Last week I had the fantastic opportunity to attend Dreamforce.
I didn’t go to attend the sessions, I went to attend the keynotes. And along the way I was amazed as to how much the keynote speakers were aligning to where I am in my career path and life in general. The messages I heard inspired me so I thought to share my perspective from my notetaking with you and also have something for me to look back on and remind myself. I have named this blog and what I experienced as “inspirational leadership by design” because it just flowed when I started to think about the messages I received last week.
Leadership doesn’t happen by accident. At some point of your life, you aspire to be something bigger and better than who you are today. Because of it, your perspective takes a different turn. And when you are so inspired, you actually want to support, coach, connect with others for them to reach their full potential- it’s no longer just about you. In some way or another, you start to design your life or make decisions that you will do your best to lead by example and inspire others to do the same, and you aspire to be like those that have inspired you. You create and drive change with your intention. I think that is a choice and it is inspirational leadership by design.
Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce.com is a very inspired leader contributing back to society in truly monumental ways. Hearing his perspective, and experiencing how he interviewed the leaders that touched many aspects of technology, humanity and health to me demonstrated his inspirational leadership by design. The choices he made to make impact on this conference went beyond making Salesforce dollars. The people he invited were brave choices! They had strong messages to share and viewpoints that were based on their experiences in life. It was personal to both them and to him. As a testament of what he does that impacts the world from USAtoday:
Penn explained how Salesforce’s cloud-computing technology helped mothers send their kids to school using mobile payments and a platform that lets government officials schedule and prioritize infrastructure needs….Haiti is just one of several philanthropic endeavors for Salesforce, which hosted 6,000 non-profits this week. Over the past decade, it has awarded $53 million in grants and donated more than 530,000 hours in community service via employees. About 20,000 non-profits use free and discounted products from Salesforce, according to Suzanne DiBianca, president and co-founder of Salesforce.com Foundation.
Marissa Mayer, CEO, Yahoo! is another example of inspirational leadership by design. The choices she makes everyday are directed by two values that she puts in the forefront. Family and Yahoo. Family being number one. A very brave statement to make in the technology world where you rarely hear the word family mentioned in a public forum, especially if you are woman. It is well-known that tech is 24/7 with a hybrid mix of genY, X, close to retirees and now millennials, the working day has not made family a prominent message. But for Marissa, she has found a way to ensure her priorities are on track and with that she has designed her life and time around those two important choices. What Marissa said outside of this goes beyond a job or a leader. She is interested in human development and committed to ensure her employees are truly empowered to be who they want to be. She actually spoke specifically of the importance of design, but when she spoke of it, it went from the design of a company, to the design of a product and the design of your life. As a leader and CEO, her number one job is defense. Get the roadblocks out, so others can be successful. She believes in the democratization of employees, and for true board transparency, works with her team to put together board presentations. Employees not only build and promote Yahoo products (dogfood she refers to it), she ensures that they use them and have the user experience. Marissa everyday makes choices about how she will lead and by using phrases such as: process, bureaucracy and jams to explain how she will help others be successful by removing them- she empowers her team to be successful and be who they can be. No doubt she will inspire other women to be better leaders in an industry that is dominated by different old-school leadership. As a woman, as a leader, as a mother, she is an inspirational leader by design. (Of note, I decided to not focus on the Walmart protesting that seems to diluted her message in the general media.)
Quite frankly Sheryl Sandberg, COO, Facebook, blew me away. I was excited to receive a copy of her book Lean In and was curious as to how her approach to the audience would be received. A very strong vibrant woman, the questions she asked the audience demonstrated her knowledge on the topics of which she was to speak on immediately. Gender bias. Had I ever heard of it? Sure. Had I ever thought of it or considered it? Not really. If you did you would be a feminist, right? Not so. She shared, it all starts as a child. When the little girl on the playground is called “bossy”, later in life in her career she is called “aggressive”. Sheryl asked the audience, “if you are a man, raise your hand if you have ever been called bossy or aggressive” – you could hear a pin drop. Then she asked, “if you are a woman, raise your hand if you have ever been called bossy or aggressive”- hands shot up immediately all over the room, for the number of women that were in the room, we were surrounded by hands up. Then she said one time she shared with a parent when the mother was told her little girl was bossy,
“Your daughter’s not bossy, she has executive leadership skills.”
Could I imagine a world where that was true? Certainly not today, but maybe someday. After hearing her speak I literally read her book, cover to cover starting at 11pm Friday night, and finished it 12pm Saturday morning. By far, it is one of the most well-researched, strongly-documented books I have ever read. It is a call for action. And because of what she is willing to do, and who she is willing to speak out for, her entire life has taken a turn. She is doing something about it, setting up Lean In circles- so it’s not just about her- she is empowering other women to truly support one another and help one another reach new pinnacles of success. Sheryl is a feminist, as she states in the book, because after all, the work that we thought was done, by leaders as Gloria Steineim earlier in life, is not. Women are paid less, have lesser executive influence in business in both CEO/board seats, and women are viewed as needing to be proven to be be promoted and not looked at upon for potential as men are. There is gender bias in every aspect of our society- look closely and you will see it. It was refreshing and brave to see her put out there all the things that I have been thinking that haven’t changed that I thought would, and have had endless conversations with my girlfriends about. We still have a long way to go to equality. Period. By the way Sheryl’s husband is an executive in the Silicon Valley and he is her true partner. Another thing we should start to expect, a 50/50 partnership, as a majority of the time. David Goldberg, CEO of SurveyMonkey isn’t what Lean In is all about, but because of who he is- a partner– she has been able to become a strong, successful inspirational leader by design.
Parents, you now have two great role model examples for your little girls, your teenagers or your college students. As women we struggle to find a mentor, a coach, a role model in our business career- mostly we rely upon men to teach and promote us. Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg are two to watch, grow and learn from. Guess what? They both admitted they won’t be perfect, and they are okay with making mistakes and learning from them. You don’t have to like them personally and understandably their resources outweigh some of ours, but you have to give them credit for taking a brave step forward and not being afraid to fail.
A friend of mine from high school emailed me to ask me if I recommended that he buy Lean In for his teenage daughters for Christmas after I posted a page in her book that really spoke well to a particular takeaway message the book is about. I hesitantly said I wasn’t sure because I thought it might be hard for them to understand since it’s written by a 40-something (Sheryl and I are the same age). I take that back.
I strongly recommend and urge this book be a staple in your homes. It will teach your little girls how to be successful in business by not being afraid.
Join my blog later in the week where I’ll focus on Deepak Chopra, Wayne Dyer and David Agus (all doctors)- inspirational leaders by design impacting humanity and health.