Top Five Lessons from "Lean In"...

Here are the top five lessons I took from reading Sheryl Sandberg's book Lean In:

  • Success and likeability are negatively correlated for women and positively correlated for men.
  • Women need to negotiate in the style of men, but ask for what they truly need to be successful and stay growing in the job.
  • Women opt out of the running for top positions of power by assuming that it won't work out before they even ask, try, or go for it.
  • To get men to Lean In more to doing childcare and housework, women should Lean Out in how men do these activities.
  • Women are not always aware of their own biases against women who have made different life and professional choices and how these biases perpetuate the problems.

When Lean In came out, there was a lot of talk in the media about how Sheryl Sandberg was so privileged that she couldn't relate to the challenges REAL women face. It was around this time that Marissa Mayer became Yahoo's CEO while she was pregnant. The convergence of these two things led to the media frenzy as women were encouraged to believe that Sheryl and Marissa were oddities and therefore, not to be liked, trusted, and respected.

Finally, I got really curious and I read Lean In.

It is a fantastic book: researched and documented by many female and male experts in the relevant fields and truly a work of large-scale collaboration by what I will refer to here as "Sheryl and Company (S&C)."

I have distilled what I think are the five key messages I share with my clients.

#1: Success and Likeability are negatively correlated for women and positively correlated for men.

In a breathtaking piece of research referred to as the "Heidi/Howard" paradigm, Columbia Business School Professor Frank Flynn and his colleague Cameron Anderson at NYU gave students a Harvard Business School case study about a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and venture capitalist named Heidi Roizen. They gave half the students a version with the name "Heidi" and half "Howard." The students were asked to rate both on likeability and competence. Students rated both equally competent, but rated Heidi as less likeable and more "selfish" than Howard. The empirically demonstrated point here is that women and men both perceive successful and powerful women as competent, but not likeable; yet they perceive successful and powerful men as both competent and likeable.

OK, so we are not in the Columbia Business School classroom taking the test now, but I think if we are honest with ourselves, the findings ring true. Did the media succeed easily in convincing us that both Sheryl and Marissa are unlikeable?

The practical take-away I advise my clients on is to not reduce your power, authority, and competence in order to try to be more likeable. You can't change deeply ingrained societal biases. Sure, I agree with S&C that as we get more women in positions of power, our mindsets will shift. But in the meantime, don't sweat your likeability. Remain professional, keep a sense of perspective and humor, and project an authentic caring and kind outlook and let your likeability ratings fall where they may. I don't know a lot of male executives who spend a lot of mental energy on gauging if they are crowd pleasers.

#2: Women need to negotiate in the style of men, but ask for what they truly need to be successful and stay growing in the job.

S&C gave compelling examples of how women shortchange themselves by the style they use in compensation, performance, and promotion negotiations and by assuming that they can't ask for what they really need to be successful in the job because it will backfire and they will be denied it or fired. I recommend reading this chapter first-hand.

The main take-away here is to approach your negotiations assuming you will get what you want because you will be serving your organization best if your ends are achieved. You position what you are asking for in terms of how it enables you to serve the greater good more effectively. All your terms are presented in a "win/win" framework. If you will require more training, shadowing, or mentoring to achieve your aim, you will rationally explain how this course is a high return on investment for your organization and your boss. Your boss and your organization want you to succeed because they are already investing in you. You need to spell out what you require to deliver on that investment.

Sheryl also suggests the same negotiation style with your spouse. If you will require expensive child-care to pull off your job which barely covers your net earnings, then you could point out that if you stay in the position and grow, your earnings will soon be significantly higher and more than cover this early and critical investment in your career.

#3: Women opt out of the running for top positions of power by assuming that it won't work out before they ask, try, or go for it.

S&C cite instructive specific examples where Sheryl had to talk women into accepting positions of advancement because the women's internal voices were so attuned to why it wouldn't work out whereas the men were banging down her door to tell her why they should have the chance. Women want to have all the qualifications nailed upfront before considering whereas men figure they will learn it on the job.

The take-away here is simple. Do not let your subconscious programming convince you that you can't go for it. Take a risk. Do it afraid. Most executives learn everything they need to know once they are in the job and not before anyway.

And as Sherly inimitably states, "Sit At the Table."

#4: To get men to Lean In more to doing childcare and housework, women should Lean Out in how men do these activities.

If you really want your spouse to take over more of these jobs, then don't dictate the terms. Let them own it. Enough said.

#5: Women are not always aware of their own biases against women who have made different life and professional choices and how these biases perpetuate the problem.

I think we all, men and women, tend to wonder if the grass would be greener if we had made different life choices. Guess what? You'll never know. So why bother wondering? If you want to adjust your course, go for it...NOW!

