Lean In Applied: The Secret for Your Success

While I wholeheartedly recommend that you read the whole of Sheryl Sandberg's wonderful book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, there's one secret that will ensure your success from your start to wherever you want to go.

It's adopting what I've come to call The Zuckerberg Question as a mantra. That question is:

What would you do if you weren't afraid?

This question, consistently posed by Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, is plastered and painted on the walls of Facebook and Ms. Sandberg correctly plasters it right up front in her book, using it as the subtitle to her first chapter.

Only it's not a subtitle. It's not a sub anything.

It's everything.

Because one of the most important things I learned as I worked with C-level executives and Board members is that - men and women, both - they make far too many of their decisions based on fear. Oh, they wouldn't admit it and they always had excuses - but, far too frequently, the decisions they made came from that one devastating emotion:


As a result, those supposedly brave executives and Board members on whom employees, shareholders, customers, suppliers and local communities were relying didn't do the things they knew were right. Because they were afraid.

What or who were they afraid of? It varied - but there was always some outside entity that drove them in a direction they knew wasn't best but was workable. Sort of.

That led me, over the years. to consistently remind my clients - whether applied to a specific person, a competitor or the unknown 'other':

They don't matter.

Because they don't.

What does matter is that you do what you know is right - recognizing but not becoming a victim of your fear - moving ahead in achieving your goals for yourself and, if they're smart, your organization.

To solve that potential dilemma and get away from the fear requires putting it together with one of Ms. Sandberg's other early stage crucial points about what holds so many women back:

Likability and Success.

What it comes down to is that, for men, there's a positive correlation between success and being liked - whereas, for women it's exactly the opposite.

Yup. If you're a woman and you're successful, chances are people aren't going to either actually like you or think that you're as likable as you would be if you were successful and were a man.

Why do you think that Time magazine put the headline "Don't Hate Me Because I'm Successful" over their cover photograph of Ms. Sandberg? They weren't kidding - as the research Ms. Sandberg's cites in her book clearly demonstrates and as she, herself, has experienced since going live with her book and Foundation.

(For those of you old enough to remember - or want to find it on YouTube - it's all reminiscent of the supposedly tongue-in-cheek, but very intentional Kelly LeBrock Pantene commercial, "Don't Hate Me Because I'm Beautiful.")

So let's take a look at this for a moment.

When you're dealing with success, you'll find that there are generally three kinds of people in an organization:
  • The Glommers (people who ride your success),
  • The Underminers (people who do everything they can to take away your success), and
  • The Supporters (people who believe in what you're doing and support it with their own actions).
Frankly, you're not going to avoid any of them so the trick is to plan for them even before you've achieved your success. Then remind yourself of that plan every day as you see them pop up.

So, let's play for a moment. Let's say an opportunity arises and you want to move on it - or at least you think you do. Here's what you do in five easy steps:
  1. Ask yourself: What would I do if I weren't afraid?
  2. Using that answer as a foundation, put together a plan or a means of demonstrating why you're the right person or you've got the right solution.
  3. Don't wait for permission to execute. Do it. Act on it. Find all the ways you can to move forward what you're offering or have to offer, positioned in such a way that others simultaneously see the value of your solution and how valuable you are because you're the one who came up with it and knows how to execute on it successfully. That's because you're already doing so - whether in stealth mode (so that no one can steal your solution or your success) or outwardly (if there's low risk of theft of your Intellectual Property...because that's what your solution is).
  4. Remind yourself that you're not afraid - and if you find yourself falling back into fear, ask The Zuckerberg Question again: What would I do if I weren't afraid? then move forward with your fears back in check.
  5. Watch those around you. Look for who is falling into each of the categories - Glommers, Underminers and Supporters - and act accordingly. Specifically: 
  • Build with the Supporters. Get them more involved. Learn from them. Incorporate their ideas. Make your idea or solution even bigger than it was. Remember - you're not afraid and that means that there are no limits on your thinking.
  • Study the Underminers. Figure out their strategy and the arguments they're using (or trying to use) to undermine what you're trying to do. Then reverse engineer them so that you preemptively build on what they're trying to do and undermine them before they can undermine you. Other than that, ignore them. They don't matter.
  • Keep an eye on the Glommers. For the most part, they don't matter either - but, depending upon how they use what you're doing to fulfill their own agenda, you want to be aware of any personal or professional undermining that they may create. 
And, throughout, don't sweat being liked. Clearly, based on the categories, some folks will and some folks won't.

