Centered Leadership meets a Tech Company

I’ve just emerged from a centered leadership bubble. Together we were 11 women, a gifted co-facilitator, and a top notch leadership learning staff, working and living together in a beautiful hotel retreat. Why only women? Centered Leadership is as good for women as it is for men, but something happens when only women come together. Almost immediately, participants feel safe. They turn inward faster. They dig deeper for insight. And they share more fully. As one participant put it, “I’m grateful for the openness and vulnerability I’ve been able to achieve. When I arrived, I didn’t think I could make it through one day. Now I feel refreshed and filled with energy and I don’t know how that happened!”

Silent, buttoned up professionals on Day 1, almost entirely made up of lawyers and tech managers—the two most skeptical professions I could imagine. This was a test for Centered Leadership, ten years into its development. And it was a test for me, five years post McKinsey.

I helped shape Centered Leadership with a talented team of facilitators and McKinsey & Company experts. At its core, Centered Leadership helps individuals gain self-awareness, perceive choices, and practice capabilities that separate great, from good, leaders. Meaning, Framing, Connecting, Engaging, and Energizing are the five you need. Mastery can take years. Still, the journey itself is fulfilling; every experience lends itself to learning. We start by learning to listen with empathy, to expose thoughts and feelings we prefer to hide from view, and to forge connections based on trust. We dare each other to: let go of perfection, be bolder in our visions, accept ourselves and others, and create the experiences we choose to have. We put ourselves in difficult situations, upsets, in order to learn how to shift mindsets and behaviors. We also experience who we were many years ago, recapturing some of that innocence and wonder.

And then we take steps. For someone like me—gritty, persevering, hell-bent on action—Centered Leadership links to high performance. We build energy, intention, determination, and resilience. I used to worry about how the world would receive this approach drawn from the ‘softer skills’ as hard-nosed business men put it. Planning, decision-making, metrics, agility, smarts are all assumed as the technical aspects of leadership. More is required of today’s leaders: purpose, values, humanity, vulnerability, trust, connectivity, positive emotion, energy. That’s how executives speak about great leaders they admire.

That’s what Centered Leadership aims to unlock in each manager who aspires to lead remarkably. It’s accessible to everyone with the talent, desire to lead, and openness to change. Eleven women proved the case last week.

Once again.

Confidential tech company leadership, but beautiful location! 

Live with Sheryl Sandberg


October 25th – San Francisco

Today I taped a Lean In Live interview with Sheryl Sandberg at Facebook headquarters. She gave me such a gift! It was a chance to join the conversation before passing along the baton to those coming after. The impact Sheryl has had is nothing short of stupendous. It’s about the 35,000+ Lean In Circles around the world (80,000 people in Beijing alone), but also about changing the cultural norms around women’s role at work and at home. And then there’s the Lean In-McKinsey Women in the Workplace research. Awesome.

So yes, I was nervous. Sheryl wore gorgeous over the knee boots that gave her an imperious look. She was in perfect makeup and hair. And then there was me. Imagine a garden gnome dressed in Issey Miyake and you’ve got it. Aging, chubby, twinkle in the eye, and delighted to be there.

Ten minutes after the interview there were 10,000 views, 800 likes, and 100 shares. Five hours later, we were at 46,000 views, 1,100 likes, and 180 shares. This was my personal lesson on the internet. Most viewers live thousands of miles away, but chose to come together in this way. They left hundreds of comments, some colorful and rude, but most, very kind and generous. A few were my friends (my actual friends), blended in with people who don’t know me. I’ve been to 21 countries, so maybe I’m wrong on that count. Sheryl is a rock star!

Perhaps the Clif energy shot upped my nervousness quotient. Surely. I was flying on dextrose and caffeine. That speeded up the flight of my thoughts into the air. I teared up thinking about my girls. I openly admired Sheryl and showered her with praise. I was gleeful when she thanked me for the book. And I botched my opening. Badly.

