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Don't Just Lean in, Step Up

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Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg advises women to "lean in" in her bestselling book,
TED talk and women's empowerment movement.

And that's important.

I think it's even more important for women to step up.

Here's what I mean.

I was speaking at an event for women business owners. The topic was how to write and speak on our "legacy message" to increase the visibility and profitability of our work, and more importantly, to increase our influence and impact -- for good.

This was an interactive session where everyone in the room teamed with a partner to talk about an achievement and a lesson they'd learned from that experience.

I circulated through the room during the exercise and "listened in" while participants shared an accomplishment and their resulting take-away.

When I heard a particularly interesting story, I asked that woman if she'd be willing to share it with the group.

Almost to a person, they demurred.

Most said they were "uncomfortable" getting up in front of a group. They gave a variety of excuses ranging from "Oh, I don't think my story is that interesting," to "I haven't had time to prepare," to "There's nothing special about what I did."

There was almost an across-the-board devaluing of themselves. "Who? Me?!" was the automatic response.

One woman entrepreneur had just organized a hugely successful event about how to use golf to leverage business relationships and community service. Her event, held on the rooftop of a Washington DC office building, had attracted the PGA Commissioner, members of Congress, non-profit execs and community leaders.

I told her, "That's a fantastic story. Would you please share how you planned that and pulled it off with our group?

She shrunk back and said, "Oh, I couldn't."

"Why not?"

"I've only been doing this for four months," she said, and went on to offer several other reasons she didn't feel "qualified" to share her example.

I told her, "STOP THAT!"

She looked at me, eyes wide open, a little shocked at my intensity.

I told her, "You've DONE this. You're not talking about something you're 'going' to do. You planned and produced a quality event from scratch that drew powerful people. Everyone at that event benefitted, and everyone in this room will benefit from hearing how you did it."

She still hesitated. "Well, I'm not sure."

I said, "Have you ever thought of it this way? We do not SERVE when we step back."

That got her attention.

I said, "You're an athlete, right?"

"Yes."

"You know that when the game's on the line; there are two kinds of people. Those who say, 'Give me the ball' and those who say, 'Don't give me the ball.' You're a 'Give me the ball' kind of person, aren't you?"

She smiled. "Yes."

"Then stop taking yourself out of the game."

She got it. She stood up and stepped up and, in three minutes, told us how she put that event together and what she learned from it. She received a well-deserved standing ovation.

How about you? When someone in your professional association asks you to share your story, do you say, "Who, ME?!"

When someone at work asks you to share your hard-won wisdom with other women employees, do you balk and take yourself out of the game?

When a TV reporter or print journalist wants to interview you about your achievements or success, do you devalue what you've accomplished and say, "No, thank you"?

Please understand, once and for all, you do not serve when you step back.

If you have lessons-learned that could educate, inspire or enlighten others... you not only have the right to pass them along; you have a responsibility to pass them along.

A woman in the group said, "But I'm not perfect. Who am I to tell people what to do? I'm not an expert."

I told her, "I'm really glad you brought that up. One of the wisest things I've learned is, "Any strength taken to an extreme becomes a weakness." Humility is a wonderful quality, but taken to an extreme, it can become our Achilles Heel. Sharing lessons-learned is not claiming, 'I've figured it out; I have all the answers.' It's simply saying, 'This is something I've observed, achieved or experienced... and I'm going to share it with you in the hopes it might have value.' It's an offering."

Have you observed, achieved or experienced something that might have value for others?

Vow that in 2014 and beyond, you are going to become a "Give me the ball" kind of person. Instead of devaluing what you have to offer, step up and say, "Yes, I'd be glad to share my story."

Lessons-learned locked in our head help no one. "Who, me?! Oh, no, I couldn't" elevates no one.

Put yourself in the game. Choose to share what you've learned with others... not out of arrogance; out of service.