When we openly or silently condemn women for the choices they made which are different than ours, we contribute to the problem. We need to get to where we are content with our choices or pursue a mid-course correction and focus on that instead of focusing on what other people are choosing. If you become truly content with how you are living, you will be less likely to worry about other paths you could have pursued. Focus on what you want today and then take concrete steps in that direction. You will become a role model in that way.

Top 5 Ways to "On Ramp"

Did you off-ramp your career and not even realize it? Don't worry. You are in good company. There is a lot of traffic on that off-ramp. 

First, let's talk about what off-ramping is and how prevalent it is for highly educated, professional women. Secondly, let's talk about how to help you on-ramp (aka on-board) if that is what you are after. 

According to the research done by economist and workplace expert Silvia Ann Hewlett and her partners, 60 percent of working women off-ramp at some point during their careers. To off-ramp refers to a woman voluntarily opting out of the workforce at the point at which they were on a fast-track advancement career to take care of family responsibilities (pregnancy, child care, elder care, or other personal reasons). In the "Hidden Brain Drain Task Force" report (PDF available on Amazon.com), Hewlett and her co-authors detail how 89 percent of these women try to return to the workforce full-time, many after more than a decade-long absence, and they are usually not employable (i.e. don't get a job) or are under-employed (lower pay, lower status, lower responsibilities). Only 40 percent of them get full-time jobs. 

In her book, Off Ramps and On Ramps, Hewlett details the results of an extensive survey of over 2,000 professional women and blends it with the findings from high-level executive interviews with top global corporations about how to retain top women talent. She encourages these corporations to do six things to retain women throughout their career and minimize "off-ramping": 

  1. "Flex-work arrangements"
  2. "Arc-of-career flexibility"
  3. "Re-imagination of work life"
  4. "Continuation of ambition"
  5. "Harnessing of activism"
  6. "Reduction of stigmas and stereotypes"

Given how tough it is to get back into the corporate full-time game, I recommend that women consider hiring a career coach to help them position their candidacy in a way that shows how they have the skills and expertise and keeps the conversation focused on how they can contribute today, rather than how they opted out yesterday. 

As a career and leadership coach to women, I would like to share my top five considerations for women who have off ramped and want to on ramp:

#1: Be at peace with your decisions.

I'm sure that you opted out of your paid, full-time career for reasons that were completely valid and generous. You have nothing to apologize for. I'm betting that a lot of people close to you benefitted greatly by your decision to help them. Maybe you simply didn't have a choice. Whatever the reason, you need to get to the point mentally and emotionally where you are at peace with your past decision.

#2: Project peace with your decisions.

I think it weakens you and is beneath you to have to second-guess these past decisions for any employer (or anybody) who wants to know why you left the fast-track of any career. Of course, they are going to ask you why you did and you need to be ready. However, when you develop your response, it will be more effective (let alone more authentic) if you project that you are someone who is at peace with your decisions. Employers want to hire people who are decisive, forward-thinkers, and accountable. You can either demonstrate these qualities in how you answer the question OR you can seem wishy-washy, defensive, reactive, and apologetic. Who would you rather hire?

#3: Focus on how you can contribute today.

When I work with clients, I help them develop a series of responses to the question of they they off-ramped (30 second, one minute, two minutes). Embedded in their answers is a very short WHY they did, an expanded HOW they grew and served others and acquired marketable skills, and a PIVOT onto how the experience of off ramping actually prepared them to serve their potential employer even more. If you carefully identify, develop, script, and rehearse these responses, ideally with a coach or friend, you will be able to shift the momentum of the employment conversation away from what the potential employer views as a liability to what you view as an asset in terms of serving them in the present on their present challenge. Sure, it is a bit tricky, but I believe in YOU! What employers really want to know once they get beyond their prurient curiosity into why you left such and such stellar career path and entered the "nonlinear discontinuous career space" (i.e. off ramp world) is: how can you improve their bottom line, be fun to work with, take direction and be trainable, make them look good to their boss, develop their young/inexperienced talent, and pull it all off without off ramping again soon...so tell them this in your answer and spin it in the pivot.

#4: Network, Baby!

Nothing helps someone regain more momentum than reinvigorating their network. I always encourage clients to join as many networks as they can and try to build real rapport with the people they meet. While you may feel that you are looking for help from others, try to turn that dynamic around the other way. Try to figure out how you can help connect other people or do things for them. You will enjoy it and it will create a real connection that can lead to good things for you in the future.

Serve first, ask later.

If people ask you how they can help you, be sure to have a specific answer ready for them and make it easy for them. For example, if they offer to write a letter for you, suggest to them the three bullet points which would be most relevant for your prospective employer...they will appreciate not having to guess what to say or what to emphasize. If they offer to make a call for you, tell them the name, number, and title of the person you think would most help you get the job.

