Sheryl Sandberg’s much-talked about book Lean In drops today. Judging from the commentary in the pre-launch media blitz, the general population isn’t buying Ms. Sandberg’s assertion that by “leaning in” women can achieve greater career satisfaction and possibly even a wider leadership role. She’s been vilified as a “raging egomaniac” and a coat-tail rider by some commenters in this New York Times piece.
Beyond detractors on the web, the media has gotten into the negativity act as well, fanning the flames of a supposed “rift” between Sheryl Sandberg and Ann-Marie Slaughter, a former high-ranking government official and author of the Atlantic magazine’s Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.
To me, all this brouhaha misses the point. Personally, I think the person who got it right is investment analyst and Harvard Business Review blogger Whitney Johnson who wrote a piece in The Daily Muse called, Is Sheryl Sandberg Giving Advice to Herself?
“Boo hoo!” some may utter. It’s easy to step up with a silver spoon. But if we are really honest, we all know that pain and deprivation is relative.
And so, in analyzing the worth of “leaning in”, I believe we must give the concept context. It is, as Whitney says, all relative – what looks like leaning in to Sheryl Sandberg may look very different from your leaning in.
Here’s how I see it – “leaning in” is good for women (and men too). It’s about recognizing that some sort of “fear” is holding you back and when you take a step – no matter how small – towards facing down that fear, you make progress.
So maybe you don’t aspire to be a company executive like Sheryl Sandberg. Fine. What do you want to do right now that seems a stretch? What small thing can you take action on today to make your life just a bit better? Leaning in doesn’t have to be about taking ginormous risks. And it certainly is not the exclusive domain of the wealthy and highly educated. It’s about learning to speak up and step up – just a tiny bit beyond what you think you can do.
The idea of leaning in isn’t the problem. At the moment, the notion is being criticized because its highly-publicized messenger’s career success seems unattainable to so many of us. Can’t relate to Ms. Sandberg? Think she offers up facile advice from a privileged vantage point? Do you even go so far as to “hate her” as the Time cover story suggests you might?
Well, that’s your choice. But don’t discard the fundamental element of her message because you know what? It’s a good one.
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