As Sheryl Sandberg encourages us to own our life and career choices and decisions, getting a seat at the decision making table becomes a manifestation of leaning in. The seat at the proverbial table can easily translate to your job today, a seat and a voice at the conference room table during your team meeting, a seat and a voice during your volunteer or professional association meeting, a directorship role at a Board of Directors in the near future, or even a seat at the Oval Office desk in this lifetime. To lean in and lead by example, we need to deploy our expertise and experience and articulate our message across disciplines, geographies, and issues to make sound and well rounded decisions with local, regional, and even global impact.
But how do you get a seat at the table?
Apart from directorship and governance guidelines, and as the old adage of, “How does one get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice,” a seat at the decision making table requires preparation, expertise, guts and conviction.
1. Read up
You need to do your homework and you need to know your stuff. Read, read, read. Read about your discipline and the trends in your job. Read about the key issues challenging your discipline and compile your own opinion about it. Read about how other countries, organizations, and people are addressing similar issues. Read about art, culture, and current affairs.
Reading broadens your perspective and enables you to then synthesize your own opinion and where you stand on an issue. Pick a few general current affairs publications and a couple of publications from your discipline and read religiously. I like the Economist and the New York Times for the broader perspective. I read the Harvard Business Review Blog and Inc.com for management and innovation ideas and trends. There are tens of excellent and many free online resources out there!
2. Look up
The more you know about the issue at hand and where you stand, the more confident you will be. Look up means literally and figuratively look up from your laptop, tablet, phone and facing your yourself, your colleagues, your team members, and the world. You can start by looking up in the mirror and facing yourself every morning. Looking up, opens you up to the world and your ability to take it in, see the world around you, figure out what you like, and work to change what you don’t like.
3. Stand up
Having a seat at the table actually means you will be standing up a lot, both figuratively and literally. How? You need to stand up for issues that are important to the greater good. You need to stand up for people who need help, guidance, and support. You need to stand up for team leaders, community leaders, and government leaders that need followers to get the job done. If you agree with their premise, stand up and support them. As a leader yourself, you need to stand up and deliver. If you read up on the issues, look up to see how are they handled, and by whom, it will become easier for you to stand up.
4. Speak up
Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Your seat at the table means that you must speak up for the things and people that matter. Speak up to support what you agree with or voice your opinion and alternative solution to what you disagree with. If speaking in public is intimidating, fear not: strengthen your speaking skills by joining a Toastmasters Club near you. It is a not-for-profit specializing in communication and leadership development. Speaking implies communicating so you also need to practice your listening skills, as you get ready to speak up. If you read up, look up, and stand up, speaking up will be a breeze.
How do you plan to speak up at work?
Watch Office Hours with Ann Shoket, Editor-in-Chief of Seventeen Magazine, for tips on advancing your career!