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Cynthia Cleveland


Los Angeles, CA

It was only when I faced an extreme life decision that I discovered my way to connect with my own truth.

Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Understanding what our own special skills or talents are is often a bit of a mystery.  Like most girls, I grew up listening to what other people thought, and I judged myself by my grades, my weight, what my parents, boyfriend and peers said and thought. It was only when I faced an extreme life decision that I discovered my way to connect with my own truth.

I started my career as a marketing executive in several large corporations. The second company I worked for also employed my husband and through a series of corporate changes, we both found ourselves out of work. Six weeks later, I discovered I was pregnant (after several years of trying). So when I was offered consulting work, it seemed to be a good solution to my new situation. What I didn't expect was to then be offered the job of president of the company to as I entered my seventh month of pregnancy. I was flattered and flabbergasted. This was most certainly a life changing decision and I found my answer by looking forward. The question I asked myself was 10 years from now, how will I feel about this decision? I went through imagining how I would feel if I tried and failed as compared to not trying and not knowing how I would have done. I realized the prospect of regret for passing up the opportunity was worse than the prospect of failing for me. I guess I was "leaning in" before these words were used to describe the action.

In the process I discovered a technique that has been useful for me in any big life decision. Looking forward, then looking back often provides clarity that is not possible in the moment. In this process, I had also discovered my own strength. I enjoyed solving the puzzles of the business and loved leading a team. Identifying the "special sauce" that made each person successful was perhaps my best talent of all. I now know that this practice is called "strength leadership."

I've gone on to lead several companies and have been delighted to watch a number of my direct reports grow into their own leadership positions. To keep life interesting, I recently ventured into a new business start-up and am delighted to be a Lean In Circle Champion for a group of amazing young women in Los Angeles!