‘Lean In, Fall Over, Get Back Up:’ Wendy Lea on Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg


Wendy Lea, CEO of Get Satisfaction

Courtesy Get Satisfaction

Wendy Lea, CEO of Get Satisfaction

Wendy Lea has spent much of the past 30 years selling services to tech companies and starting, running, and investing in startups. Currently as CEO of Get Satisfaction, she manages 60 employees and relationships with 3,000 paying businesses that use the San Francisco company’s software to manage customer feedback online. I talked with her about two Silicon Valley executives who’ve recently been at the center of a lot of conversations about female business leaders. Edited excerpts follow.

What’s your take on all the attention Sheryl Sandburg, Facebook (FB) chief operating officer, and Yahoo! (YHOO) Chief Executive Officer Marissa Mayer are getting?

The other night I was with about 30 women at a friend’s home in Noe Valley [in Northern California]. These are very high-profile women from all different industries and we were having this very conversation. One of the women said, “Look at Zuckerberg, he’s doing the same thing.” He’s building a huge building for his engineers. He’s building an environment so that they want to be there. [I think] all Marissa is saying is, “We have a big game to play, we’re kind of behind, we’re kind of stuck, and I would like it if everyone would come be together, and from that experience better things should happen.”

So why all the controversy over Yahoo’s telecommuting policy?

Marissa has the reputation, I haven’t experienced it, but she has the reputation of having low EQ [emotional quotient]. Especially as a woman—she has a baby next door, only took off two weeks to have the baby, all that stuff, which is no one’s business, but when you’re a woman you get exposed to that. So I think it came out wrong.

What’s your work-from-home policy at Get Satisfaction?

I’m a startup CEO. I need my people together all the time. When someone sends me an e-mail that says “working from home,” I want to throw up sometimes. It’s not like I hate it, but please, come in. Do I demand that they come in? No, but some days I think about it. Do I say, “I’ve checked the Web logs and you’re not dialing in to VPN?” Even if I was thinking it, I’m savvy enough that I wouldn’t put it out like that.

Let’s talk about Sandberg and her book, Lean In.

I’m going to be 60 this summer. I don’t have any regrets about leaning in. I just think I leaned in a lot, some days I feel like I’m falling over. My whole thing is, “To thy own self be true.” If you’re going to lean in, great, just make sure you take care of yourself. Because time goes by fast, and lean in, fall over, get back up—it just takes a toll.

When you were at your friend’s house talking with women executives about Sandberg, what was the conversation like?

I said to these women, after two freaking hours of talking about Sheryl, I said, “What do you think about the subject?” Not “what do you think about what she thinks?” My challenge to them was, “You guys need to have your own perspective on this. Do you feel like you’re leaning in? Or do you feel like you’ve leaned back or given up or that you’re going to fall over? Let’s talk about that.”

How did that go?

They were kind of taken aback, because I’m definitely the senior citizen in the group and I just got fed up. I would prefer to talk about how they feel about it: irritated, mad, sad, excited, motivated. Let’s talk about that first. To thy own self be true. And know that maybe that thought you had was triggered by [Sandberg’s book]. Its intention was to cause you to have a point view.