On my annual vacation, I typically select one or two business books and one just-for-me book to read during my shutdown time. This year I chose Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg as one of my business books. I have no doubt you’ve heard about it. The gist is she encourages women to “lean in,” define their ambitions, and not let anything hold them back as they pursue their goals.
I read the chapter, “It’s a Jungle Gym, Not a Ladder,” from my window seat somewhere over the Pacific. This chapter resonated with me. I thought, “I wish I knew this when I entered the workforce.”
“Ladders are limiting – people can move up, down, or off. The jungle gym model benefits everyone.”
The traditional analogy for moving up in the workplace is the corporate ladder. But Sandberg notes all that is changing – for women and men – in favor of the jungle gym. Rather than climbing up, down, or staying put, people are exploring different paths on the way to the top.
I understood what Sandberg was saying. I, too, have taken the jungle gym path. There was no ladder in my future, so I thought. I had no idea how I could contribute to the corporate world. I had no path. I had no strategy. I just needed to make a living, and I let things happen.
Sandberg also says, “We need to start talking about how women underestimate their abilities compared to men and how for women, success and likeability are negatively correlated. What this means is that as a woman becomes more successful in the workplace, she will be less liked. Women need a different type of management and mentorship, a different form of sponsorship and encouragement than men,” she says.
Sandberg on Leadership
“As traditional structures are breaking down, leadership has to evolve as well – from hierarchy to shared responsibility, from command and control to listening and guiding. You’ve been trained by this great institution not just to be part of these trends, but to lead,” she says. Sandberg goes on to say, “The workplace is a difficult place for anyone to tell the truth, because no matter how flat we want our organizations to be, all organizations have some form of hierarchy.
“Think about how people speak in a typical workforce. Rather than say, ‘I disagree with our expansion strategy’ ” or better yet, ‘this seems truly stupid,’ they say, ‘I think there are many good reasons why we’re entering this new line of business, and I’m certain the management team has done a thorough ROI analysis, but I’m not sure we have fully considered the downstream effects of taking this step forward at this time.’ As we would say at Facebook, three letters: WTF,” she says.
According to Sandberg, making the best decisions in business today is challenging due to the fact that no one tells the truth anymore; people lie about ideas, opinions and feelings about something.
There is a solution: “In being able to understand that the truth is subjective for everyone, and that people may very well have very different notions of “truth.” Because of this, individuals need to create a dialogue in which each participant feels comfortable sharing his or her idea of the truth. Empowerment comes from not only being able to listen to the opinions of others, but also from being able to take full responsibility of mistakes. Authentic communication demonstrates the power of an open mind,” Sandberg says.