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I’ve always been an avid reader, an enthusiastic mentor and a passionate believer in gender equity. So it’s no surprise that I took an early interest in Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In and became a quick disciple. And while I wasn’t convinced that joining the online community Mightybell, forming a group and downloading discussion plans were going to work for me, I did want to get others’ perspectives on the book. So I invited three young women on my team to each bring a couple of colleagues to discuss the book with me over lunch.
One of the greatest benefits of what, in effect, was a book club meeting comes from not having a homogeneous group, and that was certainly the case here. Some of the women have kids; some don’t. Some are in the early stages of their careers; some are well on their way. Some are outspoken; and some said that being outspoken, or “leaning in,” does not come naturally to them from a cultural standpoint – and may even be counterintuitive.
We had a great discussion fuelled by our differences, and I was struck by how much I learned – in particular how the big thing about Lean In is leaning into everything you do.
Lean In. To your work and to your life. Be interested, be engaged, soak it up. If you’re going to a meeting, for heaven’s sake, shut your laptop. Listen, contribute and get in the game.
Lean Back. If you’re a leader, sometimes this is the best way to lead. Watch what’s going on. Let other people put their ideas on the table first so you don’t run the risk of not hearing them because their ideas are contrary to your own. See what happens when you lean back a bit to watch how the problem would be solved if you weren’t in the room. Just give folks a challenge, and lean back while they develop creative solutions to present to you.
Lean On. Ask for help before you think you need it and learn to lean on others. The work world gets more complex every day. There was a time earlier in my marketing career that I could say that I had done the job of everyone on my team at some point. I can’t say that anymore. I don’t post to our website. I am not an analytics guru. I did not go to design school. So I lean on others. In fact, I have leaned on others throughout my career and have encouraged others to lean on me. I rely on people to share their knowledge. I count on people to cover meetings I can’t attend and brief me afterwards so that I don’t miss a beat.
Lean Up. Lean up to the next challenge. Ask for the opportunity to get involved the next time an assignment that you’re interested in becomes available. Let the people above you know where you would like to go next, or where you would like to go long term. I lead a large team and there are always problems to solve. Knowing what people’s aspirations are helps ensure that I consider them for opportunities I otherwise might not.
I hope that everyone who attended that lunch benefited from some of what we shared. We’re going to continue to meet and pick topics for candid discussion (“difficult conversations” is our next one).
I’m not sure what’s going to happen to our little discussion group. It’s the first time that I’ve pulled something like this together – over the years, most of my mentorship efforts have been more organic and one-on-one.
But if from this experience a group of young women form workplace friendships that are stronger than they might otherwise have been, if they learn to lean on each other, lean in to opportunities, lean up and let me know where they want to go next, then I in turn will try to help them get where they want to go.
Colleen Albiston (@clalbiston) is the chief marketing officer at Deloitte Canada (@DeloitteCanada), one of Canada’s leading professional services firms that provides audit, tax, consulting, and financial advisory services.