Can you really Lean In?

I just read the book Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg and I have to tell you, I wasn’t expecting much. I thought it would be another narrative from a privileged woman in a privileged position, telling entrepreneurs like me things we couldn’t use. What I found was a thoughtful and insightful look in to leadership and the surprising ways we female entrepreneurs stand in our own ways. Here are the best takeaways from the book (IMHO).

Having it all means being smart enough to assemble a great team

The traditional thought is that this extends to your business or position, but Sandberg lets us know that this rule should extend to your family. You can’t build an empire without a partner who is willing to captain the ship and share the decisions and responsibilities. As I watched my business dismantle my marriage, I understand that you have to have someone who can embrace the seasons of entrepreneurship and rid out the storms in a way that doesn’t crack. That’s hard to do, but to be successful we have to have a stable foundation and that means a willing and able partner.

We have to show up

I am constantly surrounded by brilliant, ambitious and breathtakingly beautiful women who do extraordinary things. What I’ve noticed is that although we can do all of these things, we routinely take a step back whenever someone else comes along. I noticed this as I crossed the street leaving the metro the other day. At the corner, there was a crowd full of men in suits waiting to cross. All the women were behind them. As I strode up in the center of the men, they looked and continued on. They don’t prevent us or make us feel uncomfortable, we do that on our own. They follow our cue and most of the time our cue is that we don’t deserve a seat at the table.

Fess Up and Change

We women are a crazy bunch, we spout equality and fair pay but when someone younger, prettier and smarter comes along we can deliver a knockout punch like you wouldn’t believe. We say she doesn’t deserve the pay or she isn’t experienced enough, but really what is it? Is it that we are scared that she might be great? Is it terrifying that she might be better than every man and if so, what does that mean for us? I have to look firmly in the mirror when I ask these questions, because I have been guilty of every one of these thoughts.

It’s okay to not finish

Sandberg talks a lot about how her marriage enables her to work after the kids are asleep and as I ended my day at 11pm last night, as a single mom I was exhausted. It wasn’t just a lack of sleep, it was as lack of time for myself, a feeling of not finishing what I should have and the enormous pressure of having to be the main source of support, financial and emotional, for my kids. And I have an ex-husband who contributes his share. The book echoes something we need to constantly tell ourselves. It doesn’t have to be perfect for everyone, it just has to be perfect for you. You make the rules, so you can change them when they no longer serve the life you want to live. It’s not about having the cleanest house, the most accomplished kids or the best car. It’s about your life and what you need to be happy, and supporting other women in whatever choice they make. Instead of pitying the working mom who is always late and forgets the cookies, bring an extra box just in case. Shake hands with the stay at home mom and know that she can run a budget better than most CFO’s. Whatever her choice, support it. That’s how we lean in.

This building an empire thing is hard and for every entrepreneur out there, real or imagined I support you because I am you. I forget to sign permission slips, but I try like hell to make every recital or play. My son stands taller because ‘my mom owns her own business.’ My girls speak louder because they have seen me take hits and get up again.  The only thing that has ever inspired me as much as what this book had to say was the thought of opening the doors of my firm. So come on ladies, lean in with me.

Leona Charles

Leona Charles began SPC Business Consulting Ltd in 2007 to help businesses of all sizes get the most out of their performance. As a Six Sigma Black Belt, she brings a fresh and unique approach to Operations Consulting drawing on her 10 years of combined experience in law enforcement, government contracting, property management, customer service, non profit industry, and education.

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