#5: On ramp yourself!

While it may not be the right choice for everyone, I think that women who are having trouble getting rehired into the types of corporate positions they left should consider starting their own business or working for a small business. If you are going to have to take a pay cut, responsibility cut, and go out of your way to put in the face time and demonstrate your commitment to your firm, you owe it to yourself to explore what your experience could be like if you work for yourself or you go with a smaller firm. You may really enjoy the challenge and you would have more control over your time and less likelihood that you would be pulled in the types of situations that caused you to believe you had to off ramp in the first place.

The Top 5 Reasons to Hire a Coach

With so many coaches available in every topic today, it can leave people wondering “what do I really need a coach for that I can’t already do for myself?”  Maybe you don’t really need a coach and you have it covered.  However, if you would like to learn more about the top 5 reasons people seek coaching, please read on.

I am going to assume we are talking about CERTIFIED coaches who are highly skilled at coaching (life, business, career, executive).

REASON #1: FOR CLARITY.

Life is really busy and people are torn in many directions.  Most people feel like they are too fragmented to focus and are caught always reacting to things, instead of being able to plan and get out in front of life.

A coach can help you use your time together to discuss what your top priorities are and then clearly identify what factors cause you to misfire on fulfilling them.  It could be that you should let some activities go, delegate more, put yourself first more, ask for more help, postpone some lower priorities until a specific date, say “No” more.  Once you feel that you have been able to really clarify what you want and how you want to do it, you will feel more energized that your life is doable and you can let the smaller stuff truly go because it is not in your bulls-eye.

Partnering with a coach should enable you to gain more clarity on what matters to you and how to devote more of your life energy to achieving and experiencing those things.

REASON #2: FOR ACCOUNTABILITY.

It is an annoying fact of life, but it’s true:  “What gets measured, gets done.”

If you are at all like me, you go to the gym more when you are meeting someone there.  You go to the grocery store right away if you don’t have what the baby needs.  You get a second wind and finish the report if your boss drops by and says she wants to see it before she leaves. You make it to the mall if it is your best friend’s birthday tomorrow.You miss your favorite show to practice your presentation in the mirror if you know you are delivering it to a packed house tomorrow.

In all these examples, you got something done if someone was counting on you or expecting you to do it.  You were not just accountable to yourself, but you had someone else monitoring your accountability.

A coach can help you stay accountable on the important stuff and help you sort out why certain activities are harder for you to stay accountable on than others and how to address this to free up your energy.

REASON #3: FOR VALIDATION.

It’s lonely at the top.

No, seriously, it can be lonely when the people around you, including loved ones, don’t really get what you’re after and so they are unable to give you the type of support you would like to have even though they truly want what is best for you.

It is a documented fact that when people start looking for massive change in their lives, whether it is significant weight loss, a new career, or any major life transformation, the people closest to them get threatened.  It isn’t that their family and friends are against them.  It is just that all people find dramatic change threatening, whether they are conscious of it or not.

A coach can provide validation that the transformation you are hoping to bring about in your life is completely possible and within your grasp. Clients often find it useful to have a coach who they can confide in and share just how big their vision really is and how far they really want to go from where they are today.  I think the desire for validation is one of the best reasons to hire a coach.

REASON #4: FOR CONTEXT AND CALIBRATION.

A truism you often hear about coaching is that “it is hard to see when you are in the frame.”  For the same reasons top athletes hire coaches, people can benefit greatly by having someone objectively analyzing their performance, whether it is in business or in their personal life, and provide concrete feedback about what is working and what may not be working as well as it could.  We all have blind spots and elements in our lives where we are more accurately calibrated than others. I know I do.  When a coach is able to put our performance in context and offer calibrated feedback against what we are looking to achieve, it can make it easier and quicker for us to move forward.  Isn’t that what we want?

REASON #5: FOR NEW IDEAS.

People who are interested in high performance are always looking for the newest ideas and technologies to move ahead and gain the edge. Coaches are trained in frameworks and tools to help people quickly identify how to outperform their current state and gain new competencies rapidly. The best coaches continue to train and are always in continuing professional education and master classes.  If you choose to work with a coach, be sure to challenge them about what frameworks and techniques they have seen work for their clients with similar objectives to yours.  

If you decide to make an investment in hiring a coach, be sure that you take the time upfront to converse with them and assess the fit. A coach that helped your friend get a dramatic change may not be the right fit for you and what you want. Most coaches make a practice of offering a free conversation with you with no strings attached to see if what you want is a good fit with what they offer and for you both to assess if the chemistry is good. Spending the time upfront before you commit to a coaching relationship is always time well spent.