Lean In, Lean Out, or Lead On?
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As I listened to Sheryl Sandberg discuss her new book Lean In, I appreciated how she acknowledges the self-doubt that is so prevalent among women, and the efficacy of encouraging women to practice overcoming it. Yet, while Sandberg begins to address the internalized biases and fearfulness that many women carry, she only speaks minimally to the urgency of systemic changes—greater access to leadership positions through breaking down structural impediments to women’s equity in the corporate world. In fact, much of the ensuing criticism of the book homed in on this notable omission. Critics argued that the onus should be placed on employers and government to provide practical incentives that would allow more women to remain in the workforce, such as paid family leave, flex time and opportunities to work from home.
For me, however, Lean In and the ensuing criticism miss a key point that’s necessary to address whole systems change: many women don’t aspire to leadership because we’ve inherited a definition of the word that’s, at the least, conflicted, and, often, even an overt turn-off. Unless and until we wrap our arms around a new, emergent definition of leadership, we’ll continue to be in conflict with ourselves and slow our own progress in achieving it. Why stretch yourself to reach for a brass ring that you inwardly dislike, and that promises to make your life miserable?
In the conventional view—the one many of us have unconsciously inherited—leadership is often based largely upon charisma and luck or achievement, and it often implies aggression and a top-down or hierarchical approach to others. It is typically conferred through getting a position, advanced degree or receiving inherited wealth or privilege, and is often practiced solo. It implies a degree of commitment to work at the exclusion of all else that’s associated with tremendous sacrifice. It is rare, in the inner story that we carry mostly unconsciously about leadership, that leaders can have a satisfying home life or family, or a creative life, or even good physical health. Is it any wonder that few women feel whole-hearted in pursuing it?
Around the globe and in various sectors, women—and men—are reinventing the leadership paradigm to address their innate desire for a new style that feels authentic and collaborative, coupled with true work-life balance. At Bioneers we are helping to co-create this leadership revolution through our Moonrise Women’s Leadership Initiative, which includes Cultivating Women’s Leadership workshop trainings and women’s perspective programming at our National Bioneers Conference. We work to share and celebrate reinventions of leadership that prioritize humility, listening and not-knowing, and vulnerability as a potential asset. This form of leadership is informed by the combined intelligence of our bodies, hearts, minds and intuitive knowing. It is based upon the principal that leadership emerges from the inner work we do, and that we cannot influence change that we’ve not embodied ourselves.
Rather than comparing women to men or expecting them to adapt to the ‘it’s a man’s world’ paradigm, we should encourage women and men to co-create a leadership revolution that exemplifies the kinds of flexible, invitational and team-based or rotating leadership models that women have practiced throughout time, and that is in service to Earth, Life and Justice for all.