Channeling Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook: Are you sticking up your hand or sitting on it?

Posted December 6, 2011 in Career Management, Latest News & Insights

The Executive Roundtable is an organization for anyone interested in raising their bar on their own personal leadership.  It doesn’t matter if your male or female, if you want to ratchet up your impact, then we’re for you.  Even though I’m a big supporter of women advancing in leadership roles, I’m only a supporter if the woman in question is a good leader.  In my experience, there are equally as many lousy female leaders as there are male leaders.  Jerks exist on both sides of the gender balance sheet.  But, there are definite stereotypes around female leadership and a correlation to lack of advancement that it’s easy to be skeptical about… until you find yourself living it.  Here’s what happened:

I’ve been selected as one of 50 out of 400 coaches across north america to be part of this very cool, very high-profile but very top-secret leadership project.  That’s all I can say about that thanks to confidentiality agreements.

Recently, I attended a training session to learn about the program.  One of our activities was to do a role play coaching session.  At our table were 7 women and 1 man.  The facilitator was a female and she asked for a volunteer to play the role of facilitator.

Nobody volunteered.  I mean nobody… not the guy… not the seven other women… not me.

And, then this happened.  The female facilitator looked around the table and said, “Bob (not his real name)… why don’t you give it a shot.”

I found it fascinating that with only one guy at the table, the female facilitator selected him to take the lead.  As it turned out, Bob wasn’t prepared (hadn’t done his homework), so I (woman who had done her homework) opened my mouth and got selected to step in.

I reflected on this experience after and wondered…

  1. Why hadn’t I put my hand up?
  2. Why did the facilitator pick Bob despite statistics being against him to be selected? (And yes, he was avoiding eye contact like the rest of us)  And…
  3. Why had no other woman at that table put their hands up?

Obviously, I can only reflect on my own actions which probably bottles down to some level of imposter syndrome (if I volunteer to do this, they’ll know I’m a lousy coach!); self monitoring (I always end up taking over groups so I should give someone else a try); to ego preservation and perfectionism (ugh! I don’t feel like being judged by my peers right now without having  a chance to try this out on my own first so that I know what I’m doing).

Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, gives a great TED talk on why we don’t have more female leaders.  It’s definitely worth a view.  One of the reasons that stuck out for me was that women don’t stick their hands up.  (My bet is that there are also men out there that don’t stick there hands up either.)

My recent experience was a great reminder to me to about the importance of sticking my hand up.  Life is too short to miss out on an opportunity because of fear, ego or self-doubt.  So, what are you going to stick your hand up for this week?

Happy leading!


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  1. Glain, in addition to your potential reasons for not screaming ‘me me me’ above, I could add two more: how many people at the table have spent their careers doing facilitation, and are sick of always having to pick up the marker and stand at the flip chart (does it sound like I have an axe to grind here?)? Also, when some of us chicks stick our hands up and step into the breach, we receive the awesome label of “pushy.” I’m all about standing up and being counted, but I pick my battles…