Top five ways to “lean in” every day at work

Posted June 07, 2013 by
Businesswoman sitting in her office

Businesswoman sitting in her office. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

“What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”

It’s a question for anyone trying to succeed in business, but for Sheryl Sandberg, it’s a way of life. In her book, “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead,” that simple question holds the key to success in the corporate world. Sandberg feels it’s a question that women in particular should ask themselves in the workplace. With a resume that includes chief operating officer of Facebook, vice president of global online sales and operations at Google, and chief of staff at the U.S. Treasury, this Harvard-educated businesswoman is certainly an expert. Take the following tips as your Sandberg-styled guide to success.

1.    Ask yourself the tough questions. This one has nothing to do with whether you’ll have a burger or a salad for lunch. Rather, ask yourself: Are you earning raises at a satisfying pace? Is your work level consistent with your interest in advancing at work? Are you becoming more relevant in the office, or are your skills becoming less necessary in day-to-day operations? You should feel useful and unique in the workplace. If you don’t, it could be a sign that you should reexamine your self-esteem — or your resume. Business training may be one way to improve your skills, or perhaps you could benefit from a meeting discussing your talent and future with your boss.
2.   Don’t make (too much) room for baby. Starting a family is a big question for a lot of women in the workplace, but many pass up opportunities in the process. “We continue to do the majority of the housework and child care,” Sandberg writes. “We compromise our career goals to make room for partners and children who may not even exist yet.” Herself a mother, Sandberg suggests that the years before having children are a critical time to lean in. Think about it: Even if you became pregnant tomorrow, you could still have seven or eight months of work before maternity leave. That’s a lot of time to lean in, and a lot of wasted time if you pull back early.
3.   Boost your training and your confidence. Sandberg suggests that low self-esteem is a big part of women holding back at work, writing that a number of studies across industries have found that women are more likely to judge their own performance as worse than it actually is, while men are likely to judge their performance as better than reality. If you’re feeling like your skills need an update, consider business degree and certification programs. If you’re up to date, you might need to ask a few more tough questions about why you don’t feel confident and what you can do to make yourself more comfortable in the office.
4.   Inspire your partner to lean in for your family. Women are more likely to be tasked with childcare and housework duties than men — between 30 and 40 percent more, Sandberg writes — and so it’s no wonder you might feel exhausted, overwhelmed or otherwise not your best self in the office. Suggest to your partner the benefits of equally shared work at home: With more energy at work, you could broaden your network, boost your salary, and come home with a paycheck that makes life easier for the both of you. Some companies allow for telecommuting or other benefits. Either partner could take advantage of time working from home.
5.    Take a risk every day. One of the more controversial points of Sandberg’s book is her idea that society isn’t all that’s holding women back — it’s our own fear of failure. Battle your nagging inner voice by taking risks when you can. Take on that extra project, offer to train the new hire, and pull an overnight planning session to become the star of the morning meeting. It could be as small as sitting in the front of the conference room instead of in the corner by the door. Come to work with the mindset that you’re going to change the world for the better and your actions will reflect your inspiration.

Women aren’t the only ones who can benefit from Sandberg’s words. With a few thoughtful changes, a day at work can turn into eight hours of opportunities to empower yourself, boost your confidence and climb the corporate ladder.

About the Author

Mary Fineday is a writer in Los Angeles, Calif.

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