“Lean In”: eight practical steps

Sheryl Sandberg rightly calls for women to ‘lean in’ but how do you actually do it?  These eight practical steps give you the tools you need to start.

  1. Are you up for it?  Decide whether you are prepared to make changes to your own behaviour.  Yes, organisations probably ought to do more; yes, your boss should see that you have great potential; yes, you already work really hard.  Yes, you can try to change other people and influence institutions, but the only changes you can definitely make are your own.  If you’re not prepared to change, then you’re not ready to lean in.
  2. What do you really want? Get focused on the change you most desire.  A fast-track to the top?  A flexible working week?  To step up and lead great projects that change lives?  Develop a very clear vision – what will it look and feel like? what will you hear others saying to you?  This is the vision that will keep you going through the tough times, so make it really rich and meaningful.  Then find a small item – a postcard, a photo, even a quote jotted on a post-it – that you can look at every day to remind you of your vision.
  3. What are you prepared to leave behind?  We frequently skip or skim this step, but fear of loss holds a tighter grip than anticipation of gain.  Think hard about the subconscious ‘benefits’ of your current situation – eg the ‘safety’ of a known situation, the ability to hide behind others – and the fears that lie beneath these.  Are you ready for the risk and uncertainty which will ultimately lead to greater strength and personal growth? What are your bottom lines?
  4. Know your strengths.  You are a fantastic, interesting, intelligent and unique person with many excellent qualities that combine to make you you.  Put your modesty aside for a moment and get really clear about your strengths.  Review recent appraisals, ask your friends, use online questionnaires (eg tried & tested Positive Psychology questionnaires such as VIA Signature Strengths at the Authentic Happiness site).  Working from your strengths is vastly more effective and satisfying than continually worrying over what you’re not good at.
  5. Do your homework.  Take a look around you at the people – men and women – who are achieving what you’re after.  What do they do?  How do they behave?  Don’t limit yourself to people in your own organisation – what about clients, partners, people interviewed in the media etc?  The closer you look, the more likely you are to notice that there are different styles and approaches.  Home in on the ones you find most interesting, that ‘feel right’.  They are probably drawing on similar strengths to yours.
  6. Start the ball rolling – gently.  If you’re shy and retiring today and turn up to work tomorrow with all guns blazing, your colleagues will probably think you’ve gone crazy, and you’ll almost certainly find you can’t sustain the effort.  To change things you have to act, but you can start with small steps.  So if you normally sit down at the end of the conference table, move up a bit next time to see how it feels.  If you tend to speak late on in meetings, give yourself a target to speak before halfway.  Think about your strengths – is there something you can do that builds on one, to showcase you at your best?
  7. Acknowledge the effort – and keep going.  Changing yourself is hard: you already know that from New Year resolutions.  And the people used to the ‘old’ you will resist change because it threatens them. The first few times you sit closer to the action, you’ll probably get some sarky comments.  But if you keep sitting there, they’ll get bored, and you’ll start getting noticed for the right reasons.
  8. Use all the tricks in the book to sustain yourself.  Make sure that the reminder of your vision is still somewhere you can see it every day.  Go into the ladies and adopt a ‘power stance’ for two mins before a big meeting (see more on TEDtalks), wear clothes that make you feel confident – basically do whatever works for you to keep you in the zone.  And make sure you get enough sleep, exercise and nutritious food so that you don’t sabotage yourself by getting (avoidably) sick or looking so worn out that no-one’s going to give you extra responsibilities. 

Are you leaning in yet?  If you make a start today, in a month’s time, you’ll be able to look back and realise that you’ve leaned in some and moved a little closer to your goal.  Give yourself a pat on the back – and decide on your next step.

Katie Driver

Katie Driver is a certified business coach and experienced trainer and facilitator. Clients consistently remark that her calm approach and clear insight helps to deepen their own thinking and improve the choices they make.