One of my mentors gave me a great piece of advice: “Great leaders recognize they can learn from anyone at anytime—from the janitor to the Chairman of the Board.”
Over the course of my career I have been fortunate to have received a lot of advice and coaching — both good and bad — but I made sure to learn from it all. Through some of the gender-focused advice I was truly able to find real clarity on who I am as a leader and what I want to accomplish. Early in my management career I was counselled to cut my hair short, not wear skirts, not to cry at work, and to sell my convertible in favor of a sedan. All of this advice was given with the best of intentions to help me excel in the corporate world, but it really helped my clarify what I was and was not willing to do to succeed. I decided early on that downplaying the fact I am female is not negotiable.
After many years of climbing the corporate ladder, I was promoted to a vice president role in a large corporation; I was the only female and at least a decade younger than the others. Even though the crazy hours and non-stop travel was challenging (I had a newborn and a two-year-old), I truly did love working in the corporate world and didn’t foresee another career path.
However, my feelings on this changed during one of my MBA classes. Everyone was discussing next career moves and interestingly, most were moving into finance in one form or another. A lightbulb went off for me because I knew from years of working with CEOs that is often the people issues that keep them up at night and no one was focused on this area from a business perspective. I knew right there and then it was my time to lean in.
Within a week, I had cashed in all of my savings and started a company focused on businesses and how they optimize their human capital. In a world where most people now spend more than 50% of their waking hours working, thinking about work, commuting or checking their iPhones, I knew creating great work environments would help more than just the bottom line; it would help families. Not only does working with people make my job worthwhile—we are really able to help women develop and thrive in their careers.
In order for our society to thrive we must leverage all talent: men and women. To do this we need to lean in to work inside and outside of the home, lean in to our ambition, lean in to our core values and most importantly lean in to our dreams.