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 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)

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)

Ann Romney's Dangerous World for Women

When Ann Romney gave her speech to the Republican National Convention a few weeks ago, her purpose was to "humanize" her husband. To make him more likable...particularly to women voters.

I don't know how well she did in achieving that particular goal, but I do know that she presented an image of a world for women that was downright dangerous.

How? By presenting a limited and limiting picture of who women are and what they can be.

The picture that Mrs. Romney painted for and about women was one of no aspiration beyond hearth and home. In fact, she stated - twice - that the primary goal of women who work outside the home is to lessen their time at work. Not to achieve.

She gave no quarter nor showed any interest in women having goals beyond taking care of husband and family. Of being "helpmeet" and the keeper of all the important phone numbers...like the emergency doctor and 24-hour pharmacy.

Ultimately, by ignoring the idea that women can be - or, worse, want - more, Mrs. Romney very prettily put women back by decades. And that's unforgivable.

But what's most distressing, by far, is when women turn on women - as Mrs. Romney did in her speech.

By purposefully lowering aspirations, she disempowers women from living the lives they want - which can and does include happy family lives with and without career. She makes women less and, for that, she should be ashamed.

My father died when I was 13 years old. About a year later, my mother told me, in passing, that she had never wanted to get married and never wanted children but was forced to do so by family and societal pressure.

She assured me that she had loved my father and loved us kids - but, because the only thing women were supposed to achieve was to be married, she had been forced to turn away both scholarships and career opportunities that would have given her the satisfaction that society told her was not to be hers. Simply because she was a woman.

That's the world that Mrs. Romney portrayed in her speech. A world that necessitates death or divorce for a woman to have the freedom to fulfill herself.

I'm glad that Mrs. Romney has lived a life that fulfills her. But it is absolutely not her business to impose her life choices on anyone else.

It's our lives and we have the right to live them as we choose.