Lean In and Free Men

Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, is rallying women to pursue leadership positions in business and government despite their fears. In urging women to “Lean In,” she points repeatedly to the confidence of men. She contends that men pursue new jobs and opportunities even if they don’t feel 100% capable of doing the work. Meanwhile, women resist reaching for a professional challenge until they have zero doubt in their ability to succeed. As an executive coach, I can attest that men aren’t always as confident as they may seem. Nor do they always want to lean in.

Men have been told to lean in since the moment of their first stepiStock_000008352989XSmall, their first day on a baseball field and their first date. It’s pretty tough to maintain that always-on stance day after day, year after year and meeting after meeting. Men act in different ways when the pressure is overwhelming.

An executive who I worked with is beloved by his staff, even though he berates them. He is brilliant, but belligerent. Abrasive leaders like my client interpret normal interactions as threats to their existence. They see others like lions in the jungle about to attack them. Obsessing with their potential demise at every turn blinds them to how their behavior impacts others. Which is ironic considering that emotional intelligence is essential in today’s highly collaborative business environment.

According to a study by London’s Cass Business School and executive search firm Odgers Berndtson,  “82% of managers believe that leaders of the post-Baby Boomer era will need to develop so-called ‘feminine’ skills to motivate their workers.” Those traits include emotional intelligence, flexibility and a talent for instilling workers with a sense of purpose, says Richard Boggis-Rolfe, the chair of Odgers Berndtson.

Men are programed from adolescence to act hard, but they need soft skills to succeed in leadership roles in today’s interdependent business environment. Society’s message to men—“don’t cry”—runs deep. Many men have to put in extra effort to gain the self-awareness that is needed to understand and manage their emotions, develop and maintain relationships and cope with changes and challenges, which includes work/life balance.

In my 33 years of working for some of the world’s best corporations, I always felt that the demands on men to constantly lean in, to be the Type A’s the world expected and to be aggressive have placed relentless pressure men who wanted nothing more than a good family, a decent job, recognition and a chance to grow in a direction not dictated by someone else. Some recent research I conducted confirmed the suspicions that I had.

I recently surveyed men and women to determine their desire to take sabbaticals. Men were as likely as women (65% vs. 68%) to take or request a sabbatical. Spending more time with their families was one of the primary reasons men said they would take a sabbatical if it were offered. The men I spoke with truly regretted how much time they lost with their families by living up to the pervasive image of being “the provider.“

The key point is that society has preordained men to act a certain way. Assuming that all men are Don Draper doesn’t benefit women or businesses. As women lean in, we should also free men from the burden of having to do it all, all the time. We need to give them the opportunity to cultivate their emotional intelligence so they can effectively compete in work environments where the command and control model is quickly becoming outdated. Simply put, we should create the conditions where both men and women can lead businesses and governments as well as balanced lives.

The 5 Essential Qualities for a Technologist’s Personal Brand

Technologists are perhaps the least aware of all employees of the value of having a personal brand.

More important to them is getting a project done on time, completing development, going from test to production or ensuring the business has signed off on requirements.

Transcending Boundaries

Technologists need to transcend the perceived narrow boundaries of their job descriptions and develop a brand that communicates the value they add to the organization.

Today, brands are no longer the sole domain of companies. An individual’s brand is just as critical in promising value and trust to others in the company.

Tom Peters, the well-known author of “In Search of Excellence,” writes: “What is it that my product or service does that makes it different?” Translating this into personal branding, what do you do as a provider of technology services that makes you stand out and compel someone on the business side to work with you?

Integrating Business and Technology

A recent finding by McKinsey highlights the difficulties business managers and technology providers continue to wrestle with:  “…only 26% of technology leaders proactively engage with business leaders on new ideas or system enhancements.”

Companies with a low ranking will have significant difficulty enabling new strategies and integrating business and technology objectives. They’re doomed to fall behind those firms where technology providers and their business counterparts work together harmoniously.

Building Your Personal Brand

To “engage” with the business, technologists need to develop a personal brand embodying five qualities:

Advocacy:  as an advocate, a technologist will actively support his peers and counterparts on the business side. Instead of waiting for a “charge code,” the technologist will represent the business needs to his colleagues and seek the best possible solution, even if there’s disagreement that requires a new approach to the problem.

Knowledge:  technologists must know the business – how it makes money, the markets in which it competes, threats, competitors’ strategies – as well as his business partners. There is no other way to gain respect than for the technologist to see herself in the same position as her colleagues who have the P&L responsibility. Indeed, without knowing the business, technologists will remain merely providers of infrastructure, never being sought out for adding value.

Presence:  it’s not only about how you look, your poise or your sophistication; rather, presence is an authentic quality that builds trust in others. No matter what your style, people want to listen, follow, and do great work for you. Presence is projected wherever you are and in whatever you’re doing. It is essential for developing the strong relationships required in order for you to do your best work. You have to make your internal clients confident that they are in good hands.

Authenticity:  because you will be guided by the facts, you will be trusted and known as reliable and believable. Your stature when discussing alternative technical solutions and possibilities for the business will be credible because you are being true in your thinking, your understanding, and your representations. Businesses will value what you are saying because there will be no agenda attached.

Dependability:  simply said, you are trustworthy. When you make a suggestion, disagree, deliver bad news, or ask for more time, because they trust you, your message is far less likely to generate questions or doubt. In fact, your communications with business leaders will be enhanced since there’ll be less stress embedded into the message — based on the past, they know what you’re saying is accurate and honest.

Brand Equity

Standing out from the crowd by creating your own brand does not mean you have to be loud, self-absorbed, controlling or possess a huge ego.

Instead, it is about representing yourself so that you are seen as someone who knows what she is talking about, gets the point across, is credible, can be counted on, thinks beyond technology and, above all, is trustworthy.  By doing so, you build personal equity, which is your brand.

Technologists must develop personal brands so their colleagues begin to imagine them as leaders, even if they don’t have the title.

(I suggest you take a look at my dear friend Jeannette Paladino’s web site where this blog first appeared.  She has taught me much about writing and blogging.  Thank you Jeannette for inviting me to be featured on your site.)

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