — a comment that is hard to imagine being addressed to a man.

In fact, that debate made me realize how deeply ingrained our culture’s fear of assertive women is and how much of this fear women have unconsciously internalized. After the debate, I came off the stage and was immediately surrounded by dozens of young female students who thanked me for taking a stand and not backing down. I was moved by the gratitude — but also stunned by it. I certainly didn’t think I deserved any special thanks simply for speaking my mind. Nor did I think that young women in 2003 would still be hungering for role models to help them gain the courage to find their own voice.

But even in 2006 it’s hard for a woman to challenge prevailing orthodoxies and not be attacked and caricatured for it. We’re still required, first and foremost, to be sweet and adorable. A man who doesn’t toe the line is not only tolerated but even hailed as an appealing scamp or rogue, but an unconventional, self- assured woman is far more likely to be seen as a ball-busting bitch . . . who needs to drink more decaf.

Let’s face it: Our culture still isn’t comfortable with powerful, visible, outspoken women. We equate power with maleness, manliness, dominance — even ruthlessness — all of which happen to be traits that women fear being identified with because we
know we will be called "pushy," "shrill," and "strident." The epithets strike right at our femininity — as if the very notions of power and womanliness are mutually exclusive. No wonder women are often afraid to stand up, take the lead, speak out. The result? A very uneasy relationship between women, power, and the traits necessary to be a leader.

But if we are going to tap into our natural reserves of leadership, and this means expressing ourselves without apology, we will need to move away from accepting these fear-driven stereotypes. “Fearlessness," wrote La Rochefoucauld, “is a more than ordinary strength of mind, which raises the soul above the troubles, disorders, and emotions which the prospect of great dangers are used to produce."


We tend to think of leadership solely as an external force — associated with those who eff ectively carry out the responsibilities of their office or direct their staff in a confident way. That’s very useful, but it’s only one kind of leadership. There is another kind — internal leadership — that does not depend on office or position or staff hierarchy or anything imposed or granted from without. Th is kind of leadership is generated instead by an inner force that compels us to try and make the surrounding world — whether it’s our family, our community, the entire nation, or beyond — a better place.

"There comes a time," Martin Luther King said in 1968, "when one must take the position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must do it because conscience tells him it is right." King didn’t wait for a leadership platform to be granted to him. It would have been a long wait. His leadership grew out of his moral authority and ability to inspire. He was the ultimate internal leader. And does anyone doubt that we’re starving for such real leadership today, in a time when what passes for leadership means just being obsessed with finding the political middle, the elusive M-spot that, according to conventional wisdom, is the prerequisite for achieving power?

When we define leadership only in the most narrow, external way — thinking of it only as it relates to elected offi ce and the executive suites of corporate America — we undervalue the internal qualities of leadership that made outsiders like Dr. King and Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa such powerful leaders. For women to be fearless in leadership, we have to embrace these internal gifts.

There’s no doubt that it takes some exceptional qualities to get to the top. Especially when on the way up, a woman will be dogged by charges of "ambition," "drive," and "pushiness." But the biggest obstacle isn’t the media or male colleagues (or even some of our fellow females). Worse than the culture’s approach to women in power are our own fears about power: the fear that we’re setting ourselves up for attack, the fear that we’ll alienate others, the fear that we may actually become the caricature of the obnoxious, shrill, she-devil boss. All these fears manifest themselves in the fear of expressing ourselves. It’s an internalized censorship of ambition. Which is all the worse because now more than ever, we need women leaders to take us beyond the world of fear we live in. Real leadership is too rare and too valuable to limit the pool to half the population.

The prevailing models of leadership today have been the leader as panderer or the leader as fear-monger, whipping up a climate of fear and then appealing to our most basic — and base —instincts. And following 9/11, we were all forced to add the fear of losing everything to terrorism to the garden-variety fears of losing our jobs, losing our health, losing a child to drugs, and so on.

But are we really any safer because of all the fear? Have we gained anything by it? More important, what have we lost? We need a new model of leadership, one that doesn’t involve leading through fear but rather leading through bringing out what Lincoln called "the better angels of our nature."

As it turns out, women are ideally suited to supplying the qualities we need in leaders right now — being strong and decisive while at the same time being nurturing, wise, and respectful enough to tell the truth with a moral authority that inspires and empowers.

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown (September 4, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN: 0316166812
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