Sheryl Sandberg’s Feet

June 20, 2013

One of the most well-publicized books published this year is Lean In, by Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg. I’m 100% behind her in principle, which is that women need to speak up more often. I expect to enjoy it when it works its way to the top of my reading pile.

This post isn’t about her book. It is about the photo of Sandberg on the front of Time magazine’s March 18, 2013 edition.   w.time.com/time/covers/0,16641,20130318,00.html

Look at Sandberg’s feet. She’s wearing fashionable high heels, the kind you can’t walk fast in, but allow you to walk to a curb to hail a cab or step into a limo. Her shoes match her dress. Her ankles are crossed. Her face looks like she’s waiting for a bus (or that limo). Her hands are in the classic fig leaf.

The odds are she didn’t stand in this position for long. She was most likely shifting around while waiting for the light to be changed, or a new lens, or any of the moment-by-moment small events that happen during a photo shoot.

This is a dumb picture that diminishes a powerful woman. Maybe the photo editor thought it was edgy or ironic, or that it fit perfectly the middle-school juvenile title of the article, “Don’t Hate Her because She’s Successful.” It reduces Sandberg and her discussion to just another girl thing.

But look again at her ankles. I can’t resist the teaching moment this photo offers. It is an excellent illustration of what not to do.

In this momentarily frozen-in-time view of Sandberg, she is probably on her way to a different stance. She isn’t there to speak, she’s there to pose. She resembles a fashion model. If you glance through fashion magazines, you’ll see one silly foot position after another, none appropriate for speaking well in public. Crossed ankles are for Vogue, Glamour, or Elle.

When you stand to speak, think first about your feet. If you don’t, your feet will decide how to stand all by themselves. They will act on instinct, seeking comfort, shifting around, throwing your hips off balance. Your feet have no brains or good judgment about which stance will help you think and speak better. Control the tendency of your feet to move, cross ankles, or shift, and do it before you begin to speak.

When you plant your feet, you speak better. When your feet shift and move randomly, your brain has to monitor them, robbing you of cognitive bandwidth.

Stand to speak, settle into a centered stance, take a breath, and talk.

Find your stance before you begin to speak. Beware of looking like the boss on the magazine cover.