Monday, May 13, 2013

"Opportunities are Rarely Offered: They are Seized"

This is one of the leadership lessons from Sheryl Sandberg's "Lean In" that applies to both men and women.  Clearly she makes the case this is more of a challenge for women than men.  In her experiences as a leader, men reached for opportunities much more quickly than the women.  When we opened a new office or the launch of a new project, the men were banging down my door to explain why they should lead the charge.  Men were also more likely to chase a growth opportunity even before a new opening was announced.....The women, however were more cautious about changing roles and seeking out new challenges.

The leadership lesson is taking initiative pays off.  As she says: "It's hard to visualize someone as a leader if she is always waiting to be told what to do."

She also cautions against waiting for the "perfect fit" when looking for the next big thing to do.  There never is a "perfect fit".  The ability to learn is the most important quality a leader can have. In this regard she prefers the metaphor of a Jungle Gym rather than climbing a ladder.  For my readers outside the USA, a Jungle Gym is a common playground apparatus where children can explore various ways of ascending it.  Here's an illustration.  

When climbing a ladder there is only one way to the top, but there are many ways of getting to the top of a Jungle Gym.  She uses this metaphor to make the case that just because an opportunity doesn't mean an immediate progression along a well defined path, taking risk with growth opportunities even if they seem like a lateral move at the time, may get one to the top of an organization even quicker. In her words: "When you are offered a seat on a rocket ship, you don't ask 'Which Seat?' just get on." 

While the data show that risk aversion and lack of self confidence are more common in women than men, her advice about career development applies equally.

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