In her book Lean In, Facebook CEO Cheryl Sandberg takes a close look at internal and external perceptions that continue to hamper the ability of some of us to achieve greater degrees of leadership success. While she focuses the discussion primarily on women, the situations, feelings and stumbling blocks she describes can apply to anyone who is interested in pursuing a greater leadership role in their organization.
She coins what she calls “the leadership and ambition gap.” Are some of us just less ambitious? Or are we more enlightened with different and more meaningful goals aimed at creating work-life balance between our careers, our families, and community involvement?
While she agrees that this desire for work-life balance may affect some of the choices we make, she identifies other areas that she believes may have a broader impact on the issue.
One of the key challenges she identified for herself, and that she believes affects many others, is the concern with sacrificing likeability for success—the perception that if you are highly competent and assertive, you are not nearly as likeable and are not a team player.
Fear is at the root of many of the barriers to leadership success (not being liked, making the wrong choice, being a failure, etc.). The combination of these factors often leads to a subsequent reluctance to step up and take a seat at the table, both figuratively and literally.
Likeability vs. Success
Most people really want to be liked—not just because it feels good. Being liked is also a key factor in professional and personal success.
So, the challenge is to accept that if you want to be seen as a leader and take on a leadership role, you can’t please everyone and may have to sacrifice being liked by all.
Sandberg shares the advice she received from Mark Zuckerberg about six months after she began work at Facebook. He counseled that her desire to be liked by everyone would ultimately hold her back. He said that when you want to change things, you can’t please everyone. And, if you do please everyone, you aren’t making enough progress.
She discovered that a way to deal with her lack of confidence about making some tough decisions was the “fake it ’til you feel it” strategy. Projecting confidence, even pretending that you feel confident when you don’t, is necessary to reach for success.
To be recognized as a leader, consider the following:
- Be genuine
- Be honest
- Project confidence even if you don’t feel it
- Take the initiative and make your case
These characteristics increase both your likeability and the perception of you as a leader with your colleagues and organizational leadership.
And finally, pull up a chair and take your seat at the table.