Sheryl Sandberg has kicked up a hornet’s nest of controversy about women and work, ambition and success in her first book ‘Lean In,’ published this week. Responding to her own question, why more women aren’t in leadership roles, Sandberg tells women to step up, lean in and own their success. As Facebook’s chief operating officer and first and only female director, critics accuse her of breathing elite oxygen.
“I’m not blaming women,’ she said in an interview on ’60 Minutes’. “But there is a lot more that we can do.”
Whatever you think about her message, Sandberg is a role model for savvy leadership communication. Career success requires taking risks and advocating for your own best interests, which Sandberg points out are the very behaviors that our culture discourages in girls and women. She speaks and writes about getting over these cultural biases, finding her leadership voice and the courage to use it.
Along the way , she has earned admiration for her strong communication skills, telling a Harvard Business School class last year, ” . . . more than anything else, you’re going to need the ability to communicate authentically, to speak so that you inspire the people around you and to listen so that you continue to learn each and every day on the job.”
Sandberg’s transformation offers women four lessons about leaning in to make a statement and an impact:
To move up, communicate up. Women tend to manage down and across, while men keep their eye focused squarely up at the next rung on the career ladder. One of Sandberg’s great strengths is managing her boss, Mark Zuckerberg, the quirky founder of Facebook. They work on their relationship as hard as any married couple and it’s widely believed to be the secret sauce in Facebook’s success.
If you want to lead, take a bold point of view. To make an impact means stepping up to a bigger playing field and you may have to step outside your comfort zone. Through her own experience in Silicon Valley, Sandberg began to advocate for women and leadership, developed a strong point of view and took it live and public. She tested the waters at a TED conference in 2010 and later fine tuned her ideas in her commencement speech for the 2012 graduating class at Barnard.
Connect with people through a clear and simple narrative. Sandberg projects that she is accessible and trustworthy by using simple language, avoiding technology and financial jargon, and bringing her message to life with personal stories. The mundane — looking for the women’s bathroom at an investment banking firm — becomes a powerful point about gender inequality at the executive level. Careers are no longer a climb up the ladder, but a climb through a jungle gym.
Develop thick skin. Nothing feels riskier than self exposure, but feelings can be managed and risk is nothing more than a matter of perspective. Leadership demands thick skin and Sandberg seems able to handle the slings and arrows of her critics with grace and professionalism.
Bess Gallanis is a corporate communications consultant and executive coach to high performing companies and their leaders. When the stakes are high, communication performance is a game changer or a deal breaker. To gain a competitive advantage, contact Bess today.