Leaning In: Who's Sitting at the Table With You?

I'm all for Sheryl Sandberg's first tenet in her wonderful book, Lean In. That's where she says that women should Sit at the Table.

She's absolutely correct. Too often women are given opportunities - or are being kept from opportunities - as a result of that one behavior. If you don't sit at the table, you're not a player. You don't get the chance to shine. You're - in old fashioned terms - a wallflower.

But when you do sit at the table, be very, very aware of who's sitting there with you - because it's not always pretty. And even after all these years (given that I've been sitting at that table for decades) I'm still surprised by the backward, demeaning behaviors of too many of the men who sit there, too.

Here's just one example of how I know.

I had been invited by a Board member who knew me to meet the CEO of a new technology company on whose Board he was sitting. The Board member's thinking was that - even though the CEO already had a consultant with whom he was working - if the CEO and I "hit it off" I would give the organization's leader guidance that he wouldn't find elsewhere.

Frankly, that isn't quite the way I like to do business - but I like the Board member, he's a seriously good guy and, knowing how he felt about the company, I figured if I could help, I would.

That wasn't what the CEO wanted, however. And it quickly became clear he especially didn't want guidance from a woman.

How did I know the bit about a woman? He compared me to his wife.

This is a dead giveaway for when men aren't happy with what you're saying - or, possibly, your existence in their lives. Suddenly, they put you in the same category as their wives when they're not happy with them - as if you've created a "Honey Do" list for them to complete, rather than providing them with good guidance and input for them to consider.

They don't want to hear it. They don't want to do it. They don't want you there.

The meeting continued - because I'm polite - but, even in being polite, I made clear to the CEO that his behavior was unacceptable. He tried to fob it off as if he was just kidding, but as soon as I called him on his behavior, he backed off. Then he tried again. And I called him on it again.

We went a third round of that behavior before he realized I wasn't going to take it. That I wasn't willing to demean myself by letting him demean me just to get his business.

I had far more respect for myself than that.

What's most important about this for you is the corollary to Sit at the Table. You have to decide whether you want to sit at that particular table.

Because sometimes you don't. The key is to remember:

You always have options. Learn to see them and act upon them.

In this case, I wasn't willing to sit at the table with that CEO - at least not in the position the Board member had suggested. That didn't mean, however, that I didn't want to sit at the table. I liked the company and what it was doing. I liked the Board member. I wanted them to succeed.

So, I found another place to sit: As advisor to the Non-Executive Board members.

This worked out just fine - even for the CEO. He knew he couldn't take his shots at me in front of the Board so, instead, he learned to listen to what I had to say. It didn't happen the first time out...nor the second. But he got there and the company thrived under the shared guidance of the CEO, his Board...and me.

So, when you sit at the table, make sure you know who's sitting there with you. You may - or may not - like the company you'll be keeping. And, if you don't, don't stay. It's really not worth it.
More on Leaning In:
   Leaning In: When You're Asked...Say Yes (llk)   Lean In Applied: The Secret for Your Success (llk)

You Didn't Build That...Or Did You?

Just so you know, it's a trick question.

That's because the answer always is: Yes. You did.

How do I know? That's an easy one to answer: If it's yours - from start-up to SMB to multi-national - if you're at its head at this moment...whether first line supervisor or built it.

Did you do it alone? No. Could you have? No. Will anyone ever build anything in business alone? No.

Because it doesn't work that way. Excuse the Kumbayah vernacular, but it really does take a village - no matter what kind of enterprise you've built or are trying to build.

The question, therefore, isn't about whether or not you built it. The questions you should be asking are:
  • Is it what I want?
  • How did it get this way?
  • How much history is driving our present?
  • How much is that helping or hurting us?
  • What do we need to change?
  • How've we been doing in making those changes?
  • What do we need to do differently in successfully executing the changes we need?
  • What kind of data do we have to tell us that any of the answers to the questions we just went through are actually true?
  • What kind of measures do we need to ensure we know what we're talking about now and for our future?
And those questions are just the beginning. 

Take it as said: You built it. What you want to know - and act upon - is: What do I want to do with it?

That's when you'll create the success you seek.

(If you thought I was going to go play with the politicians on this one - not this time. Frankly, when it comes to this, they don't know what they're talking about anyway.)

Marissa Mayer and the War on Women

There are two really popular lies about women being told today.  One is that there's no "war on women."  That all the Republican legislation that's being passed or attempted - by men - to inhibit women from living their lives the way they want...or just to be a skewed view being perpetrated by the Democrats.

The other is that it's not because Marissa Mayer is a woman that she's getting all this attention - and insult - as the newly appointed CEO of Yahoo!  No.  From the wildly varying stories about her compensation package to that whole business about her pregnancy isn't because she's female.  It's because she's the CEO.

Hmmm.  Funny thing about both those lies.  First, they're just that: lies.  Second, they're both based on the same thing: inhibiting women from whatever form of self-determination and achievement they seek.

Most importantly, even within the legislative agenda, it's not just the men who are going after women.  It is - as usual - women, too.

I was appalled to read the comments made by a former female co-worker of Ms. Mayer's in a recent Business Insider article (written by a man) that was nothing less than an open season of personal shots.  The "source" wouldn't give her own name, of course, but she was happy to insult and demean Ms. Mayer in as many ways as she could (except about the pregnancy).

