Research Paper By Leann Ferry
(Life Coach, UNITED STATES)
5 Things You Can Do Now to Grow Your Ability to “Lean In”
Sheryl Sandberg, COO at Facebook and author of the bestselling book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, says women are not making it to the top in any profession worldwide and that since 2002 the numbers of women in high level jobs has been dropping. To fix this she says women need to stay in the workforce, come to the table, make their partners real partners (share responsibilities equitably in home life) and not leave before they leave (making career sacrifices before a partner or baby are even in the picture). In these directives, Sandberg tells women what they need to do, but she doesn’t tell them how to do it. She doesn’t address the personal hurdles many women face in pushing their comfort zone beyond the gender barriers (internal and external gender barriers) they’ve grown up with. She doesn’t address the fear that women may have about changing how they act, behave and interact with colleagues, friends and family. It takes more than strength of will to change.
When women act or behave differently than what is expected by their friends, family, and community, there can be negative and judgmental reactions from others. Some women are afraid to say what they think for fear others won’t like them or that it will make others react and attack. Women who assert themselves are often labeled: bossy, selfish, bitchy, mean, bad mothers, bad partners, and worse. Many women consider it easier to avoid conflict, to be polite, and to be quiet.
“Leaning in” takes courage. To really “lean in”, women need to learn how to show up with their true thoughts & feelings and to stand strong in the face of negative reactions.
So, how can you show up tomorrow and “lean in?” Here are 5 things you can start doing today to enable you to truely “lean in” to your entire life:
Know your strengths.
Your absolute first step is to be honest with yourself about your strengths. It gives you a more accurate view of all the tools in your toolbox. It fills you with healthy confidence and helps you bring more of your strengths to your goals. Most people cut themselves short when it comes to acknowledging their strengths and in doing so are leaving valuable personal resources unused! Stop mulling over your weaknesses, you are wasting energy that could be put toward accomplishing your goals.
- Make a list of your qualifications, skills, experience, education, your character traits, etc. Dig deep. This is not a resume—it’s a reminder. Include everything! Your strengths are like a group of superhero friends who are all standing behind you when the going gets tough.
- Do a strengths analysis. Do some worksheets. Take this seriously. You can find tools on-line including two of my favorites: StrenghtsFinder by Tom Rath at strengthsfinder.com and the VIA Institute on Character at www.viacharacter.org (a free report).
- Pick your favorite 3 strengths and make plans to bring them more to your life and goals.
Know your values.
Living in line with your values is another way of saying: living authentically. You do this by putting energy and focus toward actions and goals that relate to YOUR values. Your values are your compass and help you say yes and no to the right things for you.
Take time to assess your values and where you are spending most of your time. Are you spending time on the things that are your top values in life? It can be a problem when we spend lots of time on things that relate to other people’s values but not our own. It leaves little time for us to put energy toward our own personal values. Making necessary adjustments to align your time with your values can free you up to go after the things that will really bring you more wellness, happiness and fulfillment.
- Review how you are spending your time over a week. Make a pie-chart to show how your time/energy is allocated for the different areas of your life. Next, allocate how much time you spend on each piece to come up with a total of 100%. Now consider the following, where is most of your time going? Ask yourself “why” so much time is going to this. Where is the least of your time going? Ask yourself “why” so little? Review this work and pick out value words to make a list.
- Identify specific times that you were the happiest, the most proud or the most satisfied. Write about these past experiences and ask yourself “why” did it feel so good. Pick out a list of value words to add to your list.
- Make a list of your identified values in life or work. Then circle your top 5 - 10.
Pick a goal & make a plan
Don’t just tell yourself to “lean in” more. Be specific and make a plan. What is it that you are going to work on doing? Do you need to be more assertive in meetings at work? If so, set some new personal goals to change that. Do you need to better handle the negative reactions of others in the office and at home? If yes, set a goal around that. Do you need to learn to delegate or collaborate in the workplace and at home so you are neither doing everything nor sacrificing what you truly need? If that’s what’s needed, set a goal there. Is it a personal habit you want to change? A new skill you want to develop? A recurring situation you want to handle in a different way?
Whatever it is that you need to do to be the person you need to be, set a goal around it. Next, make a plan. This will involve amassing all your internal and external resources, including your strengths from earlier and any people who can help you. Now is also the time to identify any gaps or areas you need to develop in order to meet your goal.
- Set one goal for the workplace or home that will help you become the woman you want to be there.
- Make a plan for what you want to accomplish on that goal in the next 3 months, 6 months, or 12 months.
- Get organized, break down the goal into small manageable tasks and get to work on one small step at a time.
Practice practice practice
You have your goal, a plan and you are ready to move forward. Let’s say your goal is to speak up more often and better handle the negative reactions of others during meetings at work or with a particular colleague; you will not suddenly change your actions and behavior because you see the need. This is something you can and will practice daily—sometimes successfully and sometimes less so—until the new skills and behaviors become “second nature.”
You need to practice being successful, especially when the task is tough and a bit beyond our reach. Visualize your successful action, then do it. Then do it over again and again. Most of us practice when preparing for an important presentation or speech, but we forget all about practice when it comes to the important meetings, conversations, interactions or high stakes encounters in our lives. It’s time to bring practice back. It makes your brain think you are really experienced at whatever it is. This adds to confidence, calm and the ability to perform well in the real life situation. Adopt the habit of practicing for all your important conversations, meetings and actions – not just the big things.
- Visualize yourself successfully doing the thing you want to do. Role play in your mirror or with a friend or coach.
- Brainstorm how you think others will react to a specific action of yours and then practice and role-play responding to that.
- Find a supportive friend or hire a professional coach to help you prepare and practice for success on the goal you have selected.
Act with Courage
You have a goal, a plan, and you’ve been practicing. It’s time to act! So what’s holding you back? If you are going to be “leaning in” and that pushes your comfort zone, no matter how prepared you are, there will still be some measure of fear. Where there is fear, you will need courage.
Acting with courage does not necessarily mean acting with confidence. It means acting through your fear. It means acting outside your comfort zone.
Fear can keep us safe, yes. But fear often masquerades as our inner critic – that negative internal voice – that keeps us in the comfort zone no matter how much we may tell ourselves we are ready to act. It’s worth asking: Is there a need for more planning and practice here, or is it courage that is missing?
Courage is like a muscle and it get’s stronger each time you use it. So with daily courage practice you will be more able to take the leaps that are necessary to achieve your goals.
- Be aware of even the smallest opportunities in every day life to take action in line with your values and in pursuit of your goals.
- In a moment of fear, ask yourself: Will action in this situation get me closer to my values and goals—or further away? If the answer is closer, then do it.
- Become more aware of the times when you feel the need to do something but it scares you or the times you walked away and wished you’d responded differently. Take a moment to imagine yourself handling the situation the way you would like to next time.
Goals come in all shapes and sizes. What you need to do to “lean in” more will look different from the next woman. Whatever it is, it’s time to get crystal clear about what you want to happen, what you have to do to make it happen and who you have to BE to do what needs to be done.
The more you prepare and take courageous action, one small step at a time toward your goals, the more you will begin to realize you can survive the difficult moments that acting in a new way can bring. The more you do it, the more you will find you are still standing, getting stronger and more capable, achieving your goals, and becoming more courageous! When you develop the awareness, skills and courage to stand up, speak up and show up as who you really are and want to be, you are “leaning in”.
Leann Ferry is a professional coach and founder of The Courageous Mindset – A coaching company with a mission to help women develop the courage they need to act outside their comfort zones in their personal and professional lives. You can connect with Leann at LinkedIn and at www.courageousmindset.com.