Tag Archives: assertiveness

Negotiating, Finding a Mentor, and Burning the Midnight Oil: More Thoughts on Leaning In

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After many months in the holds queue at the library, I finally got the e-copy of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In on my Kindle.

I’ve been hearing about this book for months, and it’s possible I’ve read more words about it than there are words in it. Some of the reaction amounts to high fives and attagirls; others criticize Sandberg’s supposedly limited and naive perspective, as if centuries of patriarchy will magically evaporate if enough of us raise our hands in meetings.

I don’t think that’s Sandberg’s thesis, and it’s disingenuous to criticize a book for not being some other book. Yes, there are systemic problems that make it hard for a woman to lean in. (She addresses those, by the way.) And yes, Lean In is very socioeconomically specific. But it’s still an empowering, worthwhile read.

The research about how men and woman are perceived differently in the workplace is jaw-dropping. Both sexes will downplay a person’s achievements if you attach a female name to them; the same résumé with a man’s name at the top will be judged more favorably. An assertive woman is seen as a bitch; an assertive man is just, well, a man. I was encouraged by the changes corporations and business schools have made to their cultures that have helped give women an even playing field to compete and thrive; those stories deserve to be heard widely. (One doctor changed his approach to rounds; instead of relying on people to raise their hands, he alternated calling on men and women, and of course found that women knew their stuff as well as or better than their male colleagues.)

Her section on negotiating for yourself was useful. Research suggests a simple two-pronged approach: be scrupulously nice in a way that builds community, and back up your negotiation with strong supporting info. (I’ve often said that my formula for being taken seriously as a woman in leadership is 1. being humorously self-deprecating, 2. giving people the benefit of the doubt, and 3. really, really knowing my stuff.) And I liked the story of the woman who was seeking a job and asked her, “What’s your biggest problem, and how can I solve it?” Sandberg had never heard that approach to a job interview.

Her chapter on mentoring was of particular interest since that’s a growing passion of mine. Sandberg writes, “We have sent the wrong message to young women. We need to stop telling them, ‘Get a mentor and you will excel.’ Instead, we need to tell them, ‘Excel and you will get a mentor.'” Love that. She also urges women to be specific when asking for help. Asking for a lunch date to “catch up” is a bad approach; people are too busy for that, and it communicates that you haven’t done your homework to know what this particular mentor might be able to provide to you (and you to her, because the best mentoring relationships are mutually beneficial). She tells a few stories of young women who received mentoring advice from more senior women but didn’t consider it mentoring because they didn’t meet for an hour a week. “That’s not a mentor; that’s a therapist,” Sandberg quips.

The discrepancy in how women approach mentors makes sense in light of Deborah Tannen’s classic work on how men and women communicate. Very broadly speaking, men tend to be action and task oriented; women are relationship oriented. So it makes sense that women are going to ask for an hour-a-week, catch-up-and-be-friends kind of relationship… and then be disappointed when busy executives (or senior pastors) can’t fulfill that role. If we can be more specific and task-oriented when engaging a mentor, we’re more likely to be successful.

I’ve met so many women who’ve lamented the lack of [female] mentors. The same story gets told again and again with different names and details: [Potential Mentor] let me down, she never called me back, she wasn’t helpful at all, she saw me as a threat, etc. etc. I now wonder if part of the problem comes down to how we ask women to mentor us, and to what end.

On the complexities of leaning in when you have kids: Sandberg tells a story about one of her teams that was deadlocked on some issue. One of the men on the team spent the weekend crunching some numbers that broke the logjam on Monday. Sandberg wonders why more women don’t go and do likewise. Well, if you have kids, it’s probably because you’re running soccer carpool, buying the birthday gift, getting a long-overdue haircut, etc. etc. (Fathers who are involved with their kids’ lives will face similar challenges.) Sandberg diagnoses women’s inability or unwillingness to be that “weekend warrior” as a lack of confidence, but if you’re a parent, more often it’s the simple chaos and unpredictability of home life. Yes, we can and should lean in. But the times we can drop everything on a moment’s notice are rare. Our lives don’t turn on a dime.

Did you read Lean In? What did you think?

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Image is from the Tumblr Sad White Babies with Mean Feminist Mommies, a collection of cringe-inducing stock photos that go with women-having-it-all articles. 

 

Forthright Clarity

I’m thinking this week about bullies, and dealing with bullies, and how we speak the truth in love, as I prepare for this Sunday’s sermon, which will deal with these matters. (Any ideas? Please leave your thoughts in the comments.)

I am remembering fondly an experience from last summer that didn’t relate to bullying, but did exemplify assertiveness at its best:

We had taken the kids and Mom to a “family show” with our perennial favorite, Billy Jonas. I found out about the concert completely by accident—was planning to send a CD to one of our relatives and discovered that he was going to be in town.

Our family adores Billy Jonas. His music is imaginative, smart, funny, and very catchy. He uses a series of found items as instruments, including a bass drum made from a big blue plastic trash can, a Little Tikes chair, and a skateboard. He has drumsticks attached to his Vans which he uses to hit salad bowls, bells and horns. His CD “What Kind of Cat Are You?” was the only thing that quieted baby Margaret on a road trip to Maine several summers ago, and the effect was instantaneous and almost spooky.

And Billy’s concerts are wondrous. He is like the Pied Piper up there, able to teach words and motions in a way that is not at all tedious. Family concerts are a tough gig—you can tell immediately when you’re losing the audience. Yet he got the crowd back when attention spans waned.

For his final song he brings people up on stage and has them “Bang and Sang” along with him on various instruments. We were sitting on the front row and somehow Caroline got invited up on stage.

She is a reserved child in all but the most comfortable settings, and while she had just finished drama camp the day before and had declared her stage fright “cured,” this was a whole ‘nother deal. So I decided to give her one and only one verbal push: “Go on, sweetie!”

Then I stopped to see what she’d do.

caro_billy.jpgShe went up on stage and Billy gave her the Nimbus 2000—a broom stick with a tambourine on top. He showed her the rhythm, a slightly complicated combination of shaking and tapping, which she did perfectly.

Billy then proceeded to fiddle with some of the other stuff on stage to get ready for the song to begin. Meanwhile I readied the camera. I looked up to see Caroline conferring with this idol of her childhood.

I heard her say, quietly but clearly, “I don’t want to do this after all.”

He offered her another instrument which she declined.

What was he going to do? I wondered.

He turned to the audience and said, “Wow, folks… such forthright clarity. Well, it’s always good to know what you don’t want to do. Everybody give her a round of applause!”

She came and sat back down and nestled into me, her eyes rimmed with that red that I remember so well from childhood, when I felt that I had pushed myself too far and felt embarrassed. Another girl was called forward and completed the task, looking at her parents the whole time with an expression of combined terror and shyness.

It is so tough to know how hard to push a child. We don’t grow unless we stretch ourselves. On the other hand, being able to tell someone—especially an authority figure—”I don’t want to do this” is an incredible thing. I hope she will remember how to do this her whole life.

We greeted Billy after the show and he thanked Caroline for coming on stage and also for saying what she was comfortable with. “That’s a very brave thing to do,” he said.

One of our friends who was at the concert was impressed with Billy’s ability to handle the moment so graciously. And then he said thoughtfully, “Forthright clarity. Yes, that’s Caroline in a nutshell.”

…Have you had a moment of forthright clarity? What images come to mind when you consider what it means to “speak the truth in love”?