Sit At The Table

January 4th

One of the things about the daily Internet conversation that is among it’s greatest contributions is the way that it can increase the number of “ahaa” hits per day.  (Before I am accused of indulgence there should be a spoiler alert: it gets worse.  I admit here that I take time off to read the Just Means news on Corporate Social Responsibility Trends, an admission that may someday cause Sarah Palin to revoke my John Lindsay for Mayor Republican credentials.  There’s absolutely no one chanting, “drill baby drill” at Just Means.)

So it is in the context of an honest diversion to read Just Means on Climate Change that I was introduced to Sheryl Sandberg.  I know, I confess that I am one of the last people on the planet to know that Sheryl Sandberg is the COO of Facebook.  That some people (like Fortune) think she’s one of the most powerful women in the world and that she was the head of on-line sales for Google when Facebook hired her (in her 30’s) to be the adult.  So, now that I have the embarrassing admissions out of the way.  Her TED lecture linked above on the dearth of women leaders is one of the most compelling videos that I have seen.

As I write this, I see that the video is only now being blogged by the Wall Street Journal this afternoon so perhaps I am just watching something that is about to go viral.  But it should.  My personal favorite comment is her statement that if you want to be a leader you need to take as seat at the table.

Yet it’s not as though I haven’t had my own opportunity to learn this lesson.  In 1994, when I was recruited to start e-businesses for the USPS, I found to my surprise that I could be the Post Office’s representative to Al Gore’s National Performance Review just by saying I would go to the White House.

(I should have recognized that this was a clue that, in the end, the USPS was not going to back the play to start electronic businesses even if the culture would help Marvin Runyon hire me.)

No one went to the White House because it was far easier to run an effective network if you stayed out of politics.  Going to the White House only meant becoming a cash cow to the Administration in power and the savvy leaders at the Post Office knew that there was a lot of that already.

Without competition for the invitation I went over to the White House to hear Al Gore talk about the meaning of telecom reform to representatives from places spread across the government.   When I arrived at the Indian Treaty Room in the Executive Office Building I made the mistake of asking the young aide standing in the doorway whether there was assigned seating.  She asked, “Where are you from?” and when told her, she asked that I sit in the seats along the wall because “the table is for the important agencies.”  I thought of myself as representing the largest civilian employer in the world and I was so offended that I walked around to the other side of the room and sat down at the table.

I was feeling pretty feisty until I introduced myself to the person on my right and found that the Librarian of Congress was already there with a seat at the table.

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