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

Business Leaders, Weenies and the Question of Confidence: The Lessons of a Root Canal

Yesterday I had a root canal - and it got me thinking all about business confidence and the complaints that so-called "business leaders" are making about their lack of confidence in the economy.

What do a root canal and business confidence have to do with one another?  Everything.  Because in both cases, it's all about fear and paralysis or, conversely, the willingness to trust yourself and those around you to achieve success.

This all occurred to me at two different points in the process.

The first was when I realized that the procedure was going to take place in a foreign language.  No, not the language of endodontics, which would have been bad enough.  This was going to be done in French.  I was having a root canal done in Paris - and that meant that the endodontist and his assistant would be speaking rapid-fire and technical French to one another - which definitely left me out of the loop.

The second point was when, contrary to the assurances of my endodontist that I wouldn't feel anything, I felt something.  Not pain.  But something.  Most important was that the 'something' made me even more worried about what had the potential to happen.

Not what was actually happening - but what could.

And it was that realization that stopped my fear.  Because I realized that it wasn't what I was experiencing that was making me afraid.  It was what might happen - which was purely a product of my own imagination.

Sure, there was logic involved.  Let's face it, when you've got someone poking around with drills and metal probes in an area that is designed to hurt, there's a fair expectation that hurt will occur.

But that doesn't mean that it is or it does or even that it will.  It's simply something to be aware of and ready for.  And to have your resources lined up to help should that occurrence manifest.

Which I did.  Because I had a talented and accomplished endodontist doing the work.  I didn't have to worry about my decision to have the root canal or the resource I had selected to do the work.  I had already created success.

And that's what led me to start thinking about those business leaders.  Because they, too, are in a foreign situation operating within a global economy the likes of which they've never seen before.  As well, even with the amazing war chests of cash they've built up, they're so convinced that there's going to be pain that they're reacting as if it's already there.

Which led me to a simple and straightforward conclusion:  They're weenies.  They're allowing their fears to drive their decisions rather than taking the steps that would help the economy - global and local - to recover.

They'd rather be afraid and wait for someone else to take the big steps, instead of taking their courage and their smarts in hand and driving success forward.  For everyone.

What all of that says is that these aren't "business leaders."  By definition, weenies can't be leaders because they don't lead - and who'd want to follow them anyway?

So, as you look at what you're doing with your business, ask yourself:

  • Do I have trusted resources surrounding me?
  • Are there things I want to do and steps I want to take with my business that I think can succeed?
  • Am I not taking those steps because I'm afraid?
  • If so, where is that fear coming from?  Within or without?
Depending upon the answer to that last question, you'll know what to do.  If you're generating the fear from within, take your courage in hand and go forward.  If it's coming from those around you, the media or anyplace else, lose them.  

They're weenies.  You're not.

The Anti-Fear Motivation: the Lessons of Lady Gaga and the Dixie Chicks

"A little bit of fear is a good thing."

That comment is neither new nor novel.  But, whether you're talking the "War on Terror" or creating corporate sales, it has become a staple for ostensible motivation - whether of your employees or society as a whole.

It's a sorry state when it's the voices of pop and country stars - from yesterday's Dixie Chicks anti-war comments to today's Lady Gaga rallying her audience to peacefully protest Arizona's SB1070 - are not only needed but simultaneously vilified for trying to remove fear from the equation.

Because, while fear may create a short term win, it decimates long term success.

My first time hearing the statement in a corporate setting was from a senior Sales executive in a division of a Big Pharma organization.

His problem?  His sales force wasn't making its numbers and that was knocking his bonus off track.  His solution? "Motivate" his sales force by making clear that they needed to make their numbers or they could lose their jobs.  Be summarily dismissed.  Be walked out the door.  Have their Blackberries confiscated.

Possibly.  But not absolutely.  (Because that would have been against both the law and corporate policy.)

So, what they needed to do was make sure that they didn't get themselves into that position by performing. That's all.  Just sell the product.  Go team!

And they did.  They made the numbers he needed - in volume.  But to get there, they cut deals with their customers that did more financial damage to that division than anyone had ever seen before.

But our smiling executive got his numbers.  And his bonus.  Until he lost his job - and deservedly so.  (The division was later spun off as a stand-alone company.)

Fear is a despicable strategy.  It works against any organization's long-term goals simply to fulfill an individual's short-term needs.  It is, in fact, the tactic of cowards.

There is too much research on empowerment and the importance of collaboration to innovation, improved operations and financial success to ignore.  And, consistently, within that research, we find that the more that executives create a culture without fear, the more successful - and sustainable - their organization is.

That doesn't mean that you don't or can't tell employees the truth.  You have to tell them the truth - whether things are going well or not.

That's why there is such a sense of betrayal even by employees today who have jobs.  They've given in on everything from salary increases to cutting their hours and, as a result, their ability to financially sustain themselves, because their executives told them that the company would go bust if they didn't.

So they took the hit - and now they're seeing those companies' profits soar.  Yet their salaries and hours aren't improving.

Because those executives are still maintaining that things could go wrong.  There might be a double-dip recession.  Consumer confidence isn't what it needs to be.  While they're taking their bonuses.

You can't have it both ways and win.

Remember, your people really are your most valuable asset.  They are the ones who know how to make things happen in your organization.  They are the ones that work within the effective and ineffective systems by which your organization works.

They are not easily replaceable - even in a downturn.  Nor by contracting.  Because when your people walk out the door, they take all their knowledge and experience with them.  And they bring it to your competitors.

So, small business or large.  Entrepreneurial venture or legacy organization.  Across sectors and industries, pay attention and don't make the core long-term mistake that can make or break your company.

Fear is a bad thing.  If you see it being perpetuated in your enterprise, get rid of the person who's doing so - because that person's goals are not the same as yours.  At least not if you want to keep your job - and your organization - for long.

That's not fear-mongering.  That's fact.
For more on how to create a High Quality culture and bring innovation to your organization, click here.