Lean In

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)

Leaning In: When You're Asked...Say Yes

There's a story, dear readers, that I've wanted to tell for quite a while. Years, in fact - but to respect the people involved, I purposely let time go by. Well, enough of that. It's time to tell.

So sit back and join me while I tell you the true story of the woman who said, "No."

I had been approached by a friend who wanted to extend his business to include a new niche service opportunity he realized was just begging to be developed.

It was an intriguing idea and made a lot of sense for the population he wanted to serve. Most importantly, it had legs. It was one of those businesses that wouldn't be small for long - because while it would start within the niche he knew, the service was ubiquitous enough to cross industries.

An excellent idea all around...and he even had the "perfect" person in mind to lead it: a woman who worked for him that he was concerned was being underutilized and might leave unless offered a better opportunity.

So, he and I went to work designing the business, identifying all the options and opportunities..."doing the necessary" as he would say. (He's British). And all the time, he kept saying, "Kelly will love this! It's perfect for her!"

Now, on the one hand, having met Kelly, I could see why he was so excited about the prospect of her running the business. On the other, I continued to warn him that she might say, "No."

"How could she? This is the opportunity of a lifetime! She'll see it and go for it. I know her."

Well, dear readers, I knew her too - and I knew something that he wasn't willing to admit could be a factor in her decision-making: She was female. Moreover, she was relatively young (about 30), married and she, too, was British.

You're thinking: I get the female, young and married part. I've read Lean In. I know about how women put their gender, husband and existent or non-existent children ahead of their careers. But what's with the British bit?

That's a whole different problem - because, as I've been told too often by too many young, degreed, capable and smart British women, the job they most expect (because it's what's most often offered) is as a "PA or shop girl."

As a result, they've become used to expecting - and taking - the low road in their careers...no matter how qualified they are.

I told our business visionary this - but he remained convinced. Kelly would say, "Yes."

She didn't. She said, "No."

Not immediately, mind you. At the end of the meeting during which he presented all that he believed she could achieve, she thanked him for the opportunity and told him she'd like "a little bit of time to think about it."

That, I knew, was the death knell. It was just a matter of time before she gave the bad news.

It took a couple of weeks, but at the end of that time, she set up a meeting and started by saying that she greatly appreciated the offer and his faith in her. She also thought it was a wonderful idea and perfect for its time.

At that point, she very gently told him that she wasn't going to accept because:

  • She wasn't sure she would be able to fulfill his expectations and
  • She didn't want to disappoint him, so 
  • It didn't matter that he believed her capable. She wasn't willing to try. She'd rather keep her current job.
What was that job? She was a PA.

There's a lesson here. In fact, there are a lot of them. But, for our purposes, it's this:

When you're asked to sit at the table, do it. Take your seat. Then show them why they made the right decision extending the invitation.

Kelly was an idiot. She let her fears drive her. Worse, because she was so used to - and comfortable with - being deferential to her "betters" (yes, she used that word, too), she killed her own opportunities. She took away her own future.

Big or small, when an opportunity presents itself, make sure you only have one answer ready: Yes.

It doesn't matter whether you believe you can do it or not. Suspend your disbelief. Whoever is asking knows what they're doing - otherwise they wouldn't have asked. After all, it's not like they're some kind of benevolent society willing to put their own reputation on the line.

They ask because they know you have something to offer. Something that will make them look good. They're not doing you any favors. It's all about them.

So, go ahead. Sit at the table. It's time. Your time.

Leaning In or Shooting Ourselves in the Foot? How the Kamala Harris Fiasco Can Hurt Women's Progress...if we let it.

So, this is how the demise of a movement happens - in 8 easy steps:
  1. It starts with an excellent beginning - with great content and wonderful thinking.
  2. Progress is made - quickly - and a movement begins.
  3. There's traction. It's early but it's clear that the movement has legs.
  4. Then, whether looking for a cause celebre or just a means of putting themselves forward, the 'other' voices start undermining that progress.
  5. Distraction ensues and the message of the movement is lost in one single incident.
  6. The movement becomes disconnected as a result of the distraction.
  7. Traction and speed are lost.
  8. Those who are already committed, invested and see benefit for themselves continue. Those who are on the fence or just beginning think twice, then think again. The beginnings of a plateau - if not a downturn - are now built.
Think the early feminist movement and bra-burning.

