13 Aug Lean In to Leadership with Sheryl Sandberg
“There is no perfect fit when you’re looking for the next big thing to do. You have to take opportunities and make an opportunity fit for you, rather than the other way around. The ability to learn is the most important quality a leader can have.”
Sheryl Sandberg has proved her abilities at the US Treasury, as Unit General Manager at Google, and now since 2008 as Chief Operating Officer at Facebook where she became the first female member of their board. She led the company to go public, its global expansion and also saw the company become profitable.
During the past four years, Sheryl Sandberg has become a spokesperson for equality for women, a power force on women’s leadership and a leading voice to encourage women to pursue their dreams – to take opportunities, take risks and step out of their comfort zones to realise their potential.
Sandberg’s research on gender inequality in business and leadership began as part of her TED talk in 2010 Why we have too few women leaders and their responsibility to battle for an equal world. This led to her bestselling book Lean In (now in paperback for the first time) becoming a much quoted (and indeed mis-quoted) phenomenon, leading to intense debate on the reasons there is such inequality in women’s positions as CEOs, business leaders, political leaders, seats in the boardroom, as MPs and congresswomen. Her book cites many research papers from Harvard, Berkeley, Yale and the McKinsey Global Institute showing the misalignment between the success in girls in education and later achievements in their careers.
Instead of complaining about these statistics and waiting for society changes, Sandberg encourages women and men to change the workplace and home themselves by changing their own attitudes and behaviours – so society can change one person at a time.
Lean In and Sit at The Table
Sandberg says you need to believe in yourself, your abilities and most importantly, your potential. She explains that many women are “risk averse” and don’t take up opportunities for fear of failure of their abilities. She says we need to take up new responsibilities to learn new skills to improve our potential – if someone doesn’t try to take up an opportunity through fear, that opportunity and potential is lost. Sandberg herself moved from the US Treasury to Silicon Valley, taking an executive role at Google in 2001 embracing new skills, innovative technology and the potential for growth in herself and the company.
Leaning in can promote a positive circle- if you assume you can juggle work and family, you step forward, you succeed professionally. By proving your potential you’re in a better position to make changes that could benefit others.
Lean In Together
Sandberg sadly lost her husband Dave Goldberg, CEO of SurveyMonkey in May 2015. Her memoirs show the importance of sharing equal responsibility in any partnership, supporting each other professionally and personally. She recalls experiences when her marriage struggled, when the she was trying to cope with full childcare and her career; how the couple reorganised their lives to maintain equal balance for a successful home and individual successful careers. Her follow up talk on TED in December 2013 takes up this progression and continued work still required in Leaning In Together.
By forming an equal partnership with equal respect for each other’s careers this ensures a stronger partnership, higher quality parenting and happier couples and families.
Encourage Peer Support and Coaching
Sandberg completely believes in the power of coaching and being coached, however emphasises that you should prove your abilities to gain a strong mentor. Her mentor was Larry Summers at the World Bank who saw her potential at Harvard where he encouraged her to do a MBA pursuing economics. Now, Sandberg has become a coach to a number of young women pursuing leadership careers. She also encourages peer support with Lean In Circles – groups of like-minded professionals to meet (like a book group) monthly or three-monthly to support each other and help to solve problems.
It says on the LeanIn.org website ”While we can’t guarantee you’ll achieve your wildest dream, we can promise that joining a Circle will give you the support to go for it—more than 80% members say they’re more likely to take on a new challenge or opportunity because of their Circle. Research shows that we are more confident and are able to learn and accomplish more in small groups.”
In her talks and writing, Sandberg encourages modern society to face up to its inequalities. She knows change starts from shifting your own attitude and inspiring others to adopt a positive mindset to change behaviour one step at a time.