For the ones that do like you and show it by supporting what you're doing, good for them. They're the smart kids and you want them in your cadre.

For the ones who don't, they don't matter. Seriously. They don't.

There are over six billion people in the world. Some of them are at work with you. Most of them aren't. Keep that six billion number in mind when you lean in - because for the ones who are waiting to lean in and simply need a catalyst, that's you.

Because you're not afraid.
More on Leaning In:
   Sheryl Sandberg and Lean In: Why the Time is Now (llk)
   Preparing to Win: When you Lean In...there be monsters (llk)
Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead (sandberg)
The Lean In Foundation

Preparing to Win: When you Lean In...there be monsters

It's official. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg's excellent new book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, has been released. Moreover, her Lean In Foundation has also launched.

This means two things:
  1. Women (and men who are smart) have access to tools, knowledge, data and insight that will help them move forward in achieving their goals - no matter what those goals might be.
  2. Women who follow that advice (because this part won't apply to men) and pursue their goals will meet a whole new world of obstacles - with some from very unexpected sources.
In short: There be monsters.

I was reminded of this a week or so ago when talking with a colleague of mine - a very successful woman who achieved her corporate career goals and then went on to create a successful career as an independent provider in her field. (Yes, I'm keeping this purposefully vague - because it isn't personal.)

I was lucky enough to have read an early release of Ms. Sandberg's book and loved it on many, many levels - even as I took issue with some of the content. (I'll be writing a practical application review of the book very soon.)

In talking with my colleague about how pleased and excited I was for women everywhere having access to the book's and Foundation's learning and guidance, I was taken aback at the near vitriolic attack I experienced - simply because I supported what Ms. Sandberg was saying.

My colleague's arguments were much the same as have been presented - and about which I've previously written. What they came down to was:
  1. Look at the messenger. Why should anyone listen to Sheryl Sandberg - with all her money and success? What does she know about the 'real life' challenges women face? and
  2. It's a corporate manifesto for women. What if the women aren't interested in pursuing a career in a large corporation, anyway? and
  3. She's wrong. The content she's presenting doesn't work in any case - and it won't just because Sheryl Sandberg or her Foundation's educational materials say so.
I listened. I responded. I noted that she was being surprisingly binary in her outlook when it's all a spectrum and that she might expand her thinking...or her listening, for that matter - especially when she admitted that she really didn't know and wasn't interested in what Ms. Sandberg's content actually is.

And then it got worse - because in this woman's world, Ms. Sandberg was wrong - personally and in content - and that made me wrong. So wrong, in fact, that her final argument was that I had "clearly drunk the Sheryl Sandberg Kool-Aid."

Yes, that's correct. She compared Ms. Sandberg's content - and my support of it - to the sort of cult following that led to the mass murder/suicide perpetrated by and against the members of Jim Jones' Peoples Temple. It's the new version of the Jonestown Massacre - or at least this woman evidently sees it that way.

By then, the arguments weren't against Ms. Sandberg. They were against me.

Welcome to the world of aspiration, achievement and success.

While you might not experience the sheer passion of my colleague's diatribe, the fact is, as you change your life to make it what you want it to be, you'll find that different versions of a lack of support for your efforts come from a variety of directions.

And it won't just be men who are trying to hold you back. It will be - as we saw in my example - women, too.

What's the answer? You recognize it as a win.

You take every attack as a completely backhanded but absolute compliment. It means you're doing great - because you're doing something that moves you ahead toward your own dreams, your own goals, your own success.

And they see it.

