In September, we introduced the CopyPress book club series with Delivering Happiness by, Inc., CEO Tony Hsieh.

This was the perfect book to start our series because it encompasses the purpose of our book series: expose people to books that will best help them grow professionally and personally.

Next in our series, we are breaking down the International Bestseller by Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.

Why Lean In Matters to CopyPress

Lean In is getting a lot of attention as a women’s book, but it is way more than that.

While it is a book that identifies difficulties for women that many people aren’t aware of (even women themselves), it is also a book that explains how in our path to success, we are often the ones who hold ourselves back the most.

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That is why Lean In is so important to CopyPress. We are a young staff who holds our futures in our hands (which is a huge responsibility and challenge), and it is up to us to push forward.

Plus, the CopyPress staff is 56% women. If the statistics in Lean In are accurate, that means more than half of our staff is made up of a demographic unlikely to end up in a high-level leadership role.

Stats in the book show that while women are beating men in the starting point of success (earning 57% of undergraduate degrees and 60% of masters degrees), most aren’t even coming close to winning at the finishing line.

  • 17% of board seats are filled by women
  • 14% of executive officer positions are held by women
  • 4% of the Fortune 500 CEOs are women (21 of 500)

These numbers show that somewhere along the path to the highest level of professional success, women are falling off the track.

While at CopyPress, women are equal in almost all levels of leadership (50% of our top two levels of mangers are women), we need to continue to push the women in our office to be (and continue to be) ambitious, driven, motivated, and empowered leaders. We can’t have half of our employees fail to reach the finish line.

But at CopyPress, we really want 100% of our staff to reach the finish line. That is why Lean In is important to both genders.

These tips offer both women and men the tools, mentality, and drive needed to strive for success. At a start-up, there can simply be no other way.

Take Initiative

Career progression often depends upon taking risks and advocating for oneself…

Taking initiative pays off. It is hard to visualize someone as a leader if she is always waiting to be told what to do.

The biggest mistake you can make in your career is saying no to or waiting for an opportunity. You must always be looking for, creating, and accepting every opportunity that comes your way.

That means taking on (and asking for) more responsibility, even if you aren’t initially receiving a higher salary or position for it. You don’t wait for a raise or promotion, you earn it.

That means taking on a challenge even if you initially feel unqualified. If you don’t know how to do something, learn.

That means asking for things when you want them. How can you get something if no one knows you want it?

Always Be Improving and Learning

The ability to learn is the most important quality a leader can have.

You cannot expect to move up the ladder if you remain in the same place in terms of knowledge and skills.

If you want to lead, you have to repeatedly ask yourself:

  • How can I be better?
  • What am I not doing that I don’t see?
  • How can I learn more about what I’m doing?

Being complacent in your abilities will not accelerate your career to the next level. So don’t sit still. Set realistic goals for improvement and push yourself for more.

Sandberg suggests setting plans for growth on an 18-month calendar. In her opinion, one year is too short and two years is too long for accomplishing goals for learning new skills.

Understand that You Need Criticism

 Feedback is an opinion, grounded in observation and experiences, which allows us to know what impressions we make on others.

We must learn to handle criticism if we want to succeed. Sometimes that criticism will be warranted, and it will be instrumental in helping grow. Other times that criticism will not be warranted, and it will be hurtful.

We need to know the difference and understand how to accept both sides.

Good criticism is important for growth. It is what helps us understand how we need to improve.

Bad criticism is a sign of growth. The more success you achieve, the more criticism you will receive. Every one in a high level position will have those who doubt them and offer unfair criticism.

Sandberg recalls a conversation she had with CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg when he gave her an amazing piece of advice, “If you are pleasing everyone, you aren’t making enough progress.”

Speak Up and Be Honest

Authentic communication is not always easy, but it is the basis for success relationships at home and real effectiveness at work. Yet people back away from honesty to protect themselves and other. This reticence causes and perpetuates all kinds of problems…

Communicating works best when we combine appropriateness with authenticity, finding the sweet spot where opinions are not brutally honest but delicately honest.

In order to lead, you need to know how to communicate in uncomfortable situations. Offering feedback to those around you isn’t always easy for people, especially women, because it leads to a series of fears.

  • fear of not being considered a team player
  • fear of seeming negative or nagging
  • fear that constructive criticisms will come across as plain old criticism
  • fear that by speaking up, we will call attention to ourselves

We need to know how to squash those fears, because these types of concerns make people with valuable, worthwhile ideas and opinions hold back. Holding back can silence people, perpetuate problems, and lead to more problems and resentment.

In order to be a leader, you must speak up, in the right way. This means expressing your opinion by being delicately honest, not brutally honest.

Do that by acknowledging that there are two points of view to every situation and using language that starts a discussion, not a disagreement. Sandberg suggests:

  • framing statements of opinion in the first person “I” form
  • making sure the other side is always heard
  • always acknowledging the position and feelings of the other side

Speak up, but only after you have considered all angles of the situation.

Give Yourself Credit

 …many people, but especially women, feel fraudulent when they are praised for their accomplishments. Instead of feeling worthy of recognition, they feel undeserving and guilty, as if a mistake has been made.

The “imposter syndrome” is when a capable, successful person downplays their achievements because of an underlying feeling that they don’t deserve the success.

This tip pertains more to women than men, as they are more likely to suffer from this fraudulent state of mind. Even uber-successful Tina Fey has expressed thoughts of “I’m a fraud! Oh, god, they’re on to me! I’m a fraud!” It’s this fear of being undeserving that holds many women back from having the will to lead.

Don’t fall victim to this trap. Don’t underestimate your abilities. Embrace your successes when they are due. And give yourself a fair assessment of a job well done.

No one is going to believe that you have the drive to reach the finish line of success if you don’t believe it for yourself.

Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders

Lean In is inspired by a TedTalk, “Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders” presented by Sandberg in December 2010. If you aren’t much of a reader, this video can quickly sum of the book’s biggest messages about women in the workplace.

Have you read Lean In? Do you have any other key takeaways we missed?

All stats and quotes from this post were taken from Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.

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