05/30/2013 01:30 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Success is About Getting to the Center, Not the Top

Carolyn Buck Luce

I am looking forward to joining a panel at the Huffington Post's women's conference, "The Third Metric: Redefining Success Beyond Money & Power" on June 6th in New York City.

I have been thinking about this topic for a while as I reflect on the imperative to get more women into impactful roles of meaning and purpose so that we can make the institutions of today -- healthcare, education, politics, religion, capitalism -- better meet the needs of society. We all know that these institutions are broken and require transformational change. This type of change calls for courage. Courage comes from the word "heart" and means "to move forward with your heart in your mouth" during times of fear, uncertainty and doubt.

And change requires courageous leaders taking the hero's journey, leaning into possibilities and doing all that they can to become all that they are meant to be.

I celebrated the beginning of a new era on December 22, 2012 with two auspicious events. I "matriculated" from 40 years in the male-dominated corporate world when I retired as the partner leading the global Life Sciences business at Ernst & Young due to our mandatory partner retirement age of 60, and I got married. In order to "clear my head" and get ready for the next chapter in my journey, my newly-minted husband, Rob, and I spent our honeymoon climbing Mt Kilimanjaro.

Mt Kilimanjaro is the highest peak in Africa and at 19,300 feet, one of the highest in the world. A strange choice for a honeymoon, given that climbing it entailed sleeping in separate mummy bags in little tents in freezing weather, clinging to the side of an old volcano. Why did we do it? Not because we wanted to "conquer" the mountain. In fact, our local guides (and we had a crew of 25 to help us) told us, "You are the conquerors, you will conquer the mountain." However, early on in the climb, we shared a different reason. We were not there to conquer the mountain -- rather, we were there to borrow a little strength and wisdom from the mountain that had been there for over a million years and had wept for many. We climbed Kilimanjaro because we wanted to share the gift of an intense physical, mental, emotional and spiritual experience together -- to really know and feel and remember the spirit of partnership that would take us to and through our dying days.


In fact, we were not there to get to the top -- but rather, to find the center. The essence of strength and human limits, of love and partnership.

I have thought a lot about the courageous leadership the world needs now and here is the question I keep asking myself: Why is it that courageous women -- women have to be courageous as we are the birthers, the fixers, the caregivers, the mourners -- why is it that courageous women find it challenging to be all that they want to be at work? Surely, it is not because we don't "lean in" enough. It's that "leaning in" is not enough.

What I have learned is that women need to be clear about why they are working and who they are committed to be as leaders, taking the hero's journey to be all they can be for a better world and getting to the center, not the top. Authentic, bold, strong and committed leaders who get to the essence of the matter -- your value proposition, your team, your project, your community -- rise to the top that matters, the pinnacle of their souls.

By understanding these metrics and designing performance measurements and rewards that celebrate getting to the center, not the top, we will create the institutions that actually meet the needs of society and create the legacy that the next generations will thank us for.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post in conjunction with our women's conference, "The Third Metric: Redefining Success Beyond Money & Power" which will take place in New York on June 6, 2013. To read all of the posts in the series and learn more about the conference, click here. Join the conversation on Twitter #ThirdMetric.