Leaning In is all about...
  • You deciding what you want, recognizing that you have it in you to move forward toward those dreams and goals, building a support system around you - from your own personal tools and capabilities to the partner you choose...
  • All the while recognizing that systemically you're up against obstacles that, yes, have yet to be addressed and might keep you from all that you want to achieve, but...
  • You believe in you - and you're willing to do your very best to back up that belief with ongoing action on behalf and in support of yourself and your dreams.
I don't know why Ms. Sandberg's message hit such a raw nerve in my colleague. I can speculate - but, really, who cares?

What's important is the reminder she provided - which is invaluable learning:

There may be monsters, but you'll win - whatever you define your win to be. Because you can.

Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In and Preparing Yourself for Success

This is the first in a series of articles I'm writing about women in business, the lessons of Lean In and, particularly, how you can help build your career and a healthier workplace. For women, the lessons will be immediately understandable and applicable. For men, this will explain a lot of the dynamics you see around you. For all, it's information on which you can immediately act. I look forward to your comments, thoughts and experiences.
It's been a year since I wrote about the ways that women actively undermine other women and how crucial it is that that behavior stops.

Based on Jodi Kantor's recent article in the New York Times, not only was she not listening, but the behavior is alive, well and thriving.

Interestingly, the target is the same as last year (Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook), and even though it's different people taking their shots, the tactics they use remain the same as well.

What makes this particularly heinous is the context of the attack. Ms. Sandberg has taken the message of her TEDTalk (which has netted over 2 million views) and turned it into a book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead. Moreover, she has simultaneously established the Lean In Foundation - giving women the tools and skills they need to take themselves and society - worldwide - to the next level at no fee to themselves.

Yes, that's right. She's making sure that women who aspire, have dreams and have been stymied by themselves, others and the system at large (basically, every woman) now will be given a world class curriculum of skills and support to help them fulfill themselves and achieve their dreams.

You'd think that women who have already achieved success would cheer Ms. Sandberg for her efforts. No. At least not in Ms. Kantor's and her crew's case. Instead, using incomplete information, inference and personal attack, they do their best to undermine Ms. Sandberg and what she's offering the world - even before either the book or Foundation launch.

So, since these are, unfortunately, too common (and, frankly, lazy) tactics, let's take a look at how Ms. Kantor did it in her article. That way, as you achieve your goals, you'll see the game as it's being perpetrated against you (which it will be), take the right actions (which in many cases is none) and, generally, feel sorry for the perpetrator. (We'll get to why in a bit.) 

Tactic 1: Incomplete Information 

Let's start with two facts:
  1. At the time of this writing, neither the book nor the Foundation are live yet, and
  2. Ms. Sandberg both founded and funded the Foundation.

So, when Ms. Kantor casts aspersions about what is being asked of the launch partner organizations - name brands like Sony, American Express, Johnson & Johnson and Google - she's offensive to the companies and their leaders by demeaning the letter and spirit of their participation.

Do Ms. Kantor's assertions have substantive merit? No. Are they a handy tactic? Yes. Because even before the launch has occurred, she's doing her best to make those organizations' leaders question their partnerships and the impact it will have on their brands.

The good news is: It won't work.

New organizations grow and evolve. As needs develop, they respond - at least the smart ones do. As time goes on, the involvement of the Foundation's partner organizations will also evolve based on ideas generated by the Lean In Circles, the partners, themselves, and the Foundation, at large.

So not only is this tactic substantively shortsighted (which the partner organizations' leaders know - if they're even paying attention to what Ms. Kantor wrote), but it's boring and lazy - because the only thing the perpetrators using this tactic are doing is replaying the old adage, "The best defense is a good offense." 

You'd think they'd come up with something new - which they sort of do when combined with... 

Tactic 2: Inference

Let's remember who we're talking about here. Sheryl Sandberg has a resume of public and private sector achievements that do one thing most clearly: they show that she is both successful in her own right and knows how to create success for others. 

I apologize for the repetition but at this moment, the Foundation hasn't launched yet. So why is Ms. Kantor asking if anyone will come to the Lean In Circles - and if they do, will they get anything out of the experience and want to come back? 

Worse, why is she using the pilot Circle participants as targets - just as she did the partner organizations?

