If I Had A Hammer: What Can An Old Song Teach Today’s Leaders?

Gloria Feldt
5 min readMar 26, 2024


Issue 255 — March 25, 2024

I often share the metaphor of a hammer in leadership development training and speaking. That’s because power is like a hammer — you can build something with it or break something apart.

Power has no attributes of its own. It’s energy to be used at will, and it becomes whatever we do with it.

It’s the same with leadership.

I’ve found in both my research into what holds women back from leadership and in doing training, as I had the pleasure of doing recently with 100 women@amazon, that when I root the discussion first in understanding power and shifting the paradigm from oppressive power OVER to generative power TO, something magic happens.

The leadership of women@amazon organized an extraordinary event. Next to me (in red of course) is Take The Lead leadership ambassador Keisha McKinnor who co-facilitated the workshop. In either side of us, leaders of the group, including Caroline Taylor and Julianna Andujo.

Women drop the masks that have protected them from the old, largely male-dominated and defined, narrative of power being a finite resource that we must fight over in order to attain dominance. Dominance, or power OVER being the point of that paradigm.

Yet like with a hammer, you can lead for good or evil. In reality, there is no finite resource of human intelligence or innovation or love — any of the things that actually grow the economy and make life better for everyone.

John Pombier, Senior Manager Community Engagement at Amazon opened the 9 Leadership Power Tools to Advance Your Career workshop by telling the smart, ambitious 100 women in the room they have the power to lead.

The fact that a leader has great power doesn’t necessarily mean he or she leads for good.

I was glad to see the Opperman Foundation called out on this distinction, causing the organization to scrap its plan to honor Elon Musk and Rupert Murdoch with their vaunted Ruth Bader Ginsburg award. The leadership of Musk and Murdoch, though in amassing raw power could be deemed effective, is notably antithetical to Justice Ginsburg’s leadership for good, for equality, and for the values of democracy.

Musk opened up what used to be my favorite social media platform, Twitter, now called X, to the worst of anti-democracy, racist, sexist, antisemitic vitriol. Murdoch’s media empire has infected the world with the notion that actual facts don’t matter when they contravene his political views and financial interests.

Thank you Barbra Streisand and the Ginsburg family for standing up for the kind of leadership for the good of all that RBG exemplified and standing up to the Opperman Foundation so that they canceled the awards.

And thank you, Gloria Steinem, for reminding me of the 1960’s protest song “If I Had a Hammer” during our virtual conversation with Jamia Wilson on the occasion of Take The Lead’s 10th anniversary kickoff.

This verse of the lyrics still resonates:

“Now, I’ve got a hammer
And I’ve got a bell
And I’ve got a song to sing
All over this land

It’s the hammer of justice
It’s the bell of freedom, yeah
It’s the song about the love between my brothers and my sisters
All, all over this land.”

Yes, it’s all about how you use that hammer, that power that you have, especially when you are in a leadership role.

But power unused as power useless.

This panel on the all important “Money Matters” facilitated by Alex Cohen, political anchor and host, Charter Communications, gave women practical ways to build wealth and support causes. Take The Lead’s former board chair and founder of the Women Connect 4 Good Foundation Dr. Nancy O’Reilly shared that we should change language from “nonprofit” to “social profit” to show the value of the nonprofit sector.

As published in the Harvard Business Review, “The number of women in senior leadership roles is low and declining. But people see women as just as competent as men.” Professors Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman have been doing this research for well over a decade and the result is always the same: women actually score higher than men in most frequently identified needed leadership skills.

Other studies by highly credible sources such as McKinsey, Bain, and EY have found that companies with more women in their leadership are more profitable.

Yet the consequences when women don’t have the mindset, skills, and tools to embrace their power TO with confidence, authenticity, and joy are exactly what so often takes us backwards at worst and keeps us in stasis at best, instead of continuing progress toward gender parity in leadership.

On March 22, I got up at the ungodly hour of 3am to fly to Los Angeles to join hundreds of women passionate about elevating women in all areas to learn the latest research from Mount Saint Mary’s University Center for the Advancement of Women.

Titled, “The Cost of Being A Woman: Advancing Solutions for Economic Equity,” the detailed report showed the molasses speed with which progress is happening in gender and racial earnings, leadership roles, and caregiving responsibilities. While the report proposed much needed systemic solutions, much of the focus was on the disparities and problems rather than an action plan for preparing women to embrace their phenomenal power so they will elevate their intentions for leadership and then know how to get there.

Pay, power, and leadership positions are interconnected and key to true equality.

The data hasn’t moved the dial. Data rarely does. So I’m just going to say it. I know how to fix the problem and help women break through the systemic and resulting internal barriers.

We must begin redefining power and changing the paradigm in our own minds. Without that critical step, ten years from now, we will still be talking about the problems of inequality instead of celebrating the breakthrough to intersectional gender parity in leadership that is eminently possible. And I am not willing to let that happen. That’s why I cofounded Take The Lead. But we can’t do it alone.

Contact me. Gloria Feldt at Take The Lead Women or through our website at www.taketheadwomen.com. We have what we need. Let’s take it to the finish line of true equality for everyone’s good. I can’t wait to hear from you.

GLORIA FELDT is the Cofounder and President of Take The Lead, a motivational speaker, a global expert in women’s leadership development and DEI for individuals and companies that want to build gender balance. She is a bestselling author of five books, most recently Intentioning: Sex, Power, Pandemics, and How Women Will Take The Lead for (Everyone’s) Good. Honored as Forbes 50 Over 50, and Former President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, she is a frequent media commentator. Learn more at www.gloriafeldt.com and www.taketheleadwomen.com. Find her @GloriaFeldt on all social media.



Gloria Feldt

Gloria Feldt is a New York Times bestselling author and co-founder and president of Take The Lead, a nonprofit women’s leadership organization.