To Lean In, Learn To Lean On

Posted: November 4, 2013
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To have it all, we need not do it all. Teamwork is crucial for success in women’s careers. To lean in, we have to learn how to lean on.

Ever since Sheryl Sandberg started the lean in rage, working women in India  have the question pounding in our heads. How can I have it all? Is leaning in the only way to achieve success? How much more can I stuff into my already overloaded schedule? The key that would unlock the dogged dream of leadership is delegation. Only if we learn to lean on productively, can we lean in triumphantly.

Harvard Business Review states that of the 332 companies it surveyed, more than half had managers that never delegated. The rest of them made it to the Fortune 500 list.

If leaning on is the secret to success, why haven’t working women in India embraced it more enthusiastically?

Myths associated with delegating work

Will somebody else walk away with the credit?

Who is the real doer?

What if the person doesn’t perform, why should I be responsible for someone else’s failure?

With all the coordination involved, I would rather do it myself.

Little do we realize that this hesitant attitude towards delegation is the real reason why we are anchored to our current position. Also, most working women, irrespective of being effective and passionate performers, prefer to stay in the shadows and are reluctant to face the limelight. But to move ahead, we need to master the craft of detached attachment. We confuse leadership with more work, whereas delegating can halve your workload and propel women’s careers. Sharing responsibility is a good thing and if used strategically, it can inspire your team and help you endure. To lean in or achieve greater success, it is important that you lean on or delegate.

5 Tips for working women in India to lean on a team efficiently

Lean On: Tip 1 – Do not aim for perfection

It is not a Michelangelo sculpture or a Picasso painting, where every stroke and chisel is of great impact. Learn not to focus on the frills but to pivot on the core. Remember the 80-20 rule. If the central structure of a project is proficient, it can always be beautified it at a later stage. There was a time when with deadlines looming large, my manager was fixating on comments and indentation. Not only did we fail to reach the finish line, the whole project ended up in jeopardy costing the company millions. Instead, if we had got the significant parts out, we could have always bought time to focus on the cosmetic effects.

Lean On: Tip 2 – Get rid of the “Me” syndrome

The most important directive for leaning on is to get the me out of the equation. If you believe that you can accomplish the task best, you will begin to micromanage and crowd your team members. Not only would this discourage them but it will also reflect in their work. In the end, you will have mediocre performance and a largely dispirited team. 78% of team members believed that their manager did work that could be ably handled by them. When my manager sat with us while we coded, we were always looking over our shoulders. This distracted and unsettled us, and we were unable to perform to the best of our abilities. Instead, if he had trusted us to deliver flawless programs, we would have felt challenged and excited to meet our goals. Besides, if you keep your vistas focused on tasks that can be handled by your team, how will you lean in to further your career?

Lean On: Tip 3 – Check status at milestones

While you learn to trust your team, you should also cover your bases. One of the best ways to do that is to avoid surprises and be well-informed. How do you not micromanage and yet be up to date? The key is to have checkpoints and monitor progress periodically. If you wait until the last minute, the output might not just be undesirable but altogether absent. So learn to trust, but also keep checking in. This can also open up channels of communication that were non-existent and help your coordination intrinsically.

Lean On: Tip 4 – Reward your team

Even as a parent, I am always confused when to reward and when to encourage. If I reward performance will that diminish aspirations? Instead, if I state that I expected more and this was good but not good enough, will it challenge them? The trick is to ensure that you reward performance at the right time, yet convey that they are capable of more. Once this delicate balance is achieved,  it can spearhead your leaning in campaign.

Lean On: Tip 5 – Communicate effectively

 When you are not the only person who is held responsible for a certain task, it is important that you define handshake points and outputs clearly. If your team is not entrusted with a whole task but bits of them, then the onus of putting it together rests with you. This is the biggest responsibility of any project, so it is inherent that it rests in the most responsible hands. To ensure that it doesn’t slip away, communicate. Periodically, productively and proficiently. This will extinguish any lingering doubts about a superior and prompt output.

When the road to success seems daunting, these simple tips will help you ascend it passionately. Sheryl Sandberg may have started the lean in debate, but to keep your focus forward, you have to lean on your team, your family and yourself. That is the secret she hasn’t shared yet.

*Photo credit: JoLi-esse (Used under the Creative Commons Attribution License.)

Meera R Corera (@meeraramanathan) is a freelance writer and blogger focusing on all things India —

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4 Comments


  1. Nayantara

    Amazingly relevant to my current work situation…thanks for the succinct points! I found the last 3 especially good for achieving a balance and not veering towards micromanagement or firefighting after the fact!

  2. Pingback: To Lean In learn to Lean On | Lost in Thought

  3. Wonderful post Meera! Much needed post for me at this time!!

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