Now think Lean In and Kamala Harris.

If you're not familiar with the latter, in short what happened is that President Obama, after making highly complimentary comments about the capabilities and performance of the Attorney General of California, Kamala Harris, then, jokingly, commented that she's the best looking of all the Attorneys General.

That's when things went wrong - because the idiots fell for it. They took the bait. They began, systematically, shooting down what is such a positive early stage of the next iteration of the women's movement.

After all, they posit, it's demeaning to a woman when  her beauty is appreciated. It requires an apology...which the President, I believe, wrongly, gave. Because no apology was necessary.

For those women who insisted that the President shouldn't have specifically called out Ms. Harris' physical attributes, one question: Why?

Why is it that when Representative Paul Ryan puts his abs on display, he (and they) get positive play - if for his abs if not his ego - but when Ms. Harris' beauty is commented upon by an appreciative man, it requires an apology?

And why, as long as we're at it, is it okay for the First Lady to have been as excited as a teenager about having Harrison Ford in the White House - but it's not okay for that woman's husband to admire a woman without it being somehow demeaning to the woman?

Harrison Ford didn't take Mrs. Obama's compliments as demeaning. Why would he?

And why should Kamala Harris? She didn't and shouldn't. Neither should we.

This is where the women's movement went wrong so many years ago - and we're doing the exact same thing again.

The women who burned their bras at a protest weren't what defined the women's movement. What defined it was the legislative activity that led to women taking their places in greater numbers in higher levels of organizations and the government than ever before.

Now, we've got the legislation in place - at least for the moment - and we're focusing on Kamala Harris' good looks?

Lucky her. She's got looks and style and smarts - but she leads with the smarts. Because, having been a citizen of the State of California all my life, I can tell you, she is smart and she's definitely better looking than most of the men who preceded her. And I like men.

Sheryl Sandberg has started a revolution with her book and Foundation, Lean In. Women are thinking differently about themselves, their ability, their dreams for themselves and the prospects of achieving those dreams.

We've got traction. Now we're getting distracted again.

So, let's go back for another moment to how the distractions of the 70s set the stage for the stagnation we subsequently experienced.

Doing a blitz of the TV series, "Madmen" Season 5 to prepare for Season 6 (I do love that show) also reminded me how much intangible but recognizable respect women gave up with our fight for equality.

I remember when men opened doors for women instead of letting doors close in their faces and, if they notice, apologizing afterward.

I remember when men stood up when a woman came into a room or stood and pulled out her chair at the table...just like the character Don Draper did even for his tween-aged daughter at a banquet they were attending.

These were easy, thoughtful manners that showed respect for women. It didn't degrade them.

But we gave that up when, along with burning bras, we decided that having a man open a door for us was a sign of disrespect.

It wasn't. Just as the President's compliment to Attorney General Harris (who also happens to be a long-time friend of the President and First Lady) wasn't an insult.

Women, get over it and keep your focus clear. If you want to move ahead in your own life, don't fall for the crap that's coming. Because it is - and the more the Lean In movement gains traction, the more crap you're going to see.

We fell for it and, over time, that allowed those who wanted stasis to win.

Don't let them win again.
More on Leaning In:
   Lean In Applied: The Secret for Your Success (llk)

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

Sheryl Sandberg and Lean In: Why the Time is Now

This is the first in a series of posts I'm writing based around Sheryl Sandberg's book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. Future posts will be integrative and application-based. To begin, however, I decided to go a different direction. I'll be interested in your comments and thoughts.
Up until now, when I've written about Sheryl Sandberg's wonderful book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, I've focused on a combination of the content and the arguments that the book's critics - mostly women - have made against it.