What was worse was that the things that she was complaining about would NEVER have come up were Ms. Mayer a man.  They were about her working style and power plays and management methods.  What they show is that she knows how to be a player.

So, whether you like those behaviors or not, they work.  Because the fact is, Google is, in great part, Google, because of Ms. Mayer's smarts and capability.

At least that's what everyone said right up until she became CEO of Yahoo!

For my part, I was actually proud of Yahoo's Board for selecting another woman after the Carol Bartz debacle.  It would have been very easy for them to have selected a man - simply by sheer numbers of candidates.

They didn't, though.  They chose the talent, perspective, commitment and smarts they wanted and know the company needs.

I'm all for Ms. Mayer's success - because I want Yahoo! to succeed.  And, based on the perspective of smart people like Marc Andreessen and Fred Wilson, Yahoo! is in a much better position to do so now than in years.

As for the anonymous "sources" and all the talk about "working maternity leave" and all the rest, let it go and get over it. Women and men bring their respective talents to everything they do.

For the smart people in the room, that's all that matters - and all that should.

Leadership: Broken Promises

I've been on a tear lately. I admit it. And my poor, hapless customers have been the recipients.

I've been holding them to their promises.

When I was a little girl, I learned from my father - an entrepreneur in his own right - that your word was your bond. That you didn't say anything that you didn't fully intend to deliver on.  That a handshake was as good as a contract - better, in fact, because a handshake was you putting your integrity on the line.

You kept your promises.

If you didn't you were a liar. Sometimes a cheat. Always someone not to be altogether trusted.

Not now and, possibly, not going forward.

That's why I've been on a tear. It bothers me that:

  • Executives say things to their employees that, in their heads, they think they're going to do - but, in reality, know that they won't.
  • Customers say to their suppliers that they're doing a deal - and then renege on it, whether in whole or in part or in any way at all.
  • Compensation Committees on Boards promise shareholders that they'll ensure that CEOs are fairly paid for their accomplishments - and then give the CEOs far more than they deserve.

Most of all, it bothers me that those on the receiving end - whether employees, suppliers or shareholders - feel that they can't do anything about the situation.

You're wrong if you feel that way. And you're wrong if you don't do something about it.

After all, in your personal life...

When you promise that you're going to do something - or even that you'll do your best - you keep those promises, don't you? And...

...when someone gives a promise to you, you expect them to keep it, don't you?

This is no different.

Because when someone breaks a promise to you in your personal life, you question whether you want to have them as part of your life any longer. From friends to your local dry cleaner, it's the same thing. Promises made and broken lead to decisions that end friendships and ensure you'll find other providers of services that you can trust.

So, if you're making promises that you know you can't or won't keep - stop it.

If something has changed, let the person on the receiving end know. Chances are, they'll understand.

If you're on the receiving end of promises that are consistently broken, go on a tear. Hold the person who's making those promises to their word - even if it's just by reminding them that they said what they did.

It's time for honesty and integrity to come back into vogue. It's time for everyone to keep their promises.

The HP Dilemma

Are there any right answers for HP? Can it play in a world that isn't tied to its recent past - let alone its founders' vision for the company and the way it would operate?

Leo Apotheker, HP's CEO since September 2010, is the newest executive to try to figure out what the right answers are for the company - and yesterday's earnings call gave everyone an excellent idea of what he sees in HP's future.

He sees another version of IBM.

Product versus Service

Say HP to most people and they'll think printers. They might think PCs as well, but printers are inextricably bound with HP's brand and reputation.

And that's about all the past HP will keep as it moves into its future.

In direct contrast to Mr. Apotheker's two predecessors, Carly Fiorina - who acquired Compaq - and Mark Hurd - who acquired Palm, the company is now going to move very quickly away from hardware. Except those printers.

Forget the tablets and phones - even though they were just introduced. They're not working - so they're out. Now.

As for the PC's, he's looking at spinning off the company and as soon as HP can find a buyer, those will be gone, too.

What's taking their place? Services. The cloud. And the acquisition of Autonomy, one of the leading enterprise information management software companies.

Who'd've Guessed?

In many ways, what is most interesting is the surprise on the part of the markets and media regarding this move. In fact, it was predictable.

For all that Mr. Apotheker said he wanted to make HP as "cool as Apple," there was no way in his space that he could pull that off.

Besides which, Mr. Apotheker's previous position was as CEO of SAP, the German enterprise software giant. He's not primarily a hardware guy. he's a software and service guy. So, of course, he'd manage to his strengths.

It just worked out nicely that the economy was such that hardware purchases were moving on a downward trajectory. It made it easy for him to justify getting out - and going where he undoubtedly planned on going from the start.

The HP Way

The only real questions that are left are:

  1. In a market that has become saturated by players like IBM (services) and Amazon (the cloud), can HP find a niche for itself that it can own? and
  2. Can Mr. Apotheker, both within the company and in the eyes of the marketplace, revive the reputation of HP - a company that is seen to have lots its way? and, finally,
  3. Will he have enough time to accomplish his goals?

It's a tough go for CEOs - particularly when they're short-term oriented and are looked to for short-term results. Mr. Apotheker is at the helm of a company that has shown in its past that it can do wonders in innovation, marketshare, shareholder value and corporate culture.

But that was when it had a long-term vision and stuck to it.

Let's hope he's now pointing it not just in his preferred direction - but in the right direction.

[Note: This article was previously published on Technorati.]