The Circles are the heart of the Foundation. They're the outreach. They're where a progressive, structured curriculum of skills training and interpersonal support are delivered. They're treated as the learning environments they are - while designed for a generation that engages and connects in ways that older generations of women (like mine) either didn't or couldn't because we didn't have the opportunity.

Lean In Circles are not a coffee klatch, a 'consciousness raising' group or sitting around a campfire singing "Kumbaya." They're a commitment - by the Foundation to the women involved and by the women involved to themselves and their Circle members.

So, in direct answer to Ms. Kantor's question: Yes, women will come to the Circles and when they do, they'll learn and grow. Then grow more. 

BTW, there was another aspect of this tactic that was at play in Ms. Kantor's playbook: If you can't take on your target directly - or you don't think you'll win if you do - get someone else to fight it for you. Cat fight, anyone? Yes, to read Ms. Kantor's article is to wait for any number of her cohorts to join in the fun of trying to make the success of Ms. Sandberg's book and Foundation - and, by extension, the women involved - failures before they even begin.

That's not only wrong, it's shameful, especially when tied to... 

Tactic 3: Personal Attack

We already know that Ms. Kantor had no hesitation in attacking the partner organizations and the pilot Lean In Circle members. But she didn't stop there.

Ms. Sandberg is taking the women's movement to a new level for a new generation. What the trailblazers of the movement did for their time is what Ms. Sandberg is now doing for women in a world that has evolved to provide more opportunities - and obstacles - than ever before.

Why, then, does Ms. Kantor think we need to know about the size of Ms. Sandberg's home ("9000 square feet"), her education ("double Harvard degree"), her wealth ("a fortune worth hundreds of millions on paper"), her husband (CEO of SurveyMonkey) or her "army of household help"?

We don't. It has nothing to do with the message that Ms. Sandberg is bringing. But it's a handy - and, once again, lazy - way to undermine that message by making the messenger a less than trustworthy source.

That way, even before the Lean In Foundation has launched or the book has been released, the seed has been planted: Since you don't have what Ms. Sandberg has, what she's offering won't do you any good.

That's wrong - on so many different levels - which takes us to...

Why You Should Feel Sorry for Women Who Attack Other Women 

In a word: they're scared.

They may be scared that they can't compete. They may not believe that their skills will get them where they want to go. They may be afraid to aspire. To dream. To be disappointed.
Ultimately, their reason doesn't matter - because it has nothing to do with you. It's all about them - and that's the most liberating thing of all.

You are free to aspire and to achieve. You can set your goals and go after them - not feeling the need to take others...and especially other women...down in the process. In fact, you'll share your success.
And to help you along the way, make sure you read the book and look into establishing or joining a Lean In Circle in your area. That way, not only will you have your own skills, but you'll have Sheryl Sandberg supporting you every step of the way. 
Women and Leadership: Sheryl Sandberg and the Facebook IPO (llk)

An earlier version of this article appeared on Technorati (llk)

Innovation and Strategy: What's Wrong with Facebook?

Yesterday I wrote about a talking head on a business news program that was explaining why it made sense to dump Apple stock. (The link to that post is below.)

In that same program, he also talked about why it makes sense to run like the wind away from Facebook.

That got me wondering:
While the talking head's logic about Apple's future innovations made no sense to me, why is it that when that same logic is applied to Facebook there's a core of sense that makes me think he might be right?
Here's my thinking:
Where Apple innovates outward, Facebook innovates inward.
Let me explain.

Facebook's strategy, in some ways, mirrors Apple's (and Google's and Amazon's). Once you get your users into your ecosystem, whatever you do, don't let them go!

It's the "Cheerful Ruthlessness" strategy I've described before. (The link to that post is below, too.) Under the guise of "You're our customers and we love you" you're actually being held prisoner as they take down everyone in their way.

But, where Apple and the others innovate outward into markets, Facebook is building its business based on what it can provide to other Big Boys from within:
  • Its users. 
  • Its data. 
  • Its targeting.
Facebook is operationalizing the marketing concept of "mass customization" to a whole new level.

But will it translate?

When Amazon "mass customizes," it looks like personalized recommendations from Amazon to you.

