TEAM—An Early Start to ‘Leaning In’

So far there’s no contest. The business book of the year is Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In.  As COO of Facebook with a track record of startling success, Sandberg has both the experience and the clout to advise women at all levels on how to “Lean In” for going all the way in their careers.

I was struck by the many similarities between Sandberg’s prescriptions for success and WOMEN Unlimited Inc.’s “Rules for Cultivating Leadership Excellence“, from our 2009 book Women Are Changing the Corporate Landscape, a cornerstone for all of our programs.  The TEAM Program, specifically, is designed for women starting on the road to leadership and corporate success, so they can “Start Early and Start Right.”

Let’s look at just a few of the career-advancing strategies Lean In and WOMEN Unlimited have in common.

THINK EXCELLENCE, NOT PERFECTION—A common pattern we have seen often among the near 9,000 women who have participated in our programs over the last 19 years, is a striving for perfection. It’s a dangerous tendency which is career limiting, career stalling, and too often career destroying.  We strive vigorously to help women understand that if they want high level corporate success, they must refocus their view of themselves and strive for excellence, NOT perfection.

Here’s what Sandberg has to say on the subject of Perfectionism:

“…One of my favorite posters at Facebook declares in big red letters, ‘Done is better than perfect.’  I have tried to embrace this motto and let go of unattainable standards… Aiming at perfection causes frustration at best and paralysis at worst.”

ASSESS YOUR IMPACT—Too often women start out on their career paths with an unrealistic assessment of what they can contribute to the organization.  Frequently, they underestimate their talents and potential, and become as much, or more, of a limiting factor to their careers than their bosses or their organizations.  During the TEAM program, we help our participants realistically assess the talents they have, versus the talents they’ll need and encourage them to begin making the shift.

In Lean In, Sandberg emphasizes the importance of a truthful assessment of capabilities:

“How can I do better? What am I doing that I don’t know? What am I not doing that I don’t see?  These questions can lead to many benefits. And believe me, the truth hurts…

            But the upside of painful knowledge is so much greater than the downside of blissful ignorance.”

TAKE RISKS—MAKE DECISIONS: At WOMEN Unlimited we have learned through our extensive dealing with career-oriented women that they are much more likely to be risk-averse than their male counterparts.  Lack of self-confidence, a desire to have “all the ducks in order” and fear of the unknown are common reasons why women embrace the status-quo to their own detriment. During the TEAM program, we emphasize the need for taking the right kind of risks both personally and professionally, and how effective risk taking can help women become more strategic and pro-active.

Sheryl Sandberg is an advocate of effective risk taking and offers this compelling argument in Lean In:

            “Being risk averse in the workplace can cause women to be more reluctant to take on challenging tasks.  In my experience more men look for stretch assignments and take on high-visibility projects, while more women hang back.”

These are just a few of the areas in which WOMEN Unlimited, Inc. and Lean In are in sync. Personally, I totally share this observation Sandberg offers close to the end of her book:

“As we start using the talents of the entire population, our institutions will be more productive, our homes will be happier, and the children growing up in those homes will no longer be held back by narrow stereotypes.”

Interested in joining the conversation about leaning in? Follow us on Twitter and participate in our Twitter chat on May 21st at 1 p.m. We welcome you to voice your opinion and debate the topics shared in Sheryl Sandberg’s book during the chat.

Rosina Racioppi                                                                                 President & CEO                                                                               WOMEN Unlimited, Inc.