Tag Archives: Sheryl Sandberg

Learning to Lean In

A Post by Jana Morrelli, Evening MBA Class of 2014

Jana Morrelli, Evening MBA 2014
Jana Morrelli, Evening MBA 2014, with her copy of Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

As a woman with big career ambitions, I’ve known for some time that Foster was the place for me. In the MBA program, I’m gaining the tactical skills I need to make a difference in a company. I’m learning how to think strategically and see the bigger picture. I’m meeting the people that will be business partners and mentors for life. But there was one problem in my grand plan. I wasn’t sure I could achieve it.

For my whole professional life, there has always been a niggling sense in the back of my mind that no matter how hard I worked or how much I learned, I was not qualified for the big jobs. How could I promise an employer that I could be a top performer if I’d never done it before? That lack of confidence, the lack of trust in myself to learn new things caused me to take jobs I was overqualified for, and I ended up getting incredibly bored very fast.

Enter Lean In. Lean In is the 2013 book by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook. Sandberg has been a widely known advocate for women in leadership since her TED talk in 2010. Among other things, she shows (using mountains of scholarly research) that women are far more likely to doubt their own abilities and decline to take on huge career challenges- the challenges that typically lead to top leadership roles.

It was amazing to me that this could be a gender issue and not a “me” issue. Are you telling me that other women feel this way, and yet no one is talking about it? Well, it turns out that’s exactly true.

Leanin.org is a non-profit organization Ms. Sandberg set up with the proceeds from Lean In. One of the goals of Leanin.org is to help women set up professional development support groups, called Lean In Circles. Think book club, but instead of a book, we focus on Lean In created content like videos and discussions around Negotiations, Managing Difficult Conversations, and Power & Influence.

I founded a Lean In Circle in July 2013. The group was about half Foster classmates and half former colleagues of mine and friends. From the first meeting, we were spellbound. This was finally a place we could talk about our career ambitions freely, in an incredibly supportive environment. For example, when someone was going to bat for a promotion, we’re there to share things that have worked for us and work through the details of a salary negotiation. But most importantly, we’re there to cheer her on, remind her she deserves this and when needed, tell her the self-doubt she’s feeling is simply not true.

Some members from Seattle's first Lean In Circle
Some members from Seattle’s first Lean In Circle at a meeting in summer of 2013

That circle grew so quickly, we split into 2 groups, then added new circles with growing demand. We now have 8 circles with almost 80 members and are working with Lean In headquarters to develop a scalable model to on-board new circles, which will be distributed world-wide soon. Our circle members are getting huge jobs, promotions, raises and taking on massive challenges. Most importantly, we are believing in our own ability- raising our hands for projects where we have little experience and rising to the occasion.

Our circle leaders had the amazing honor of meeting Sheryl Sandberg last week at Facebook Seattle. She was incredibly impressed with the progress the members have made and how we are embracing our leadership potential. She is an inspiring role model for us as leader, as a business person and as a woman.

Leaders from several Lean In Circles meet with Sheryl during May 2014 visit to Seattle
Leaders from several Lean In Circles meet with Sheryl during May 2014 visit to Seattle

With the support of our Lean In Circles, we have stopped putting limits on ourselves and are open to the possibility of opportunity bigger than we could have imagined. I can’t wait see what is around the corner!

Want to get involved in Lean In? Visit www.leanin.org to learn more or feel free to email me at jana3@uw.edu. Additionally, the Foster Women in Business group is forming a Lean In group- contact Kelsey Ingram at kingram@uw.edu for details!