How would Happy Fernandez Lean In on the Current Conversation about Women & Leadership

There’s a firestorm brewing in reaction to Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, Lean In, and it makes me wonder what Happy Fernandez would have to say about it. Unfortunately, 74-year-old Happy died in January so I’ll never really know, but that doesn’t stop me from wondering what ways she’d add to the conversation.

I suspect she’d be really pleased to know that a spark has ignited a public discussion about what helps women leaders succeed and what gets in our own way. She’d voice caution and encourage men and women to join together, not divide apart. And she’d want us to be brave – brave enough to follow Sandberg’s leading message: to talk about the ways we hold ourselves back and develop the inner coaching skills to move us forward.

Happy cared passionately about supporting and mentoring aspiring leaders. In June, newly retired from 13 years as President of Moore College of Art, she told me that the next chapter of her life was going to focus on helping women leaders in the workplace mentor one another so that women don’t have to go it alone as she had to. She understood that it is more helpful to be aware of what gets in our own way if we’re to be effective at overcoming our own hurdles;  and get on with the business of  being  proactive on our own behalf and on the behalf of others.

On that hot day in June, up high in a Center City office building with a group of women talking about leadership, Happy was intrigued by my notion of “inner coaching.” She asked me to explain, and I did: Most of us instinctively distract away from an unpleasant emotion or thought, especially when we are embarrassed or disappointed. Ironically, when we move in a direction that helps us check out of the distressing feeling and check in to a more pleasant experience, we may, inadvertently, undermine ourselves and promote feelings of doubt, worry and insecurity.  Inner coaching helps people become more aware of what that nagging voice inside may say about us and the situation challenging us. By training ourselves to know about the ways thoughts can get distorted by making negative assumptions,  taking things personally, or  predicting disappointing outcomes, we can learn to counter the negativity within and fortify resilience.

As an executive coach specializing in advancing women’s leadership, my eye is always drawn to role models for women leaders coming up the ranks. When women have access to seeing a real person in a leadership role, it becomes easier for them to imagine themselves or other women being in that role. Many of the women leaders I coach have shared how valuable it’s been to them to have a woman pave the way and demonstrate claiming strength, grace and perseverance.  To continue reading this article at…