I have been with the Estee Lauder Companies my entire career and have had many opportunities to either lean in or lean back.
One major opportunity where I chose to lean in involved moving temporarily to London and assuming a role for which I did not have the full skill set for success. My previous executive field experience did not prepare me to lead a team which included marketing, finance, store design and merchandising – much less to do so in another country. As my boss at the time told me, “Just because the language is the same, don’t assume there are no cultural differences.”
My biggest fear was failing. My second fear was that my team back in the U.S. would not be able to maintain my existing roles and responsibilities while I was away. The assignment was for four months, and while I had the full support of my husband to relocate for this assignment, I knew I would miss him because we would be so far apart. It was a dilemma with complex issues and no guarantee of success.
My first week in the London office confirmed that I barely knew anything. I discovered that learning agility and dealing effectively with ambiguity were two critical skills to success in any role or challenge, no matter how large or small. You can learn from anyone at any level and, as Chairman Emeritus Leonard Lauder taught me, “You are only as good as your people want you to be.”
I walked into a brand manager role that had been vacant for nearly nine months. The original four-month temporary assignment turned into a far longer, semi-permanent assignment that included planning a major new fragrance launch, launching a major skincare line and re-establishing strong partnerships with all of our U.K. retailers. All this activity transpired while strengthening the team and achieving top and bottom line growth.
Despite the many hurdles along the way, this opportunity allowed me to face my fears, take risks and expand my knowledge in ways nothing else could. It paved the way for even larger future challenges which were significant to the company and my career. By leaning in to this opportunity, I learned the true meaning of stretching one’s self, developing my strengths and fulfilling a personal dream to live in London.
When a situation presents itself and you lean in, other doors open which you may never have imagined and you find yourself willing to lean in again and again and again as a result.
Our CEO likes to say that magical thinking leads to unstoppable actions. I like to think of leaning in as a form of magical thinking. For me, the magic has continued to this day.