Friday, May 24, 2013

Career Advice from Lean In

My latest nook read comes from Facebooks COO Sheryl Sandburg, Lean In. 

Her book started with a Ted talk and turned into a must read for all the power women of the twenty first century.  The basis of the teachings throughout the book focused on why women are not in more leadership roles and what we as women can do about it. 

I loved this explanation, where Sheryl writes, "If a woman is competent, she does not seem nice enough. If a woman seems really nice, she's considered more nice than competent. Since people want to hire and promote those who are both competent and nice, this creates a huge stumbling block for women."  Elaborating on this point, Sheryl says, "We expect people to adhere to stereotypes... The stereotype of men is: leadership qualities. Leader, decisive, going to make things happen. The stereotype of women are communal qualities, caregiving and sensitive. Because we expect those qualities to be in opposition to each other, it means when a woman does anything other than be nice first, she's judged badly."  I have thought this in the past, but never been able to put it into words....

There were a endless empowering stories and teaching moments in the book, but here are my favorite three points Sheryl made:

1.  Don't leave before you leave.

This keynote refers to Sandberg’s observation that many women tend to “quietly lean back” way before it’s time, worrying about how they will manage family and work commitments sometimes years before the issue is relevant. I know I have been guilty of this and not only am I not a mother, I'm not pregnant, I'm not a wife, and I'm not even engaged.....on more than one occasion I have leaned back thinking, "do I really want that much responsibility?"  and "will I be able to handle this much responsibility when I have a family of my own?"  I need to deal with those problems when they get here, until then, the petal is down and I'm moving forward. 

2. Be more open to taking career risks.

Women tend to avoid stretch assignments and new challenges on the job, Sandberg says. They worry too much about whether they have the skills needed to take on a new, loftier role.  When offered an opportunity, they fall back on the excuse that they’re unfamiliar with that kind of work or it isn’t what they went to school for.  “At a certain point, it’s your ability to learn quickly and contribute quickly that matters, women need to shift from thinking ‘I’m not ready to do that’ to thinking ‘I want to do that — and I’ll learn by doing it.’

3.  Visualize your career as a jungle gym, not a ladder.

This is my favorite of Sandberg’s tips. (Maybe that’s because when I was growing up I loved playing on the jungle gym at school, or maybe because it applies perfectly to my career thus far...)

To me, it’s a great image of the 21st-century career path. “Ladders are limiting,” Sandberg writes. “Jungle gyms offer more creative exploration. There are many ways to get to the top of a jungle gym. The ability to forge a unique path with occasional dips, detours and even dead ends presents a better chance for fulfillment.”

In my career, I have had an opportunity in operations management in manufacturing, helped to lead a multi-billion dollar start-up, and now am working in quality at a world leading supply chain organization.  If you would have asked me in college what my path would be or my goals were, this would probably not be what I had envisioned, but I couldn't be more thankful for my wide array of experience.  I am much more marketable now and have quite a bit of relatable experience for several business sectors at my company.  The jungle gym approach has opened doors I didn't even know were there, and some I haven't even knocked on yet.

Have you read the book?  What are your thoughts on Sheryl?

1 comment:

  1. I have been interested in this book! Her quote on the most important career decision really stopped me in my tracks. Very true! My advice to all young women is to take your time getting married and enjoying the time to yourself. I really wanted to get married and I love being married but those precious years between college and marriage are lost forever. I spent too much time worrying about getting married while dating Carl. I am going to pick up the book this weekend!