Sunday night, Sharon Frame, the Founder of LeadHERship and a former CNN anchor, interviewed me through Zoom for a discussion with her followers of Sheryl Sandberg’s book: Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. Sharon asked me to discuss the two chapters on Success and Likeability and It’s a Jungle Gym, not a Ladder. Sharon is such a good interviewer that the time flew by quickly. Some points, I did not have time to make relate to the last part of Sharon Sandberg’s title, The Will to Lead, and I wanted to discuss the meaning of that phrase more.
As someone who went from being a preschool teacher to a university president, my will to lead, grew over the years when I felt more confidence, but that will to take on a new job, to lead, was often driven by needing more. Certainly, early on in my career, I changed jobs because I needed the money. We are often challenged to pursue some lofty goals for society and I believe we should. But, I also want to speak for all those women out there who must develop their will to lead because that change will provide more for themselves and their families. At several times in my life, financial demands and family needs propelled me to try for a different job with more responsibilities, to go out on a limb, because I needed to provide for my extended family. Many women look at their paychecks and think, “I have to earn more.”
Other times, we have been doing the job for many years, but there is a feeling that we can contribute more. The present job has become mundane, not fulfilling, and we have that inner desire to stretch for more intellectually and emotionally demanding work. Knowing when to put ourselves forward for a position that requires more leadership is a soul-searching experience. Sandberg mentions in the book that women often feel they must be 100% confident that they can handle a new job before they apply, yet men seek those opportunities with confidence that they will learn now to handle the job. Emotionally and intellectually stalled is a deadly existence.
If the risk or lack of confidence to make a complete job change is too much at the moment, I suggest seeking opportunities within the present position. Ask to lead a project, to make a change that you feel is needed in your present role. Try shaping others’ perceptions of your abilities by asking for more responsibility. Your confidence will grow and their confidence in you will grow.
Sandberg’s book title, Lean In, has a particular connotation for the present job you hold. Be there, be present, be at the table, show your interest, your enthusiasm and drive. I once attempted to counsel a person who suffered from the “Woe is me” syndrome. Nothing I suggested or we considered together was sufficient for her to feel she could take the next steps to make her career life better. Don’t fall into that trap.
Whatever the job, professional position or career juncture, it is hard work to be reflective, to be self-critical, but also please move on from self-critical to self-confidence.
Books like Sandberg’s Lean In: Women, Work, and The Will to Lead are excellent for reflecting. Whether driven by need for more financially for your family or for more intellectual and stimulating work, personal responsibility is inherent in the phrase, The Will to Lead.