Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, “Lean In,” starts a conversation about why women don’t “lean in” to leadership opportunities. Regardless of your views of the late Margaret Thatcher, she was definitely a woman who leaned in.
Politics aside, she did so many things that her detractors said could never be done. She rose to PM through diligence, dogged belief in hard work, responsibility and taking opportunities to promote her values and ideas. She took Britain out of an era of crippling strikes and financial crisis while also raising a family. She did not let detractors get in her way, nor take her off track of her goals. The fact that she was the first woman to lead Britain, or a western nation for that matter, didn’t faze her, nor was it her goal. It wasn’t about being a woman, it was about being a leader.
So why is it that with Mrs. Thatcher blazing the trail for us we have not followed? Ms. Sandberg believes that we hold back, don’t sit at the table and let our limiting beliefs stop us from taking advantage of leadership opportunities that present themselves. Yes, there are still certain prejudices in the male-dominated board rooms, C-Suites and Congressional offices that keep our numbers to 14-18%. However, as Ms. Sandberg points out, it is “us” who need to lean in, much as Ms. Thatcher did. I would actually rename her book and call it “Lead In” because that’s what we’re really talking about here. I have seen women, (myself included), NOT “Lead In” to opportunities because of the exact fears and limiting beliefs Ms. Sandberg talks about. She has been able to put words and a framework to a phenomenon that I personally have experienced and witnessed time and time again. It’s about time we had the conversation.
Our fear of not being “liked” is a big deterrent to women Leading In– with good evidence to show that it’s not just in our minds. So what if we didn’t care and led anyway? What’s the worst that could happen? We might become like Margaret Thatcher. I’m pretty sure she didn’t get the nickname “Iron Lady” because of how well liked she was.
There are worse things that can happen than not being liked – missing an opportunity to be promoted, not being seen as competent, not raising your hand when you have the right answer, not being seen as a leader. You will gain the respect of those you lead slowly, more slowly than a man, as Sandberg points out, but as a competent and fair leader, the “liking” will come. At the end of the day, would you rather be known as having grabbed the opportunity to exercise your potential or be known as someone with untapped potential?
Margaret Thatcher and Sheryl Sandberg have both shown examples of effective leadership – let’s honor both, and ourselves, by not letting our limiting beliefs get in the way of “Leading In” to the next leadership opportunity.