It took me a while to figure out why those attacks were so prevalent...especially the ones that argued more against Ms. Sandberg and her success than what she actually wrote.

After a great deal of consideration, I decided that they wrote the way they did because they have no context. They either don't understand or are not considering what came before - which makes their understanding of what Ms. Sandberg is doing now both limited and limiting.

That has led me to make a decision that, among my friends, is a very real surprise: I'm going to tell a personal story - which is something I rarely do.

By nature, I'm not self-disclosive. Those I love know me and know my stories. But for them and others, the fact is I'm always far more interested in learning about them than I am about telling my history.

Moreover, in a business context, the only history I ever give is my father's: a quintessentially American entrepreneurial immigrant story that, because of his early death and the betrayals that came just before, ended sadly...and spurred me, years later, to create the solutions he never had.

This time, though, it's time to talk about my mother - and then about me. Hers is the story of women pre-feminism and mine is the story of the immediate post-activist period of the feminist movement. The two combined take you to today - and are the only way to fully recognize and act on the opportunities that Ms. Sandberg is presenting all of us now with her book and Foundation.

My Mother's Story

Like millions of other women of her time, my mother lived a life of unfulfilled dreams.

I always knew that she had had a career before she got married. Her last professional position pre-marriage had been as the executive secretary to the head of a San Francisco-based charity for the blind - and she'd loved her life. It was after World War II was over, she was young, on her own and successful in her own right.

She never wanted to get married. Never wanted children. She wanted the life she had.

Only her family - and particularly her mother - didn't want that for her. Living that life wasn't "success." It was the life of an "old maid." It was an embarrassment to her and to her family...or, at least, that's what her mother and society insisted.

After a while, the pressure became too much and Mom gave in. She went back to Los Angeles, worked in the family business, met my Dad and married him three months later.

And because of the times - and the pressure to define men's success as much as women's - my father insisted that my mother not work outside the home...whether she liked it or not. She didn't - but, in keeping with the times and the pressures on them both, she complied.

Frankly, I can't tell you if my mother was ever really happy in her marriage. I do know that, after my father died seventeen years later, my mother never looked back. She took her life into her own hands and never considered getting married again - no matter how much pressure her family brought to bear or how many men tried their best.

She was out. It wasn't on the terms she would ever have wanted - but she had her freedom back. Or at least as much as she could with three kids to bring up.

It didn't take long for her to decide that she wanted to renew her career. So she went back to school, getting her typing and shorthand speeds up again and making herself competitive so many years after leaving the workforce.

And she was successful. She quickly established herself and gained executive assistant positions once again - now moving up a career ladder in industries as varied as insurance, hotels and coffee...always learning, always being challenged and more than willing to take on those challenges.

By almost any measure, she was successful. She had launched the kids, had a successful career, friends and was living her life as she seemed to want.

But she wasn't.

Because underneath it all was the woman who, before ever starting a career as a secretary, had had the opportunity to take a fully-paid scholarship to a culinary academy and become a chef...her life's dream. Only she didn't. Because she couldn't. Because her family - and society - said that that's not what women should do.

Oh, they could become teachers or nurses...or secretaries...but a career? A real career? Not that. How would they manage it when their real career was a husband and children?

And because of those early lessons - all about what she couldn't have and couldn't do - she lived the rest of her life starting and trying new creative ventures - art and writing, in particular - with very positive feedback undermined by the deep-seated belief that she'd fail. So she stopped.

By that time, it wasn't anyone outside of herself that was stopping her. That wasn't even necessary any more. She stopped herself.

And that's the biggest tragedy of all.

Her life lessons taught her to believe that she couldn't have any of what she really wanted - or at least not unless she was willing to take a much higher risk than society told her it was safe to pay.

I knew some of this - but it was when I was going through her things after she died that I realized just how much my mother missed out on because of the instilled fears that drove and, ultimately, defined her life.

With each drawer and cabinet I opened, I saw the same thing: the unfulfilled dreams of a person who wanted to do and be more.

