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.