What's key about that - and also how Google's algorithms have evolved - is that it looks like it's the company, itself, that's doing the personalization. Not someone to whom they sell their data.

And that's why I'm uncomfortable with Facebook's strategy on a long-term basis. Even its new services - like "Gifts" and "Graph Search" - that give its users access to information about other users, are inward directed. It's all about the data.

The question is: What about the humans?

Targeted ads are great - but if they look, in any way, like the only reason that those advertisers know to target you is because Facebook sold them data that led them to you, you feel more used than user.

It feels like an invasion of that privacy that's so hard to keep on the platform.

Don't get me wrong. I think Facebook is an amazing company. It really did change the world - both personally and on a corporate level - fast and furious. It enculturated social media as part of how we live and work...and that's not going to go away.

The question is whether, 1+ billion users and still but more slowly growing, it will stay the leader in its space.

Facebook needs to do more to understand the human aspect of social media. Not the technology nor the data nor the algorithms. Those are for them.

What will keep Facebook viable - as the industry leader and innovator for the long-term - is looking at and incorporating the satisfaction people find in all the other ways that humans socialize with and without social media.

It's not about what Facebook can do. It's about what they're not doing...for their human population. Not their advertisers.

This is a hard one in the strategy world. It's when you've got the operations to execute on just about anything - which they do - and are hard-pressed to figure out what to execute on.

But, just as Starbucks (another Cheerfully Ruthless company), began to cannibalize itself and had to do a u-turn on its growth, products and services to save itself, so does Facebook need to stop looking at its data as the only answer. By looking in that one direction, only, it, too, cannibalizes itself - only in this case, it's the data that drive the users away.

So the question for you is:
How are you, by what you're doing now, making it easy for your customers to want to find someone else to provide your product or service?
If your focus is wholly internal, you're missing opportunities all around you. Go back to the five questions I laid out for you in my Apple post. That will get you going in the right direction...and keep you there.
Innovation and Strategy: What's Wrong with Apple? Nothing. (llk)
The Secrets of Success: Cheerful Ruthlessness (llk)

Teachers, Mentors, Guides: Who Changed Your Career?

Early in my career, I realized that I was not going to be one of those people who had "mentors" or "sponsors." I was too risky a proposition on a number of different levels, so mine was a corporate - and even consulting - career that had more than its fair share of people putting obstacles in my way.

That made those who represented turning points in my career - and particularly in my way of thinking - all the more important and valuable. They, knowingly and unknowingly, expanded my perspective - which led to a broader world view, career opportunities and life experiences I never thought would be mine.

Interestingly, it's been within the last two years - since starting Leadership Quantified - that a new person has been added to the list. The first woman.

For me, the four people are:
  1. Dr. W. Edwards Deming - who taught me that underlying management theory is a humanism that, when incorporated as part of everything from strategic thinking to operational execution, really can lead to joy and motivation and a goodness that workplaces are rarely - or never - known for.
  2. Takeo Minomiya - who taught me that strategy, at its best, turns the world on its head and that, only when you look at things from what would be considered impossible perspectives and proceed without fear can you - or your organization - succeed.
  3. Dr. Leon Lessinger - who taught me that accountability is the highest form of personal and professional respect you can pay yourself, your colleagues and society as a whole - and that, as such, it's both a choice and a measure of integrity.
  4. Sheryl Sandberg - who taught me that the ways women unknowingly undermine themselves - as well as the many ways women unforgivably undermine other women - are not only identifiable, but reversible and that the hope of the women who trailblazed my career can - and will - be achieved in the generations of women now and to come.
That's my crew of career- and life- changers - and I'm grateful to them all.

Now think about those who have played or are playing that role in your life and career - then ask yourself:
  • Which teacher, mentor or guide has helped me see more - and be more?
  • How has what they taught or showed me changed my life? My world view?
  • How have I acted upon what I learned?
  • How am I continuing their teaching by guiding others - whether in conversation, formal mentoring or, simply, in how I lead my life?
Then, if you get the chance, make sure you find a way to say, "Thank you." Not only will they appreciate it, they deserve it.