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Why you must lean in and how to do it

Three years ago this month, Sheryl Sandberg the COO of Facebook released her trailblazing career manifesto for women – “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead.”

With hundreds of thousands of women turning out for Women’s Marches all over the country yesterday, I felt it timely to revisit some of Sandberg’s key points from that book.

Sandberg tells women that they need to “lean in” at work and assert themselves more. (She’s the expert and best-selling author, but I would submit the advice should be updated to “step in” to up the assertiveness level even more. Enough of my manly opinion.)

Kerry Hannon is a working woman and Forbes magazine contributor, and I will defer to her endorsement of Sandberg’s best advice. Here are the highlights as she sees them in her own words:

1. Be more open to taking career risks. Women tend to avoid stretch assignments and new challenges on the job, Sandberg says. They worry too much about whether they have the skills needed to take on a new, loftier role. When offered an opportunity, they fall back on the excuse that they’re unfamiliar with that kind of work or it isn’t what they went to school for. Sandberg writes: “Women need to shift from thinking ‘I’m not ready to do that’ to thinking ‘I want to do that — and I’ll learn by doing it.’”

2. Skip the people pleasing. Sandberg confesses that during her first formal review at Facebook, chief executive Mark Zuckerberg told her that her “desire to be liked by everyone” would hold her back. When I asked one of my working mom friends who lives in a small South Carolina town what she learned from Lean In, she said: “It comes down to stepping up and being willing to lead, getting some confidence, pushing back on things, challenging others’ decisions.”

3. Visualize your career as a jungle gym, not a ladder. This is my favorite of Sandberg’s tips. “Ladders are limiting,” Sandberg writes. “Jungle gyms offer more creative exploration. There are many ways to get to the top of a jungle gym. The ability to forge a unique path with occasional dips, detours and even dead ends presents a better chance for fulfillment.”

4. Allow yourself to fantasize about your career. “I believe everyone should have a long-term dream,” Sandberg writes. She also believes you should have an 18-month plan to pursue immediate workplace goals, like learning new skills. In essence, Sandberg is saying, you need to constantly ask yourself, “What can I do to improve myself at work?”

5. Start a Lean-In circle. This is a peer group of eight to 10 women who meet monthly, offering one another encouragement and development ideas. Her Lean In website offers downloadable circle kits that show you how to form and run one.

Sandberg’s message is exactly the kind of aspirational tone we need now and always, for women and men alike. So lean in, walk in, jump in, or even push someone else in, but keep doing it.

Because when we’re all in, we all win.

Have a great week.

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