On the 28th and 29th of July 2017, I got the opportunity to meet Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In Team and 74 Regional and Company Lean In Leaders from across the globe through the Third Annual Lean In Leaders Conference. It was truly an experience of a lifetime, that I have tried to put into words through this article.
When I was leading a small circle in campus, I was connected to each member and was able to see the change in their life stories, observe the change in their mindset and I grew with them. I loved leading that small circle. Now I have a big chapter, a really skilled team, a lot of members and a lot of people appreciating me but over the past months, I have been going through an emotional burnout with Lean In India and I could not ask for help because I did not know the reason.
During the Lean In Leaders Conference, I found out the reason for my burnout is that as a chapter, we are doing our best to reach out to more people, help people start circles, help people voice out their opinions but we cannot see the impact. We don’t really know if anyone actually leaned in after our summit, or is actually able to overcome her fears/ get out of her comfort zone when required because of our online chapter events. We have no idea about the impact Lean In India is making through our efforts ( if it is ). My One Action and the biggest takeaway after the Lean In Leaders Conference is to capture stories and data of the Lean In India Chapter to quantify the impact.
All my key takeaways from the conference are as follows :
1. Don’t apologise – Before the beginning of the conference , leaders who attended the pre-conference extension set the tone to not say ‘sorry’ unnecessarily and to remind one another using #SorryNotSorry whenever any one of us did. Throughout the conference we all realised how often we use the ‘S word’. We feel sorry for causing the smallest trouble to someone by asking for helping, we feel it for owning our space and time. We say it for being hungry, being sleepy, being emotional and sometimes for just being ourselves. #SorryNotSorry should be used by all women to remind each other to not feel sorry for behaving like a normal human being.
2. Don’t feel inferior/less because of age or experience – During the beginning of the conference , I felt intimidated by the women around me. Though I often joked around saying ‘Hi I am a 1 month old working woman’, I never knew when I started feeling inferior about it. Good thing I dared to voice it in a small group of women. My small and temporary Lean In Circle told me to not feel inferior or less than anyone for your age or experience, because the ideas and perspective I will bring to the table , nobody else can. My perspective will be new and fresh and is very important for Lean In as an organisation.
3. Being authentic – On the first day of the conference, we got the opportunity to listen to Dr. Jen Welter, the first female football coach of National Football League. We learnt that being in a male dominant industry, sometimes women try to behave like a man to fit in. But it is important to be ourselves ( to be authentic ) , because the unique combination of our experiences and skills can give this world so much that no one else can ( Again referring to #2 ).
When I first got to know her profile , I was sure I am not going anyway near her because of my lack of knowledge in sports or football. Luckily, I got to know her more during the pod connection activities as she decided to sit in my pod. After the session, I again ( with a lot of fear ) voiced my fear of being judged to her. She took it very gracefully and she said that she understands my story. She is a role model — no I don’t want to become a football player/coach — but when I grow up I want to be a strong woman with a good heart ( just like her ).
4. Designing for Your Life – Dave Evans , Adjunct Lecturer, Product Design Program at Stanford, Management Consultant, and co-founder of Electronic Arts and, a new crush of many leaders went through helping us designing different versions of our lives.
We are told to be the best versions of ourselves, but our we really one best version of ourselves? Well, apparently no! In different roles and situations, our versions change. Just like us, our life also doesn’t have one version. It can have many versions and we can live one of those best versions. The activity we did helped me voice out and plan the most dreamy dreams only to realise that if I can keep leaning in, I can actually accomplish them.
5. Build a strong leadership team – Two of my favourite and dearest Lean In Leaders, Linda Bradt and Nuala Murphy taught us the three lessons of building a strong leadership team ( and of love ).
The three magical words – vulnerable, passionate and committed can help you lead your teams. It is important to be vulnerable to your team — be open , bold and honest about your vision. Secondly , one should be passionate and show the passion by stating a clear purpose, engaging your community and tracking goals formally and consistently. Last but not the least, be committed to your plan and find people who share the commitment. The levels of commitment might be different — don’t worry about it and respect it. Lean In Community is a self-organised community, you cannot force people to volunteer, you can only wait for the right people to eventually find you and join your vision.
6. Playing high and playing low – Professor Deborah Gruenfeld taught us the body language of power to increase our influence. We practiced the body language of playing high and playing low and how to balance the two. People around you, working with you, trust you on your competence and warmth. The right balance of body language of authority and approachability helps us increase our influence and develop the trust. This body language not only affects the people around us but also our own psychology. Interestingly, playing high made me feel like I am not a very good person, while playing low was very much in my comfort zone.
7. Capture Stories and Gather Data – During the session of ‘building a strong leadership team’, Nuala Murphy gave me reassurance about my vision of Lean In by telling us that each chapter’s goal is not ( should not be ) the number of Facebook Likes, Twitter Retweets or Instagram Followers ( or even the number of circles/member, number of people who attended the summit ), it is the impact — the stories of each woman asking for raise, asking for promotion, getting out of her comfort zone, embracing feedback and overcoming the fears.
Lean INsights series taught us the methodology of capturing chapter stories and gather chapter data through surveys. My One Action for Lean In India after the conference is to work with my team on the same.
Coming back from the conference, I have a new perspective about power and leadership. I feel unapologetic for being myself and more connected to the Lean In Community. I look forward to stay connected to everyone to change the world together.
This article was first published here.