Gaby and Jetta, I really did write the book for you (and your wonderful friends). But I also wrote it for thousands of Millennials like you who grew up somewhere else in very different circumstances, who attended other schools, and who settled into very different industries and jobs. They’re as different from each other as any generation. Yes, most do want financial stability, some measure of recognition, advancement, and a good life (who doesn’t?). Most also want meaningful work, connections and mentorship, to be challenged at work, and to be heard.

250 Millennials took the time to be interviewed. Almost all allowed me to print their stories. So their collective voice is what I wished I had talked about. Man, how 10 minutes fly by. We packed it in! My brain went into overdrive as the questions bounced off it. Here’s one for you: what’s the one word that describes you? I said playful (thinking about those gnomes). Maybe I should have said, Tasmanian devil. Which I was today, most definitely.

The book launches into space!

Grow Wherever You Work launches today! Simply put, the publisher (McGraw Hill) has designated this date as GROW’s official launch. October 20th has been sitting in the pit of my stomach ever since early summer, so I will be more than delighted when sunset finally arrives and I can raise a glass. This is my third book, so perhaps you’re surprised that I’m so anxious. You better believe it, I’m surprised too.

Launching a book for me is like launching a capsule into space. Where did it go? Will anybody buy it, read it, enjoy it, get something from it? My daughter, Jetta, has already tried to convince me that she liked reading GROW. Her opinion matters a heck of a lot to me, since I wrote this book for her (that’s another story, all in due time). I’m happy that Jetta liked the book. Hey, I’m thrilled. So why am I waiting for the opinions of strangers – individuals who don’t know that’s me shining through on each page, or who don’t even care?

Here’s the lesson in this: when a 60+ year old feels anxious about her new creation, acting out in a non-confident way, it’s just evidence that confidence comes and goes. It’s NORMAL. Maybe a tiny percentage of the population feels (over)confident all of the time, but they’re the odd ones out. I am not. You are not. We all lose our way, need a bit of validation from others, and can benefit from a boost now and then. I’ll recover even if my husband, David, loves the movie quote from Walk Hard, when Edith says, “I do believe in you. I just know you’re gonna fail!”

It’s a good book. I’m glad I researched and wrote it. I’m glad Jetta liked it and got something from it. And I really hope you do too.

Me with Jetta… (photo credit: Ylva Erevall)
Me with Ja’Nay Hawkins – a Millennial rising leader (photo credit: Ylva Erevall)

The Book Party

Sue and David threw us a book party on Tuesday night and it was grand! We invited a mixed group – Millennials (a few from the book), bosses (CEOs and such), media, and friends. I’ve known Sue since our children were two years old. When she married David Rockefeller, Jr., David (my husband) and I had the pleasure of celebrating at their wedding. David and Sue care deeply about the oceans, about families, and about protecting the earth. So when they offered to throw a launch party for a book about helping Millennials face their toughest challenges at work, I was touched. No mermaids, no ocean acidification, no sailing themes here! Just pure love of doing good combined with the love of learning.

The food and drinks were amazing, as was the atmosphere. I kept seeing two degrees of separation at play. A young woman came knew my oldest daughter, Gaby, who was sadly stuck on an out of town consulting assignment. Two women from Bloomberg arrived, not realizing the other had been invited. A Chairman and his wife attended, meeting the young clothing designer whose clothes were selling out in the chairman’s stores. Millennials met others from the book and bonded. Friendship was in the air.

Sue kicked off the night’s program, affirming that she had read the book and really liked it. In her mind, the book will help bosses and parents of Millennials too, because it allows us to see work through Millennial eyes. I facilitated a “lightning series” of Millennial vignettes delivered by some rock stars of the book. David threw out a few gorgeous questions and thoughts for us to contemplate. I realized that Millennial stereotypes are often misinterpretation of Millennial behavior. When you take the time to understand someone, their behavior seems much more reasonable. You might have felt the same way back in the day.

Food for thought. David closed this party by asking us to use “fresh words” that inspire listeners to really hear us. Wow. I hope this book has some fresh words in it to provoke your reflection. David will be the judge.

l. to r., Joanna Barsh, Sue Rockefeller, David Rockefeller, Jr. (photo credit: Ylva Erevall)