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My Two Cents On Sheryl Sandberg And “Lean In”

Sheryl Sandberg’s new book “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Win” is getting quite a bit of attention these days.

I decided to see what all the fuss was about.  I bought Lean In and downloaded it to my Kindle.  I liked it.  I thought that it offered some common sense career advice – and not just for women.  I really liked Chapter 4, “It’s A Jungle Gym, Not a Ladder.”

The chapter begins with a story about how Lori Goler convinced Ms. Sandberg to hire her at Facebook.  She asked a simple question: “What is your biggest problem and how can I solve it?”  As it turns out, Ms. Sandberg had a recruiting problem and she thought Ms. Goler could solve it.

“Lori never dreamed she would work in recruiting, but she jumped in. She even agreed to drop down a level, since this was a new field for her and she was willing to trade seniority for acquiring new skills.”

This is an example of the jungle gym approach to career management.

I like the jungle gym idea.  I often encourage my coaching clients to take a lateral move to round out their background and experience.  A lot of people don’t want to do this.  They think a lateral move will have a negative effect on their brand.  This isn’t so.

It takes humility to take a lateral move, but humility is a positive virtue.  The older I get, the more humble I am.  The best example of humility that I’ve ever seen comes from a 2010 movie called “The First Grader.”  It’s based on the life story of Kimani N’gan’ga Maruge, an 84-year-old who enrolled in a Kenyan primary school to learn to read.

Maruge, as he is called in the film, met resistance when he tries to enroll in school after the Kenyan government declared free public education for all Kenyans.  But he persisted.

Today, Maruge is in the Guinness Book of World Records.

In 2005 he addressed the United Nations Millennium Development Summit on the importance of free primary education.  Maruge humbled himself to get an education and learn to read.

There are many twists and turns on the road to life and career success.  Many people think that career success is a steady straight line progression, one rung of the career success ladder after another.  This isn’t necessarily true.  Sometimes the best thing that you can do to bring you closer to your vision of life and career success is to move laterally.  Be willing to take a job for the same amount of money and the same grade level in your company to gain valuable experience – experience that will make you a more well-rounded professional.  Lori Goler was willing to move to a lower level job to make the career move she wanted.

Some people are too proud to do this.  Humble people realize that a lateral move may be the best thing they can do for their career.  They are willing to take a lateral assignment, or move to a less desirable city to further their career success goals.  This takes humility and a real commitment to your life and career success.

Tweet 21 in my career advice book Success Tweets says, “You’re in charge! Commit to taking personal responsibility for creating the life and career success you want and deserve.” Being humble enough to take a lateral move – if it is in your best long-term interests – is a great way to show your commitment to your life and career success.

I know this is true because it worked for me.  I had a job in the Training and Organization Development Department of one of the companies for which I worked.  My short-term goal was to become the manager of that department.  However, I was offered an opportunity to work in the Personnel Research Department – a lateral move.  I thought about turning it down, but I didn’t.

Two years later, I was asked to lead the Training and Organization Development Department I left to work in Personnel Research.  Not only did I get promoted, I was a better T&OD Department head because of the experience I gained doing the Personnel Research job.

By the way, Lori Goler has since been promoted and leads the People@Facebook department.