Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's chief operating officer, has kicked up a hornet's nest of controversy about women and work, ambition and success in her first book Lean In published this week. Responding to her own question, why more women aren't in leadership roles, Sandberg tells women to step up, lean in and own their success.
"I'm not blaming women,' she said in an interview on 60 Minutes. "But there is a lot more that we can do."
Whatever you think about her message, Sandberg is a role model for savvy leadership communication. Career success means taking risks and advocating for your own best interests, the very behaviors that our culture discourages in girls and women. Sandberg speaks and writes about how she overcame these cultural biases, found her leadership voice and the courage to use it.
Along the way, she has earned admiration for her strong communication skills, telling a Harvard Business School class last year, " . . . more than anything else, you're going to need the ability to communicate authentically, to speak so that you inspire the people around you and to listen so that you continue to learn each and every day on the job."
Sandberg's experience offers women four lessons about leaning in to communicate like a leader:
To move up, communicate up. Women tend to manage down and across, while men keep their eye focused squarely up at the next rung on the career ladder. One of Sandberg's great strengths is managing her boss, Mark Zuckerberg, the quirky founder of Facebook. They work on their relationship and it's widely believed to be the secret sauce in Facebook's success.
If you want to lead, take a bold point of view. To make an impact means stepping up to a bigger playing field and you may have to step outside your comfort zone. Through her own experience in Silicon Valley, Sandberg began to advocate for women and leadership, developed a strong point of view and took it live and public. She tested the waters at a TED conference in 2010 and later fine-tuned her ideas at in a commencement speech she gave for the 2011 graduating class at Barnard College.
Connect with people through a clear and simple narrative. Sandberg is accessible and warm. She uses simple language, avoids technology and financial jargon, and brings her message to life with personal stories. The mundane -- looking for the women's bathroom at an investment banking firm -- becomes a powerful point about gender inequality. Careers are no longer a climb up the ladder, but a climb through a jungle gym.
Develop thick skin. Nothing feels riskier than self-exposure. Feelings can be managed and risk is nothing more than a matter of perspective. Leadership demands thick skin and Sandberg seems to handle the slings and arrows of her critics with grace and professionalism.