From Then to Now

My mother's story is why, in part, from the moment I first heard Ms. Sandberg's commencement address at Barnard, her TedTalk and, now, reading her book, Lean In, I have been such an advocate for all that she puts forward.

The other part is the context during my own lifetime.

For those of us who were not part of the feminist trailblazers but came immediately afterward, we hoped there was more - in tools, capabilities and possibilities - than then existed for us to achieve our success. But they weren't there, because they didn't yet exist.

We were given a picture of all that could be. We were told that we could "have it all" (a truly ridiculous expression - because it's not only impossible, but there's no such thing) - but in order to get the "all" we had to do things and be things and know things that we didn't and couldn't know.

We had great intent and great excitement about the vistas ahead, but we had no tools and no processes for getting there.

As a result, we were winging it. We tried everything - to be more like men, less like men, aggressive, assertive, collaborative, underhanded, linear, holistic, accommodating, self-centered...

We didn't know what we were doing. We had no role models - particularly in business - and the research, such as it was, told us no more than stuff like women end their sentences with upward inflections (which makes them sound less confident), use "we" instead of "I" (which makes them sound less confident), allow men to interrupt (which makes the men seem more powerful and women less confident)...

You get my drift.

And don't even get me going on those horrible suits we were told we were supposed to wear when we went to work. (Peplums and I never did get along.)

We had no definition or clear picture of either what we were doing or what we could be. We couldn't...and, for all that we achieved, it was a mess.

For me, what it looked like was that I:

  • Fought my way through multiple degrees - with professors on whose research teams I participated saying things like, "You don't need to get any further graduate degrees, you'll be getting married - so why don't you just type this next part up and forget about that admission form?" (seriously) and
  • Being in the midst of a doctorate and having the department decide - when I was already at Chapter 3 of my dissertation - that they didn't want the faculty to support my research any longer...which just happened to be entitled, "The Impact of the Differences between Men's and Women's Communication Patterns in an Organizational Setting." Instead, they told me to go back to the beginning and find a different topic, and, thus, led me to get lawyers involved and nearly sue the university in order to ensure I at least got a second Master's Degree out of it (because I certainly wasn't going to pay them any more tuition fees), and
  • Being headhunted for my first corporate position and, when asking for a higher salary than was offered (which I knew was low), literally being laughed at and asked, "Why would we pay you that much? It's not like women at that level are offered any more elsewhere"...and taking the job anyway, then
  • Having the innovative, organization-changing work I did outwardly stolen in collusion by a colleague and supervisor (both of them men) who took credit for it - and when I made it known to the "higher powers" (men and women) in the organization, was told that they knew and it was just something I had to deal with and accept...because I was a woman and it was a common occurrence...

All of which led me to go out on my own and find my own way. I, like so many other women - then and now - had to change the playing field to create a game I could win.

That's why, when Ms. Sandberg speaks of the way that women's progression has stalled in the past ten years, it makes perfect sense to me. We could get as far as we were able to go with the tools and knowledge we had - but then we were stymied.

Even though we were the participants, we didn't have the perspective - the context - to understand what had happened, what needed to happen next and, most importantly, how to get there.

Ms. Sandberg's book and Foundation give women - and men - all that and more. And that's why I'm such an advocate.

For those, like my mother, who came before, Ms. Sandberg is presenting a world that so many could only dream about - but never thought they could achieve. And never did.

For those of my time, we got as far as we could go - but no further. Now we can. Now, with Ms. Sandberg's writings and resources, it's not too late for us to fulfill our dreams.

For those of today, you have opportunities that go beyond what I or my mother could have dreamed awaiting you - and you now have the knowledge and tools to successfully go after them.

Don't allow the nay-sayers - within you or outside of you - to stop you from trying. Do it. Now. Don't wait.

If my mother were here, she'd tell you the same thing. Because she, like so many others, knew what happened when you either didn't or couldn't - or believed that that was the case.

Lean in. Then lean in some more. Then go further than you thought you could. Because you can.

My mother would be proud of you...and so am I.
Lean In Applied: The Secret for Your Success (llk)
Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In and Preparing Yourself for Success (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